Thursday, July 05, 2012

Is the intellectual property situation improving?

Computing device: US patent D558,753
Common sense has prevailed in three recent intellectual property rulings, and the judges are being blunt.

Last month, in a case where Oracle was suing Google, U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who has a degree in math, ruled that application programming interfaces cannot be copyrighted, stating that "So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API."

One of Oracle's claims was that Google had used a nine-line range checking function in order to bring Android phones to the market faster. In court, Alsup said he had written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times befor and there was no way that was "speeding them along to the marketplace." Speaking to Oracle's lawyer, he said "You're one of the best lawyers in America, how could you even make that kind of argument?"

In another case, highly respected US appeal court judge Richard Posner has finally said the unsayable: that Apple's and other tech firms' patent battles are a ridiculous abuse of intellectual property law.  Posner referred to Apple's patent on unlocking a phone by swiping the screen as "silly."

And yesterday, a high court judge in London said Apple's slide-to-unlock feature was an "obvious" development in the light of a similar function on an earlier Swedish handset.

Every company does it, but it seems Apple files a lot of silly and obvious patents.  Did you know that Steve Jobs held 313 patents? (Most of them are design patents that cover the look and feel of a product rather than utility patents, which may cover a technical innovation). Check the interactive graphic accompanying the article and see which ones you consider to be unique designs.  (The ornamental design illustrated above was patented on January 1, 2008).