Feature Article

November 20, 2012

Apple's Amazing New Patent

It isn’t every day that we get to see the US patent office in direct action, but that was the case just a few days ago – November 13, 2012, when it granted Apple an exciting new patent – D670,713. The new patent is titled, “Display screen or portion thereof with animated graphical user interface.” But what does it refer to?

The patent application puts it this way: “The ornamental design for a display screen or portion thereof with animated-graphical user interface, as shown and described.” The application was first filed back on December 19, 2011, so it’s been almost two years.

Haven’t figured it out yet? Well, here are a few drawings that may give you a hint:

It should be a bit more obvious now – it has to do with how a screen of text unfolds in, say, a book reading/e-reader application when the user turns or begins to turn a page. We ourselves have always been rather fond of the Kindle page turning experience, at least on the iPhone. It’s a nice smooth curve that can happen quickly or slowly, with or without an angle, with the neat little extra of showing a slight “ink bleed-through” (in reverse) of the text that appears on the page you are turning. There is something particularly soothing about the Kindle page turn. True, it doesn’t show the full side of a deckle-edged book, but we like it none the less.

In the above diagrams, note that there are a number of different “folds” associated with the patent. And each of these folds is associated as well with a certain angle. There is an initial unfolding that shows a bit of the lower right hand corner. A second and third unfolding shows progressively more of each page. Apple claims a patent here based more or less on the actual animation Apple has built into the page turn.

Some folks have cast a rather disparaging view of the whole thing – not for Apple having applied for the patent but for the patent office having granted it. The question raised is one of underscoring that perhaps the patent office is indeed broken (as many in the media have not only recently claimed but have claimed now for about 5 years). We turned to our favorite patent guy, Florian Mueller, who runs the FOSS patent blog about it and here is what he told me:

“User interface elements should generally be excluded from design patent protection. The technology behind user interfaces can be protected by utility (i.e., technical) patents, but user interface designs should be excluded subject matter. The USPTO has drawn a lot of criticism on the Internet for its decision to grant this patent. There really is a need for more patent quality.”

 Generally speaking, we agree with Mueller. The problem however, is that something as seemingly innocuous as this page turn method can – as we believe Samsung did with its blatant stealing of the original iPhone look – easily be appropriated by others. Even if the “grab” is likely temporary, as Samsung believed its “rounded corners” theft was (it’s just to get us on the map ASAP), it can do harm. Mueller is no doubt right that there are other types of patents to place these sorts of things under, and perhaps the USPTO (which is alas understaffed) should be far more diligent about it.

In any case, this was but one of 38 new patents Apple was granted last week. We find this one particularly interesting: 8,305,949 - System and method for spatial multiplexing-based OFDM broadcast/multicast transmission A method of OFDM transmission/reception comprising: transmitting broadcast/multicast signals on a first antenna and unicast signals on a second antenna; segregating broadcast/multicast sub-channelization from unicast channels sub-channelization based on FDM (frequency division multiplexing)/TDM (time division multiplexing) sub-channelization.

It sounds a bit more patent worthy in any case. Hmm…we thought Nokia, Motorola/Google, Samsung, HTC and Microsoft had one of these already.

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