12 July, 2012

"Unified Search" Patent Nonsense: The Case Against Apple's Absurd Software Patents

When I have been browsing Google+ as often as I have been doing, for the past several days, the #BoycottApple hashtag has been trending wildly there lately. People are fed up with Apple, and several images attacking Apple have been posted there by thousands of people. Why you say? Is it because they abuse sweatshop labor in China? That might be a valid reason, but it's not it. Is it because Apple has been overpricing its products? Good guess, but no. Is it because Apple has not been innovating? That's part of it, but no.

So what is it? Apple has been collecting a patent portfolio that has done nothing but attack competition. Apple's patents like "slide-to-unlock" and "unified search" have done nothing but stifle competition and grant Apple a monopoly on those ridiculously incremental improvements. The naysayers might think Apple is protecting its IP. Well, excuse me, but IP shouldn't be granted for things like this. Maybe copyrights, but definitely not patents.

So let's define what constitutes a copyright versus a patent, shall we? Copyrights are when one person or corporation decides to protect their software from piracy, or the unauthorized duplication and resale of installation media. Patents, in contrast, are related to the design of the software itself. To count as copyright infringement, one must either copy the binary installation media of the copyrighted content and resell it or copy the entire source code, recompile it, and resell it. However, a patent is virtually impossible to not infringe. To avoid infringing on a patent, one must dumb down the functionality of their software, since patents are once again design, not source code, related.

Back to the patents in question: With slide-to-unlock, Apple now has the right to sue every single bolt- and chain-lock manufacturer in the world. Why? Because what do you do with a bolt to unfasten it? Slide it! What do you do to a chain to unhook it? Slide it! Oh, and unified search. Here is a picture of my Motorola Flipside, running Android 2.2 Froyo, which came out a full *year* and 3 months *before* Siri:

What you see here is a list of *all* the available search sources. Web, Google Play Store, Google Play Music, Motoblur Social Messaging, Motoblur Social Networking, Motoblur Email, Text Messaging, News, Contacts, Google Drive, and finally, ALL!!! So yes, the ability to gather search results from multiple sources has been in Android *much* longer than in iOS, yet crApple had the nerve to get this patent for something they didn't invent in the first place.

So what made everybody on Google+ get so fed up with Apple over patents? Because Apple used this patent, which is for a product they didn't invent in the first place, to briefly gain an injunction against the Galaxy Nexus before an appellate court overturned it. This caused a real uproar, since the Galaxy Nexus happens to be the flagship phone for both Android 4.0 ICS and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Google worked on a workaround, but apparently the appellate court that the case was appealed to (I'm assuming the Federal Circuit court) happened to revoke the ban. Yet the aftermath of the ban was enough to cause #BoycottApple to be the longest trending hashtag Google+ has ever seen. It lasted over a week, and was in the top 3 trends several times in a row.

This to you, Apple zealots and patent zealots! You claim that to compete we must steal. Excuse me, but stealing is illegally copying installation media, not creating a piece of software that happens to have a feature similar to that of someone else's software. Sure, it may technically be "stealing" if patents are involved, but patents shouldn't be granted to an industry where they only stifle innovation. By granting exclusive rights to a software feature, suddenly with everybody patenting software features the rate of innovation in the overall industry begins to decline rapidly. By allowing people to build on each other's ideas, you speed up the rate of innovation, not stifle it.