Feeds

Bear and Monkey smack Apple with patent suit

Emphasis on UI

High performance access to file storage

Apple has been slapped with another patent infringement lawsuit - but the suit says more about the festering sore that is the US patent system than it does about the individual patents involved.

The lawsuit was filed by Austin, Texas inventor Eric Gould Bear, President and CEO of interface design firm MonkeyMedia. The core of his infringement claim is that his patents cover a user-interface concept that he calls "Seamless Contraction" - essentially a set of techniques to narrow the display of information to that which is most "salient", to use his term, to the user's needs.

What Gould Bear refers to as "Non-Salience Deemphasis" a more casual observer might call summarization or emphasis.

The three patents referred to in Gould's lawsuit are USPTO 6,177,938, 6,219,052 and 6,335,730. Each are subtle varients of a set of five patents - add 5,623,588 and 6,215,491 to complete the set.

Each of the five are entitled "Computer User Interface with Non-Salience Deemphasis" (although number 6,335,730 spells that last word "De-Emphasis"). Each also lists Eric Gould as the inventor, although the assignee - owner - of the the original patent is New York University (1997); the follow-on, Eric Gould (2001); and the most-recent three, MonkeyMedia (2001, 2001, and 2002).

Gould Bear's suit calls out three Apple infringements. First is Mac OS X's little-used Summary Service, which - as its name might suggest - allows you to summarize text blocks, with a slider allowing for a greater or lesser degree of summarization. Second is the ability of Apple's Safari browser to offer a variable summarization of articles listed in its RSS reader.

These features, according to the suit, violate claims of patents 6,177,938 and 6,219,052 that refer to UI controls which control the "shrinking of the display" of some objects in order to emphasize other objects. In the body of the two patents, text is included among examples of objects that can be "modified" or "abstracted" to display only the "salient segments".

The third allegedly infringing Apple offering is the combination of Mac OS X's Front Row and DVD Player apps, which the lawsuit claims infringe upon patent 6,335,730's essentially identical description of less-important objects being shrunken and more important objects being emphasized which Front Row does, to some degree.

"We can sit by and watch Apple continue to use our patented inventions without paying, or we can do something about it," Gould Bear said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. "Synergy between inventors and manufacturers is healthy, and we love that Apple believes in our technology. We simply prefer open communications and fair compensation."

Gould Bear's sentiments are remarkably similar to those of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. "We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it," Jobs commented when launching Apple's suit against HTC. "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

What's really important here are neither the intricacies of patent language nor a plaintiff's near-parodistic gauntlet-throwing, but instead the increasingly obvious fact that patents are being granted for the wrong reasons, allowed to become far too sweeping, and - perhaps - being approved by USPTO staffers not sufficiently familiar with the technologies and concepts involved.

Although your humble Reg reporter would never claim to be well-steeped in the abstruse complexities of patent law, it does seem that patenting summarization and emphasis in UI design may not fully be in harmony with the US Constitution's stated reason for patents: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Sorry London, Europe's top tech city is Munich
New 'Atlas of ICT Activity' finds innovation isn't happening at Silicon Roundabout
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
Audio fans, prepare yourself for the Second Coming ... of Blu-ray
High Fidelity Pure Audio – is this what your ears have been waiting for?
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Apple DOMINATES the Valley, rakes in more profit than Google, HP, Intel, Cisco COMBINED
Cook & Co. also pay more taxes than those four worthies PLUS eBay and Oracle
It may be ILLEGAL to run Heartbleed health checks – IT lawyer
Do the right thing, earn up to 10 years in clink
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.