Feeds

Apple iPhone app patent claim 'doesn't feel right'

Small dev flags uncanny parallels

Website security in corporate America

Apple has apparently lifted the look-and-feel of an iPhone app from German developer FutureTap and used it in a software patent application, putting that developer in a sticky situation.

"I can't really judge whether the inclusion of a 1:1 copy of our start screen in someone else's patent is legal," wrote FutureTap founder Ortwin Gentz in a posting on his company blog. "I just have to say, it doesn't feel right."

How apparent are the similarities? Judge for yourself:

Comparison of FutureTap app and Apple's patent illustration

That's FutureTap's app on the left, and Apple's patent illustration on the right. Notice any parallels?

Gentz says that the four-and-a-half-star-rated iPhone app in question, Where To? - GPS points of interest, was "launched on day 1 of the App Store" — that'd be July 10, 2008. Apple's suspect patent application, "Systems and methods for accessing travel services using a portable electronic device," was filed on October 1, 2009, and published last Thursday.

Apple's use of his app's UI has put Gentz in an uncomfortable position he claims. "We're faced with a situation where we've to fear that our primary business partner is trying to 'steal' our idea and design," he alleged.

Apple's "our way or the highway" control over its App Store leaves developers with little procedural recourse — and as has been demonstrated time and time and time and time again, the App Store police can be both heavy-handed and capricious, presumably prompting developers to think twice before complaining too loudly.

Gentz's blog posting paints him as a man torn between currying Cupertino's favor and standing up to them: "We've always been more than grateful for the platform Apple created. And, in fact, still are," he writes. "However, we can’t ignore it if the #1 recognition value of our (currently) only app potentially is under fire."

To his credit, Gentz contacted Apple about Cupertino's demonstration of the "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" adage. To Apple's lack of credit, they have not responded to his inquiry — even though, as Gentz notes: "Actually, one of the reasons we waited nearly a week with this post, was to give Apple time to respond."

Apple didn't immediately respond to our request for comment, either.

The legal implications are murky. Our reading of Apple's patent application shows it to describe, in part, many of the capabilities of Where To?, but the exceptionally wide net that the filing casts encompasses far more functionality.

In addition, it's clearly arguable that Apple may have used Gentz's UI for exemplary purposes, with no intent to claim ownership of the Where To? look and feel.

That said, if Apple did simply bag the UI without asking Gentz — or even notifying him — it would show a cavalier disregard for a developer's work and his investment in it.

Perhaps this is a mere tempest in the proverbial teapot. Or perhaps Gentz will receive an email from Steve Jobs that's a paraphrase of a message the Apple CEO sent to another developer, one who was concerned with seemingly arbitrary App Store shenanigans:

"Change your apps UI. Not that big of a deal." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Brit telcos warn Scots that voting Yes could lead to HEFTY bills
BT and Co: Independence vote likely to mean 'increased costs'
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
ISPs' post-net-neutrality world is built on 'bribes' says Tim Berners-Lee
Father of the worldwide web is extremely peeved over pay-per-packet-type plans
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Google+ GOING, GOING ... ? Newbie Gmailers no longer forced into mandatory ID slurp
Mountain View distances itself from lame 'network thingy'
Blockbuster book lays out the first 20 years of the Smartphone Wars
Symbian's David Wood bares all. Not for the faint hearted
Bonking with Apple has POUNDED mobe operators' wallets
... into submission. Weve squeals, ditches payment plans
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.