Apple vs. Microsoft over iPOD patent dispute

On the whole, I am not a big fan of software patents. I believe they stifle competition and more likely than not it is the obvious, or naturally evolved ideas that get patented and not the true innovation. The classic example is when BT managed to fool the patent office in giving them a patent for hyper linking. Take the example of the latest Apple vs. Microsoft patent case.

Would you believe Apple is trying to patent the menu navigation of the Apple iPOD? You wonder what sort of people work in the patent office that would permit that sort of nonsense.

"[..]Generates playlists for a library collection of media items via selecting a plurality of seed items, at least one which is an undesirable seed item."

But Apple failed with this attempt. Why? Because Microsoft beat them to the patent office, some 5 months earlier. If upheld, then this means that Microsoft is due license fee's from Apple for every iPOD using the said menu/playlist feature sold to date. This may answer the question why Microsoft has been slow to enter this market; they may not need to.

But the story gets interesting. The man that originally submitted (and successfully won) the patent for Microsoft is a one John Platt, an expert in User Interfaces and a senior researcher at Microsoft Research. If you look at his resume it is indeed very impressive, including if you note his previous employers which include Synaptics. For those of you that may be unfamiliar with this company, they are the brains behind the touch sensitive pads on the majority of laptops. They are also renowned to have helped Apple develop and perfect the iPOD wheel. Small world eh?

Now you could blast Microsoft for creating the patent in the first place, but Apple are no less guilty, having attempted to do the exact same but only being beat to the post. This is a worrying trend where companies are creating "war chests" of patents. Sitting on ticking time bombs, waiting for an unsuspecting company to innocently blunder into the legal minefield. Companies no longer have to actually implement the idea, merely come up with it, stick it on a piece of paper, rush it through the patent process and just sit back and wait.

It's not right. It's not in the spirit of the patent system.

Footnote: A good article from Forbes on the whole issue


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