Final Apple vs. Samsung Post: There’s No Patent on Pinch-to-Zoom

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One final (I hope!) post on the Apple vs. Samsung patent case. Here’s what I now believe about the three utility patents:

  • Patent 381 covers inertial scrolling (the faster you move your finger, the faster a list scrolls) and the “bounce,” or “rubber band” effect when you reach the end of a list.
  • Patent 163 covers tap-to-zoom (on an iPhone, if you double tap a document, that section of the document is zoomed and centered; if you tap once with two fingers, that section of the document is de-zoomed).
  • Patent 915 covers the programming interface for both the bounce effect and tap-to-zoom.

That’s it. The pinch-to-shrink and spread-to-zoom feature of the iPhone isn’t part of the case at all. If you read through the patents you’ll find descriptions of lots of things, including pinch-to-zoom, but don’t let that throw you. What matters is what’s in the actual claims, and the only claims at issue were Claim 19 of the 381 patent (page 58), Claim 50 of the 163 patent (page 49), and Claim 8 of the 915 patent (page 51).

As for the design patents, it’s a mistake to think that Apple won a patent for “rounded corners.” What they showed wasn’t a single infringement, but that Samsung had slavishly copied the physical design, icon design, home page design, and packaging design of the iPhone — and then left behind an email trail showing what they’d done. That’s why Samsung lost, not because their phones have rounded corners.

For more on this, Cassidy James had an interesting piece a few days ago showing how Google designed around Apple’s patents. It turns out that it’s not all that hard.

BOTTOM LINE: I don’t think this case is nearly as important as it’s being made out. (1) The bounce effect is a nonobvious invention, and something that really is unique to Apple. It’s also easy to design around. (2) The tap-to-zoom patent is unfortunate. I don’t think it’s unique enough to deserve protection. (3) And the design patents aren’t for individual design choices (like rounded corners), but for the totality of Apple’s design. That kind of thing has been protectable for a long time, and isn’t hard to design around.

In the end, then, tap-to-zoom is really the only part of the case that seems overbearing, and who knows? It might get overturned on appeal. But even if it’s not, it’s just one feature. It’s not the end of the world.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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