Justice is blind and stupid

The International Trade Commission has found that HTC products violate Apple patents, and the importation of devices will be banned starting in April of next year.  We don't yet know which devices are covered under this order -- HTC isn't yet saying -- only that "Notice is hereby given that the U.S. International Trade Commission has found a violation of section 337 in this investigation and has issued a limited exclusion order prohibiting importation of infringing personal data and mobile communications devices and related software".  It's a pretty broad statement, and we're not going to second guess at it until we hear the full details.

HTC gave Android Central the following statement (updated 6:20 EST):

We are gratified that the Commission affirmed the judge’s initial determination on the ‘721 and ‘983 patents, and reversed its decision on the ‘263 patent and partially on the ‘647 patent. We are very pleased with the determination and we respect it. However, the ‘647 patent is a small UI experience and HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon.

While fans on one side will cheer, and fans on the other side will call foul, we all will lose.  Justice really is blind, and when it comes to technology and innovation, it also seems pretty damn stupid. 

More: All Things D

 
There are 40 comments

P1X3L says:

what a waste of time and money... and we're all left with the bill.

vansmack says:

This is just the commission. It will be appealed to a "real" court and probably an injunction will be issued staying the commissions decision until a new judgment is made that I shouldn't expect that tapping a phone number in an email will dial that number.

Though I could do that in text messages long before the iPhone.

You're right, though, we all lose in legal battles like this. The patent system is broken beyond belief....

mackie99 says:

Apple's Advanced Technology Group invented Data Detectors in the mid 1990s, allowing an operating system to recognize formatted data (such as a phone number or email address) within an unstructured document, enabling the user to take action upon the data recognized.

http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/12/19/itc_grants_injunction_over...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text_messaging

Texting didn't become popular until 2000. So, I doubt very much you were able to do that in text messages back in the mid 90's.

limabird says:

"Invent" is an awful strong word for a concept like this. More accurately, Apple envisioned (or overheard someone else envision) the concept (at a time when many others had, and in fact may have been implementing it), and had the foresight and resources to successfully to patent it before anyone else (successfully being another key word, since often such patents are applied for by many companies and the patent office, supposedly impartially, decides who gets the golden ticket).

Bell faced a similar controversy with the telephone; but back then you actually had to have a working product to patent such an idea (he supposedly beat a competing inventor to the office with his working design). With today's patent office, the patent would likely have been granted years earlier to someone without the actual ability to build the product who successfully described "a device to transmit and receive voice signals over an electrical wire" (perhaps being even more vague by leaving out "over an electrical wire," which would have led to a company like Apple suing parents for having the audacity to have children with vocal cords and ears without first seeking their permission) Back then the patent office respected the fact that the ability to functionally implement an idea was equally if not more important than the idea itself.

DerekMorr says:

Otherwise known as regular expressions.

alexandr01d says:

Regular expressions would be one way to achieve the effect in question. The problem is, the patent doesn't simply cover the implementation, it covers the idea of automatically recognizing structured data in plain text -- no matter what code you use to implement it! Something as broad as this should have never been allowed a patent, especially since prior art existed (e.g. 1983 software by Borland).

DerekMorr says:

Yeah, that was my point -- this is one of those obvious things that shouldn't be patentable.

Jon Garrett says:

"texting didn't become popular until 2000?"

are you smoking crack right now? testing on mobile devices have been around since the early 90's. even in the US people were texting on a regular basis since the mid 90's

esper.knight says:

I graduated high school in 1997 and no one at the time had cell phones. I remember in 95'ish going on the internet for the first time. When I got a cell phone in 98/99 I was leading the pack. You could text beapers and what not, but true mainstream texting didn't get popular (more available) until the 2000's.

s2h2golf says:

First text message sent in 1992. It wasn't until 2000 that it really took off.

Small_law says:

Apparently, no Android phone with 2.3 and up has this, which means no phone now on sale is affected. Apple's doing this as a PR stunt.

The reaction of the Apple community to this is disgusting and ignorant. Anyone who thinks only Android users are thugs or trolls needs to check around the web right now.

FrasierCrane says:

The ICS Gmail app still has it, although it's possible that Gmail does it in a way that doesn't infringe Apple's patent.

Small_law says:

Yeah, i was wrong. Apple would sue you for speaking and claim spoken words infringe its Siri patents.

Mikey47 says:

No, speaking is still permitted, but you can't answer a question. Although you can still provide directions to an abortion clinic or family planning center - Apple won't touch those.

FrasierCrane says:

Fair cop then. If memory serves, the '263 patent was the Real-Time API patent, which would not have been possible to program around, so the panel's ruling is an almost total victory for HTC.

icebike says:

Exactly right.

Regardless of how the press will spin this, Apple went into the battle with a 5 combat divisions, and can out with an infantry squad left standing plus one Mess-hall Cook as a POW.

Those other patents are gone. Apple can't use them anymore.

And HTC will walk around this one too, because it doesn't kick in until April, by which time they will have it fixed.

So Apple lost big.

atg284 says:

Apple=douche

cashxx says:

Microsoft=Yesterdays Copier

Google=Todays Copier

Justice has been served today! Should stop imports on all the fake Android iPhones!

esper.knight says:

At least do us the decency of making yourself an educated person and see what Apple has stolen in its rise. It's unfortunate that software and hardware companies sometimes come across the same idea or even borrow/steal from each other. But to think that Google is some kind of thief and Apple's poop doesn't stink is just completely... Well it's absolutely moronic.

Saiyajin says:

Agreed! Apple has always been an innovator... as have Google and Microsoft in their own various avenues of products. Each one also has it's own history of copying ideas or products off of either each other, or other companies. None are absolute... As isolated and controlled as the iPhone dev and production is (which does yield specific benefits) it simply cannot be deemed the only smartphone out there allowed to have intelligence and touch capabilities that we use on other platforms. To boot, it's a LINUX phone, just like Android phones... the whole point of linux is that it has been a reliable open-source alternative. Apple copyrighted their modifications to it, as has Google for Android. I completely agree that patents should not be infringed on, but if we get to the point where we can't build a Chevy truck because Ford makes them, and they use an engine, 4 wheels and tires, and have seats in the cab, we've killed competition, and entered into idiocy.

icebike says:

Small UI experience!!??

I have a suggestion HTC: Just go Pure Android, drop all that Sense layer, and problem solved.

cashxx says:

Sense is probably the best layer out there among the Android phones. Would hate to see it go away! But they all look and resemble the iPhone. Microsoft for once came out with their own design, Google is yesterdays Microsoft.

jimtravis says:

Been using Sense on WM, and Android. Respect your opinion, but Sense looks much better than the standard grid of icons on the iPhone which resembles the grid of icons on every Palm OS device I remember using.

Mr.Froyo says:

oh icebike...

pseudoelf says:

Apple copies just as much as everyone else. Android is no more a copy of iOS as iOS is a copy of the original LG Prada phone. There are only do may ways to interface with a small touch screen that don't require user training.

pseudoelf says:

There is nothing unique about having types of icons to select and interact with. If that is the criteria then all smart phones are coping the desk top computers that came before them.

sURFNmADNESS says:

Appears patent is for text action done by hitting a link (hyperlink?). Really? Hyperlinking I would have thought was WWW patent years before 1996.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/12/itc-rules-to-ban-htc-...

"But the ITC found HTC in violation of only one of Apple's patents -- patent 5,946,647, which Apple was awarded in February 1996 and covers the "system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data," or basically a patent for handling the actions that take place in the background when you do something as simple as tapping a link in an email to open it in a Web browser."

vinny jr says:

Apple sues Samsung and Samsung is building all their processor chips for the I-Phone, real smart business. HTC isn't going to loose any sleep over this past ruling, Apple will loose in the long run. Next year Google will be on a different playing field. Im hoping With the aquisition of Motorola Google will move into a different direction. Google is Smartphone, without Google software no one would have the phones we have today. Take G-Mail from any phone, take the Google software away from the scum bag companies and see just how fast things change. Apple is a company that has been on top for a few years and doesn't like the new Smart Phone Landscape. All the talk lately is Android, this is killing their egos. Fuck Apple, their egos are hurting the development of that phone. They have turned into sue happy scum bags that are so jelous of Google it is very obvious. My Little Sister sold her I-Phone and told me she grew out of it, she is 16 years old.

Gator352 says:

I'm going to patent iPOOP and sue Apple for making the iphone. They both are the same thing right??

gall0wz says:

They will countersue for the use of the i. They'll also win a ban against eyeballs because how is anyone to know the difference between eye and i??

Swavek says:

Can't we all just get along and go back to old skool competition?
It seems to me that Apple is being a jerk and trying to sue every competitor out of the race. It's sad.

alexandr01d says:

Old school competition means lower profits for everyone. Apple is simply trying to maintain its exorbitant profit margins, and using the most efficient strategy -- stifling the competitors. As a consumer, I hope that Apple fails: we'd still have the innovative products from Apple, but also plenty of alternatives, and all that at lower prices.

gall0wz says:

Actually, it's more profits for everyone. Because they all have to keep innovating and selling new products. And because all of us nerds have to have the latest and greatest, a crapload of people go out to buy the latest and greatest. Very healthy for a good economy based off consumerism.

In this situation, it's just more profits for ONE company. Which does nothing to help the economy.

gall0wz says:

Whelp... it's time to ban all automobiles that aren't made by Ford!!

cashxx says:

Set a new Chevy Pickup 1500 beside a new Ford 150, they look similar, but not exactly alike.

Set an iPad down next to the Galaxy Tablet, even better put the smart covers on and tell the difference. Samsung is just blatantly copying. Some of the phones look like the iPhones and can't tell apart unless your close enough.

gall0wz says:

BTW... I'm still using my IBM Simon Personal Communicator, from 1993. That was the first touch screen phone with qwerty. I guess IBM should sue EVERYONE!!! Then ima laugh at everyone crying about losing their smartphone while we all carry around this brick!

Ira Sager says:

I'm with Businessweek magazine looking for IBM Simon users or former customers for a story that will go on our website. Can I ask you a few questions?

Ira Sager

saukriver says:

Folks, 7 topics and 1 observation:

7 TOPICS

1. Patent/Claims/Priority Date. The full patent number is 5,946,647. It claims priority to February 1, 1996, when it was filed.

Claim 1 reads:

1. A computer-based system for detecting structures in data and performing actions on detected structures, comprising:

an input device for receiving data;

an output device for presenting the data;

a memory storing information including program routines including

an analyzer server for detecting structures in the data, and for linking actions to the detected structures;

a user interface enabling the selection of a detected structure and a linked action; and

an action processor for performing the selected action linked to the selected structure; and

a processing unit coupled to the input device, the output device, and the memory for controlling the execution of the program routines

The step to focus on is "an analyzer server for detecting structures in the data, and for linking actions to the detected structures;"

2. Invention. What is the kernel of the invention in the patent? An NYT article says "the case decided Monday involves the technology that lets you tap your finger once on the touch screen to call a phone number that is written inside an e-mail or text message. It also involves the technology that allows you to schedule a calendar appointment, again with a single tap of the finger, for a date mentioned in an e-mail."

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/20/technology/apple-wins-partial-victory-...

As a number of people have pointed out here, there is not much invention in the "analyzer server for detecting structures on data" That may well have been done back in 1980s, if not before.

To get around that prior art, Apple may had been required to add the additional limitation in the 4th step of Claim 1: "AND FOR linking actions to the detected structures;". The novelty or inventive step is linking the actions to the review of the data structure. That is, determine that is is a phone number and then link that to the action of making a phone call (initiated when a users taps on the number link).

3. Someone said that Android 2.3+ does not practice the claimed invention in the 5,946,647. Is that true? How does Android 2.3+ provide the features claimed in the patents?

4. Is this really just an issue in HTC Sense or do TouchWiz and other do the same thing? Has Apple asserted the 5,946,647 patent v. Samsung, too?

5. Possible Workarounds:

A--HTC may update the software to put another step in the sequence. For example, when you tap on a telephone number in an email or SMS, maybe the software would then ask the user which action the user wished to take (make a call, block all calls from this number, save this number in my contact, etc.)

B--An alternative approach would be to continue to provide the "analyzer server" in the software. But the user might just have to get a patch from someone else (maybe Google) to install the feature of linking the action of making a call to the analyzing the data structure to determine it is a phone number

6. Mere Conclusion. It seems like the HTC press release is really a mere conclusion ("647 patent is a small UI experience"). HTC may have issued emails suggesting that is has a workaround in the can, ready to go.

7. Users Need to be Told the Actual Workaround. Before anyone gets all jolly because HTC is saying what you would very much expect HTC to say--right in the late stages of holday sales--has a workaround been issued, or will HTC just push out a sw update to remove the feature? Can anyone describe what the supposed workaround is? For example, a "workaround" would be cutting a phone number from your email and pasting it in your phone dialer would be a "workaround," but I don't think that kind of "workaround" would go over well with many users. Some people may be frustrated if there is an additional step before a phone call is initiated. Other people may be frustrated if they have to download the feature from someone else. But the users can then decide.

HTC has until April, but it would be nice if they educate users before April.

OBSERVATION. There is a patent application pending in the same patent family that also claims priority to Feb 1, 1996 patent filing. Apple may be in the process of seeking additional claims in a subsequent patent that may issue based on this 2010 application. Again, the priority on that 2010 application is back to Feb. 2, 1996

StoneRyno says:

Once again the consumer loses and funds the costs of wasted money for stuff that should never have been an issue. Here's the deal, I always use this example in these cases, like the light bulb it is not the idea of producing light with a bulb that is patented but the method in which the light is produced with the bulb that is patented. Which is why you see more than one patent when it comes to light bulbs. The same is true in software and hardware. If they were copy and pasting the code from apples OS to theirs then there would be patent infringement. Simply being able to do the same thing is not. According to patent law you can not patent abstract ideas and everything UI is an abstract idea. It is the code that is protected not the end result. So unless HTC copied apple's code verbatim no law has been violated.

saukriver says:

StoneRyno--You are not correct. Copying and pasting code = copyright infringement and not patent infringement

If you come out with a similar product, that is certainly protected by patent law.

The argument here is patent infringement. If HTC can figure out a different way to do, then there is no literal patent infringement of the claim invention.

Further, the fact that America has a great system that spurs inventors to share their inventions (in exchange for an ability to exclude for a limited period of time) is not wasted money.

This patent Apple prevailed on against HTC just does not seem very compelling. There is an invention there, and it is patentable. But it can be easily be worked around (or removed from HTC phones) by HTC (according to HTC).

Seems pretty darn easy for someone else to supply the software that links "actions to the detected structures". In which case, the HTC hardware/software will not infringe (at least, Claim 1) because the HTC phone will not practice all the limitations in the 4th step of that claim.

It would be nice if HTC would explain the ways (there may be multiple ways) it can work around the ITC exclusion order. But is has until April to do that.