Apple to Save Millions in Not Submitting Trivial Patent Applications

by Chris Howard May 09, 2007

Last week, two interesting and very related news stories caught my eye.

In the first one, in the U.S. it will be harder to get a patent on something that is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, because of the result of a recent court case.

According to Bloomberg: The U.S. Supreme Court made it easier to challenge patents for failing to introduce genuine innovations. “Granting patent protection to advances that would occur in the ordinary course without real innovation retards progress,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court.

This is going to greatly affect the software industry, which seems to patent every little development. “Oooh, look. I’ve designed a new color palette that when you click the tabs it does a 3D-cube-rotation to bring up that tab’s panel. We better patent that!”

You might think I’m being somewhat sarcastic and exaggerating the problem; however, our very own Apple, as if to prove the point of Justice Kennedy, was revealed last week to have applied for an equally trivial patent.

Apple is well known for being innovative and sometimes revolutionary. However, many of its developments are simply evolutionary, and, to paraphrase the infinite monkey theorem, a thousand monkeys randomly hitting keys on a computer keyboard will eventually write the code for the same advances.

Wayyyy back in the 1980s, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth and clubbing a potential mate as a form of courtship had only recently been superseded by disco dancing, I used a piece of software called Q&A. It ran on DOS and had a rather impressive interface with a simulated drop shadow on the boxes it displayed. Roll forward 20 years and I’m looking at a very realistic drop shadow on the windows displayed on my screen.

Which development was revolutionary and which was evolutionary? Along with all its truly innovative advancements, these evolutionary developments are the sorts of things Apple tries to patent.

MacNN reported that Apple has applied for several patents relating to Dashboard. MacNN covers one in particular, titled Multiple Dashboards.

MacNN’s report, quoting the patent applications, says things such as:

For example, the user can create and configure one dashboard to contain widgets related to work, and another for widgets related to personal matters.

Really Apple, one blindfolded monkey with dyslexia and a blunt pencil could have come up with that one.

Multiple dashboards could use a tab control scheme to organize multiple dashboards.

Get the blindfold!

The tab panel can include one or more enabled widgets which can be interacted with by a user, application, etc.

Whoa, hold the blindfold! Now that’s revolutionary—applications interacting with each other.


Apple states that in some implementations, a geometric object (e.g., a cube 1402) can be used to organize multiple dashboards on the user interface.

Barely evolutionary.

Other types of organization schemes can also be used to organize multiple dashboards on a user interface. For example, a Rolodex graphic can be animated to simulate the functionality of a Rolodex by allowing the user to flip through multiple dashboards.

Copying an existing manual function is revolutionary and innovative how?

Okay, so maybe Apple has come up with some revolutionary or innovative way of implementing these features, but it’s hard not to be skeptical.

It’s ironic that this patent application should surface the same week as the court ruling. It’s almost as if it’s there to prove the judge’s point.

Apple does great work and does lead the way in innovation; however, sometimes, as this Dashboard patent application shows, it does go overboard.


  • While I completely agree that it is so silly of companies like Apple to patent the silly little interfaces and the look of the software, I think that Apple and everyone else in the boat are doing this as a defensive move.
    I can’t really fault a company that gets sued for patent infringement every other week for applying for a patent for every little thing they do. If they didn’t, some mom and pop shop would patent the design, and sue every company that used it. It’s ridiculous but happens all the time.

    The whole patent system is a little screwy and I think it is a good thing that it is now more difficult to acquire patents like these.

    It’s good for the whole industry.

    Gabe H had this to say on May 09, 2007 Posts: 40
  • How did “I think Apple should Save Millions in Not Submitting” become “Apple to Save Millions in Not Submitting”?

    Write accurate headlines, please.

    Dogger Blue had this to say on May 09, 2007 Posts: 34
  • If I catch Chris’s drift, the problem is not that Apple and other companies apply for and are granted every stupid trivial patent under the sun (patent pending), it’s that the SYSTEM allows them these stupid trivial patents.

    So the government disallowing these patents will save money by not allowing them to bother even trying.

    Sadly, that’ll be the day.  These companies are still going to apply and still going to get them for the most part.  Apple has already BRAGGED about “200 new patents” in the iPhone alone.  I don’t think that’s something to brag about.  It’s something we should all be ashamed of.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 09, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • The difficulty is that companies are not only encouraged to apply for lame patents, they’re forced to in case the competition is granted a lame patent that’s similar to an unpatented method used.

    It’s the domain-name rush all over again. When the net first exploded into popularity, domain squatters popped up all over the place and they still hold the majority of unused (but registered) domains. This is not how the system was supposed to work.

    Similar to patents—it’s a land rush to cover your ass because if you don’t, you competition will sue.

    The system is long overdue for reform.

    vb_baysider had this to say on May 09, 2007 Posts: 243
  • I think the SYSTEM is open for abuses, and a lot of “businesses” abuse it to sue those who enter the market with the weak patent portfolio.

    But then there’s another batch of “businesses” who patent everything & trivial like crazy, and it seems like Apple is amongst the leaders here (a lot of pun here).

    This practice is not actually brings more protection against first batch, it’s rather used to stiffle innovation in other legitimate players in the market, so that Apple itself and the likes can act like those who abuse the system in the first place.

    WARGAZMUS had this to say on May 13, 2007 Posts: 3
  • Patent law is really dreadful thing, BUT you can be not “got burned by not patenting often enough”, because if YOU came up with the thing FIRST, and especially if you USED it(just like the case mentioned above with Hierarchy-something), than there is NO WAY THIS thing can be patented by anybody else.

    So cut with this bullshit, that companies like Apple do it to protect themselves from “patent sharks”, it’s that they themselves act like that, in Apple’s case sending letters of Cease & Desist, so they not extract money from other companies, they just stiffle possible innovation, thinkig that they own the innovation virtue themselves.

    And I guess this is the worst possible scenario of patent system abuses, form a standpoint of consumer.

    WARGAZMUS had this to say on May 13, 2007 Posts: 3
  • I agree.  The idea that Apple is FORCED to apply for all of these ridiculous and trivial patents is utterly absurd (and an extension of the assertion that Apple is not to blame in any way shape or form for anything that it ever does ever).  Not only is Apple not a victim here, but is often the bully in enforcing its own inane trademarks and patents.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 13, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Sorry, Dogger, I meant to reply to you sooner. A more “accurate” headline would not have suited the sarcastic style of the article.

    What I should have done though was put an exclamation on the end to help clarify to potential readers the article might just be a bit sarcastic. smile

    I wonder if I can get a patent on my particular style of (attempted) humor… wink

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 13, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • I think the little they save today by not filing for patents is going to end up costing them down the road. By not filing for patents, they may be leaving genuine innovations unprotected and giving up their legal rights. In a time of patent infringement suits, everyone is compiling a portfolio of patents as quickly as possible to protect themselves from being sued and to hamper competitors from succeeding. If Apple stops shoring up their patent portfolio, they are going to end up falling behind their competition and could end up in a helpless position if hauled into court one day or if someone decides to copy something they failed to protect.

    Quadraman had this to say on Aug 04, 2007 Posts: 2
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