The Moan: Of trademarks and lawsuits

It’s back. Perhaps not in its regular weekly sense, but we’re reviving what was once known as the Weekly Moan here on TiP. being British, I’m renewing my love for complaining, this week my attention is on Apple’s incessant need to file lawsuits and claims against patent infringement.

Earlier this week my anger towards Apple was taken to a new level. As some of you may know I have a love-hate relationship with the Cupertino-based company. (As do many of us.) I love the products, but detest the company’s business practices. Think back to last year’s antennagate scandal. How long did it take for Apple to own up about the clear flaw in antenna design? the first, badly implemented “you’re holding it wrong!”response was uncomfortable to see. the nerve! How about “we’re sorry, here’s a free Bumper“? Yes, eventually Jobsy told us all we could have free cases, but I don’t ever remember hearing an apology. it was more of a “stick a pacifier in the baby’s mouth to shut it up” response than a genuine attempt to make his customers happy. If that situation wasn’t not bad enough, look at the working conditions in its Foxconn factories. Workers there are driven so hard they would rather not be alive – it’s insane.

Anyhow, I’m digressing. this week Apple has apparently filed a trademark for the number ’280′. Why? Check your maps icon on your iPhone/iPad. this number is significant to Jobs&co because it shows the location of Apple’s HQ, in Cupertino. Attempting to trademark a number is surely one step further than doing the same with the words “App Store”. I mean, what’s the logic here? is another company going to start using the tiny, almost unnoticeable, ’280′ symbol on its maps icon? Even if they did, would the customer all of a sudden become confused thinking they now had an iPhone? If you thought Apple going after Amazon for calling its app store the “Amazon Appstore” was poor form, then surely going after anyone for using the number ’280′ is heading in to crazyville?

Apple’s desire for anal lawsuits doesn’t stop here. it seems to spend its entire summer, winter, spring and fall vacations pursuing endless claims of copycat-ism and stealing ideas. the two most recent, and noticeable examples would be the lawsuits versus HTC and Samsung. to a certain extent I did understand the Samsung one, for a while. the Galaxy S does look a little like iPhone 3G/3GS – from a distance – and the icons within TouchWiz also looked very similar to iOS. and yes, the accessories that came with the Galaxy Tab were almost identical to the iPad’s. However, adding devices like the Sidekick, Nexus S and Droid Charge makes no sense whatsoever. Apple’s fight against HTC was also reinvigorated in the past few days. unfortunately no specifics are known about which handsets are specifically targeted. like Samsung have stated within the past week, instead of trying to compete fairly, Cupertino is trying to stifle competition by blocking sales of its rivals’ devices. Right now, which two manufacturers ship and sell the most Android handsets? Yep – HTC and Samsung. If another company was top, guaranteed Apple would be going after them too.

The thing that winds me up the most about this is that Steve Jobs in an interview years ago stated that the best artists copy other artist’s best ideas. Essentially, in the smartphone world, taking the best parts of your competitors and adding them to your own product. Two fine examples will be made public in iOS 5: iMessage and Notification Center. these two “new” features are directly ripped from Android and BlackBerry. Android’s pull down notification tray, and BBM – the insanely popular instant messaging service. There’s just too much hypocrisy and contradiction going on here. One one hand Jobs condones copying, and on the other he pursues lawsuits to stop others from copying him. these double standards need to end.

So, where does this all end? At what point will the legal system stand up and say “enough is enough”. I agree, certain ideas and inventions do need patenting, especially when you are creating something so unique and new that anyone and everyone will want to claim it and implement it somehow. But, I’d dare to risk saying this – there’s nothing on the iPhone worthy of a patent, except its form factor and operating system. Features, processors, displays – all that stuff is similar on all high-end smartphones. However, the iPhone looks like an iPhone and nothing else. the single, round home key with a square logo planted right in the middle is iconic. the rectangular front face with symmetrical display and rounded corners is recognizable from some distance. It’s so popular that companies will, and do try to make clones of it (you’ll find a tonne on Ebay.) However, things like the Retina display, processor, sensors or whatever don’t need it. these are the parts that are improving all the time, and constantly change and evolve. Next thing you know Apple will file a patent the sunflower in the ‘Photos’ icon – oh wait, that’s probably been done.

What do you guys think? Am I overreacting? is this age of lawsuits going too far? Sound off your complaints in the comments below, or rant at me on twitter – @TiP_Cam.

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