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Apple drops 'thermonuclear' patent bombshell

What Steve Jobs threatened, Tim Cook delivers

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April Fool Apple has launched a new patent assault on its competitors, one that appears to unleash the nukes that Steve Jobs reportedly told his biographer Walter Isaacson he was going to drop on Google's Android.

"I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product," the late Apple cofounder told the author of the überpopular authorized biography Steve Jobs in a 2010 interview. "I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

Apple's legal team has now filed a patent-infringement lawsuit that hurls a potentially Edward Teller–level legal challenge at its smartphone and tablet competitors. Or, at minimum, one that opens up a massively profitable licensing opportunity for Cupertino.

Apple's SVP and general counsel Bruce Sewell, when announcing the sweeping lawsuit in a rare Saturday call with reporters and analysts, cited not his late boss, Steve Jobs, but his current one, Tim Cook. "As Tim said in 2009," Sewell reminded us, "'We like competition as long as they don't rip off our IP. And if they do, we will go after anyone who does. We are ready to suit up and go against anyone'."

The patent being asserted by Sewell and his crew is USPTO Patent #1,042,012, first granted to the American Mathematical Society in October 1912, subsequently renewed, then acquired by Apple at an unknown date.

The first entry among the patent's Claims describes "A quadrilateral having all four interior angles of 90°, opposite sides that are parallel, and congruent diagonals that bisect each other."

Yes, Apple is asserting a patent on the rectangle.

When The Reg pressed Sewell on the validity of patent #1,042,012 and the arguable existence of prior art, he defended Apple's legal strategy.

"When we sued Samsung in April of last year," he told us, "one of our assertions was that that company had modified its original design to include 'square icons with rounded corners' that were copied directly from our iOS icons. How much of a legal leap is it from the assertion of owning squares with rounded corners to asserting that we own the rectangle?"

Sewell also reminded us of Apple's slide-to-unlock patent-infringment lawsuits, which Motorola lost in Munich and Samsung won in Mannheim, but which still remain up in the air – although there are signs that a peace treaty may be in the offing.

"A 'person familiar with the art'," Sewell told us, using a familiar bit of patentese, "might argue that the concept of sliding something to unlock something has been around since the deadbolts of the Middle Ages. But it seems the Weißbier-sodden Bavarians were more interested in hefting their hearty hulks to the Hofbräuhaus than in debating 'prior art'."

When we pointed out to Apple's general counsel that his company hadn't exactly played fair in a patent-infringment case against Samsung, having changed the shape of an image of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in a court presentation to make it more resemble an iPad, he dismissed our objection.

"It's still a rectangle," he sniffed. "And we own the rectangle." ®

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