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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1587

Escalating Patent Wars: Is truth still the first casualty?

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

apple_patent.jpgOnce again, the stage is set for Apple and Samsung to lock their horns in the patent arena, much to the befuddlement of respective fans - and haters - of the two companies alike.

Apple, having won the patent right for a rectangle with rounded-corners this week from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under patent number D670,286, launched yet another patent claim against Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 and Google's Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system for infringing on its patents.

Samsung, which was asked to pay Apple $1.05 billion in August in a separate patent infringement case in a US court, meanwhile is suing Apple for infringe on its patents in iPhone5, the latest iPhone released last month. With Apple’s latest patent claim, Google, the owner of the mobile operating system that powers Samsung devices, is also dragged into the never-ending patent battle saga, which is getting uglier by the month.

Since Google does not make any money by selling its software, the trial which, in all probability, is due to take place next year, going to take an interesting dimension in legal realms as never before. Google only makes money by advertising and selling apps on the devices made by mobile manufacturers which use its Android operating system – which Apple claims as a copy of its own IOS mobile operating system.

While referring to the patent of rectangle, Samsung vented its frustration at Apple by mocking the latter: “Apple has sought to patent any conceivable oblong-shaped gadget,” said Samsung when the intentions of the former were becoming clearer to own the patent for the particular shape. The patent, quite worryingly, covers not only the shape of the hardware – tablets and smartphones – but also the shape of the icons on them which open up application at the touch of a finger.

In this context, it is highly likely that Apple may extend the legal tentacles to other technical giants such as Microsoft, Google and Nokia too, if it feels that they pose a threat too to its domination in the tablet-smartphone market. The intensity of the battle can only increase, now that Apple is on the brink of losing its dominance in the smartphone market and its share price is on a downward spiral.

Apple, meanwhile, suffered a significant setback this week, when it was asked to pay $368.2 million to VirnetX, a firm specialized in security software, for violating its patents by the use of Facetime feature in iPad, iPhone and iPod.

Facetime, which makes the video calling as easy as pronouncing ‘Apple-without-Steve is a sieve’, did attract millions of customers to Apple’s most famous products in droves; it has the potential to add yet another tentacle to Apple’s growing list of anxieties. Understandably, VirnetX, was pleased with the ruling and may be tempted to claw back what it thinks is still in Apple’s possession in due course.

The simultaneous escalation of patent battle on multiple fronts has left the users in a real quandary: they buy the new gadgets for frequent use – and for relatively long periods; they heavily rely on some of the applications such as maps, financial apps, Facetime and weather apps in their daily lives for vital information; so, uncertainty of the availability of one or more of these vital applications does make them worried about long-term consequences.

The flawed-map that came as a substitute for Google map in iPhone and iPad was case in point. Those who relied on Google maps on iPhone, paid a price when they upgraded their software while losing Google maps; Apple maps let down the users to such an extent that not only did Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, issue an unprecedented apology but also sacked the chief software architect in an unceremonious manner while taking a monumental risk in the long run.

Just before writing this article, I was compelled to use the calculator on my iPhone to figure out a percentage of a certain mundane calculation. Since I decided to write about the patent war among the ‘big boys’ in the world of technology, a series of pictures of the folks, ranging from Blaise Pascal to Clive Sinclair who made immense contribution to the evolutionary process of a calculator in many different ways, propped up on my mind for one strange reason: who owns the patent for calculator?

Sir Clive Sinclair, an Englishman, is maintaining a dignified silence without making any fuss over a patent violation. If the Chinese get involved while claiming that it mimics Abacus, the war may even spread beyond the boundaries of a patent! Then, the Egyptians will be emboldened to claim the infringement on the patent of numerals – from 0 to 9, even if they are reluctant to be proud of inventing ‘0’ - in normal circumstances!

In the same way, by awarding the patent of rectangle to Apple, a very long list of descendants of Euclid, who was synonymous with geometry in the ancient world, could be potentially alerted for the existence of their rights – if the luck is on their side, of course.

We are lucky that Sir Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, keeps a very low profile by not boasting about his contribution to the information age. Just imagine he launches a claim for the patent of HTML code, which is used in every single web page on the internet; the whole web would be dead in a matter of hours if a judge issued an order to prohibit the use of code without the approval of Sir Tim.

The patent-infringement episode, which so far has had all the ingredients of theatrics, can only get comical if mushrooming effect is not controlled in a meaningful way. The presence of generous geniuses of Sir Tim’s caliber, meanwhile, still provides the world with the much needed catalysts for innovation and irreversible progress.

Therefore, it’s high time a balance was struck by the technical giants in the battle for their intellectual property. It goes without saying that the ‘temperature’ of the battle suddenly increased when the innovation seems to have peaked in every single camp, after the veterans who spearheaded the revolution, have either died or are in retirement – and as the most obvious form of red herring.

- Asian Tribune -

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