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Apple is still eating out on Steve Jobs’s patents

Apple Computer Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs gestures on stage after introducing the new iPhone in San Francisco, California, January 9, 2007. Jobs introduced an eagerly-anticipated Apple-branded mobile phone with a touch-screen that combines features from the company's popular iPod music player.
Reuters/Kimberly White
What are the heuristics to interpret this gesture?
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Apple just won another a battle in its ongoing war with Samsung over intellectual property, and this victory has Steve Jobs’s fingerprints all over it.

The US International Trade Commission announced (pdf) that it would bar Samsung from importing products that infringe on two of Apple’s patents, beginning in 60 days. It’s not clear yet whether Samsung will be able to work around the patents without difficulty or if the Obama administration will grant the company the same relief it gave to Apple in a similar situation.

While we wait for more developments, Apple fans can appreciate that it was the so-called “Steve Jobs patent” that helped bring Samsung low. Patent no. 7,478,949—for a “touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics”—was one of the patents Samsung was found to be infringing. (The other concerns headphone jacks and isn’t attributed to Jobs.)

Patent ‘949’s association with Jobs is so strong in Apple’s eyes that it attempted to refer to it as the “Steve Jobs patent” in a case against Motorola before a judge forbid them from doing so, worried it would turn a technical case into a popularity contest. The patent essentially covers how the touchscreen on your iPhone or iPad interprets the various pokes, prods, and drags to which you subject it.

You can imagine how a lot of different touchscreen devices might infringe on that, and so can Apple, which has deployed the patent in suits against Samsung and Motorola. But the US Patent Office suspects a case of patent creep: Late in 2012, it issued a preliminary notice invalidating the patent. At the time, IP analyst Florian Mueller suggested the ruling made sense because ‘949 ”seeks to monopolize the right to solve a problem as opposed to a specific solution.”

That ruling  is not yet finalized—Apple is still appealing—but it would render much of today’s decision by the trade commission moot.  And in any event, it does cast Jobs’s legendary hatred of patent trolls in a different light.

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