Now some folks argued we might have a deal in place with Apple. I can assure you: we don’t. The story was equally surprising for us as for many others.
At first, we couldn’t believe what we saw and felt it can’t be true that someone else is filing a patent including a 1:1 copy of our start screen. Things would be way easier of course if that “someone else” would be really an exterior “someone else”. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
We’re faced with a situation where we’ve to fear that our primary business partner is trying to “steal” our idea and design. So how to deal with that? — As some of you know, we’ve always been more than grateful for the platform Apple created. And, in fact, still are. However, we can’t ignore it if the #1 recognition value of our (currently) only app potentially is under fire.
Where To? 1.0 with its characteristic home screen has been launched on day 1 of the App Store. The patent has been filed in December 2009. And clearly, the number of details with all the icons, their ordering and the actual app name “Where To?” in the title bar (which, as a sidenote, doesn’t make a lot of sense as a module in a potential iTravel app) can’t be randomly invented the same way by someone else.
I’m not a lawyer. I can’t really judge whether the inclusion of a 1:1 copy of our start screen in someone else’s patent is legal. I just have to say, it doesn’t feel right. (If you can recommend a good, affordable patent lawyer, please let us know.) The perspective of an endless legal battle, however, is not very intriguing for a small company like us that aims to throw all its power into improving existing and developing new apps. So we definitely hope there’ll be an easy solution. Perhaps it’s just a flaw in the filing that can be fixed easily. If someone from Apple Legal reads these lines, you’re welcome to discuss.
In summary, this episode once more reinforces my personal aversion against software patents. In my opinion they discriminate against smaller developers who can’t afford building a huge legal department to defend against such patent cases and to research existing patent mine fields.
What do you think about the case? Are we overreacting? Please let us know in the comments, we’re glad to hear your thoughts.
The real problem, as I see it, is that no one thought to approach FutureTap, and let them know that they’d be doing so. I deal with patent applications a lot at work because they’re often used as evidence in trials that I work on, and there’s no way around the fact that they’re hard to decipher. Bloggers are bound to read a lot into this, and a lot of the speculation is going to be based on a lack of information.
However, we’re not completely convinced, the filing uses Where To? just as an example and we should be glad for the free marketing. First of all, I question the marketing power of 20+ page patent filings. Second, we actually read the patent application. The relevant part of the patent application reads like this:
In some embodiments, a user can view available airport services through the integrated application. As used herein, the term “airport services” can refer to any airport amenities and services such as shops, restaurants, ATM’s, lounges, shoe-shiners, information desks, and any other suitable airport services. Accordingly, through the integrated application, airport services can be searched for, browsed, viewed, and otherwise listed or presented to the user. For example, an interface such as interface 602 [602 refers to the Where To? drawing depicted above, note by the author of these lines] can be provided on a user’s electronic device. Through interface 602, a user can search for and view information on the various airport services available in the airport. In some embodiments, airport services can be prioritized based on their location in the airport (e.g., using an integrated or associated mapping application). For example, the available services can be filtered such that airport services within a certain distance of a user’s gate are displayed (e.g., within 1000 feet of the user’s gate, or within any other suitable distance). In some embodiments, a map of the airport can be provided that indicates the available airport services.
This paragraph sounds like it describes Where To?’s functionality pretty exactly. I admit though, I found no evidence in the important claims part (1.-21. at the very beginning of the patent application). Again, I’m not a lawyer (but I learned this awesome abbreviation: IANAL :-)). Since all this is pure speculation, I guess our best advice is to stay calm and see what the lawyers say. After all, we should take legal advice from non-lawyers with a pinch of caution.
Also, we do hope that we’ll get a response to the inquiries we sent to Apple. (Actually, one of the reasons we waited nearly a week with this post, was to give Apple time to respond. When we were bombarded with rfc’s yesterday, we had to come out of the hiding, though.) So before we jump to false conclusions, we should give Apple a fair chance to explain.