New Apple Smartphone Patents Could Spell Trouble for Google and the Androids

By | Jul 25, 2012

The Apple versus Android fight for dominance in the smartphone market may have entered a new level of intensity, as the battlefield moves from boardroom to courtroom.

While Apple was recently granted some 25 patents, one particular item could prove problematic for Google. Patent number 8,223,134 is titled, "Portable electronic device, method, and graphical user interface for displaying electronic lists and documents." It ties to a series of previously granted patents that date back to 2007 and gives Apple rights to software and user interface design principles for handheld devices. These rights can be used to limit others--namely Google--from using its designs or bring them to the negotiating table over licensing fees.

Using legal measures and patent protection is not a new tactic in smartphones, consumer electronics, and high-tech software. Companies, including Google, HP, and Oracle have endured recent high-profile courtroom battles, and the trend is likely to continue as the technology titans have been aggressively spending to boost their patent portfolios.

A Fortune/CNN Money article quoted several sources with competing perspectives. A Wired story included remarks from Apple CEO Tim Cook that explained the company's actions, which said in part, "... it's important that Apple not be the developer for the world. We can't take all of our energy and all of our care and finish the painting, then have someone else put their name on it."

What to Learn From the Apple Patents

Software, more than hardware, has become the key differentiator in devices and applications. Elegant simplicity, intuitiveness that virtually eliminates the need for operating manuals, and rock-solid reliability have helped Apple's iPhone build an impressive lead in the hypercompetitive handheld device market. Those same characteristics have translated well--Apple's success created the tablet craze--to the tablet market with the iPad. Its software successes with iPhone and iPad are now expected to influence the latest versions of its operating system--referred to as Mountain Lion--for Mac desktops and notebooks.

Software is the magic powering the truly impressive growth of Apple. And the magic that consumers and business buyers are entranced by is the so-called user interface---that is, the presentation screens with which users of the software see and interact.

Midsize businesses who produce software for customers as well as partners and internal employees would be wise to examine and learn from the lessons of Apple. Whether software or hardware products are produced internally or sourced externally, take the time or contract the expertise to produce products that people want to use, not simply have to use. Apple's products are well designed and engaging such that young children are able to operate them with little to no instruction.

Think of the last software or hardware product your company created. Could it pass the Apple design simplicity and elegance test? Would an inexperienced user know how to interact with it without an operator's manual or training? If not, it is well worth rethinking your design criteria when specifying your current early-stage product portfolio and the next generations of products you create. There may be intellectual property--and the patent protection available from it--for your company as well.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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