Tonight—a big technology patent deep-dive by The New York Times (non-paginated), with some super-interesting reporting [and I rarely say that about anything with 'Patents' in the title] and lots of Apple sourcing. (Interactive: Three Apple patents that were involved in recent lawsuits and a new version of the patent war map.) Some interesting notes:

  • Vlingo, which is the engine behind Samsung’s S-Voice Siri competitor, almost went bankrupt defending itself from Nuance. Winning one case cost it $3M and forced it to sell itself to Nuance.
  • In 2006, Apple settled with Creative over the original iPod MP3 player design.  Steve Jobs said “Creative is very fortunate to have been granted this early patent.” Jobs immediately gathered execs afterwards and did soemthing different with iPhone. While Apple had long been adept at filing patents, when it came to the new iPhone, “we’re going to patent it all,” he declared, according to a former executive. Apple’s engineers were asked to participate in monthly “invention disclosure sessions.”
  • In the last decade, the number of patent applications submitted by Apple each year has risen almost tenfold.
  • “If we can’t protect our intellectual property, then we won’t spend millions creating products like the iPhone,” a former Apple executive said, noting that some of Apple’s patents, like the “slide to unlock” feature on the iPhone, took years to perfect. The concept “might seem obvious now, but that’s only after we spent millions figuring it out,” the executive said. “Other companies shouldn’t be able to steal that without compensating us. That’s why the patent system exists.”
  • The “Siri Patent” #8,086,604 took 10 attempts to get approved. Today, though the patent was not among those Vlingo and Nuance fought over, it is known as the Siri patent because it is widely viewed as one of the linchpins of Apple’s strategy to protect its smartphone technologies.
  • “When I get an application, I basically have two days to research and write a 10- to 20-page term paper on why I think it should be approved or rejected,” said Robert Budens, a 22-year patent examiner and president of the examiners’ labor union. “I’m not going to pretend like we get it right every time.”
  • Some experts worry that Apple’s broad patents may give the company control of technologies that, over the last seven years, have been independently developed at dozens of companies and have become central to many devices.“Apple could get a chokehold on the smartphone industry,” said Tim O’Reilly, a publisher of computer guides and a software patent critic. “A patent is a government-sanctioned monopoly, and we should be very cautious about handing those out.”

Apple, for its part, issued the following statement to the NYT:

“Apple has always stood for innovation,” the company wrote in a statement in response to questions from The New York Times. “To protect our inventions, we have patented many of the new technologies in these groundbreaking and category-defining products. In the rare cases when we take legal action over a patent dispute, it’s only as a last resort.

“We think companies should dream up their own products rather than willfully copying ours, and in August a jury in California reached the same conclusion,” the statement said.

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