The lawsuit that started the war: Apple had to pay Creative Technology $100 million in 2006 for patent violations

For the past few years, Apple has been in the spotlight for patenting anything and everything, and then using those patents to legally go after the competition. Ever wonder what pushed Apple towards this behavior? Is it because that is just how Apple is or was there a specific turning point that changed Apple? Some may argue that it is simply Apple corporate culture to behave like a bully but there is definitely an event that can be singled out as the one that pushed Apple towards war — Apple’s loss to Creative Technology in 2006.

In 2006, Apple lost a patent-related lawsuit filed by Creative Technology aimed at the iPod. According to the New York Times, it was this lawsuit that spurred Steve Jobs to declare “we’re going to patent it all”, particularly in regards to the iPhone. According to an ex-Apple lawyer, Apple would (does) even file patents for ideas Apple figured they couldn’t patent — because, “if nothing else, it prevents another company from trying to patent the idea”. In other words, preemptive patents.

To ensure Apple was “patent[ing] it all”, Jobs, Apple engineers, and Apple lawyers held monthly “invention disclosure sessions” at which Apple R&D was discussed and the lawyers decided if they could/should apply for patents related to the tech. It is unclear if Apple still holds these sessions.

Apple’s patenting activities have become so frequent that last year was the first year that Apple has spent more money patenting technology than money spent on developing new technology (aka research and development).

Of course Apple, and probably other tech companies including Samsung, feels it is completely within its rights to apply for patents. In fact, in the words of an ex-Apple executive, various iPhone features  — such as “slide to unlock” — took a lot of investment, time, and effort to develop and perfect; “other companies shouldn’t be able to steal that — that’s why the patent system exists”.

Not very many people will disagree with the last part of the above statement. The patent system is intended to protect companies, and individuals, from having their innovations stolen. Patents are meant to incentivize companies and individuals to spend time and money to develop new technologies without risk of that tech being stolen by others. However, patents become a joke when companies are granted patents for “technology” such as, drum roll please, rounded corners and rectangles.

[via Cult of Mac, image via opensourceway]

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3 comments

  1. DCTECHGUY

    This is absurd. Nothing more than our litigious culture. This is exactly like patenting the “turn signal” lever as a user interface, or the concept of a motor to help start the car. Total nonsense,

  2. clockmendergb

    If they all got together and created a communal Patent protection agency similar to the Music industry that sorts out who owns what and collects a fee on the use of these things (WITHOUT) recrimination for the patent holder. then this would all end.
    This entity would be responsible for all legal cases towards companies that will not play ball.

    Of course some things will need to be argued out .
    Such as what is holy ground and what is open for use .
    But it is feasible and would cost less than the system in place at this time.
    These endless cases keep judges from taking on Complaints that are important to the public in general.
    It ties up the system and is as we know, not good for the future of Tech.
    They are already saying that Asia has overtaken the States in tech innovation and this does not help the situation one bit.

    Please feel free to shoot me down on this as I am not an expert.

  3. Keoni

    Very interesting. I’m sure a lot of companies have this “patent culture” obsession. But this is only possible in the US. In Europe, the patenting process is not this open and thus you just can’t go about to register every little “fart” the R&D department has :) Although I see and agree with the need to protect R&D investment, it has the downside of hampering innovation. New and interesting concepts can be developed using older technologies and combining different processes and technologies into a radiant new product or service.