Mobile // Mobile Devices
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10/19/2012
11:57 AM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent

Apple's not been convicted of anything by a jury, even if a clever Swiss attorney could make up a color graphic that makes the two clock faces look exactly the same.

Just a short while ago, I remember another clock issue on the docket. Apple in U.S. District Court showed the jury how Samsung's clock icon resembled its iPhone icon. That was like a slowly tightening noose around Samsung's neck. Any member of the jury could see the similarity between the two. The noose was tightened further when Apple illustrated how Samsung had used the handset phone image once found on AT&T phone booths. Apple used it first; Samsung shouldn't have copied.

Still, it all seemed a little confusing. AT&T originated the image but Apple was suing Samsung because its phone icon looked too much like Apple's. I set about researching this issue, trying to clear up when Apple's elevated design sense allowed it to engage in copying, while copying by others was of the guilty kind. The jury had figured this out. Why couldn't I?

It wasn't easy. As you comb through Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, you come across instance after instance where Jobs picked up a good idea from someone else and copied it. Often times, he fit a good design idea into an Apple product that became a commercial success, something that the originators of the idea might have failed to do.

The ideas were sometimes just someone else's design details. For example, Jobs was fond of the leather stitching found in his Gulfstream jet, and he insisted an identical pattern be used as the faux stitching portrayed in the iCal calendar application. But sometimes this process of making a commercial success out of someone else's idea got confused with originating the idea itself. In that case, Apple not only collected the profits on the product but asserted ownership of the ideas as well.

Xerox Parc, for example, produced a breakthrough set of ideas for a new user interface, based on using graphical elements powered by a user's mouse. Jobs toured Parc and became excited by the UI's prospects. Later, a team of Apple engineers toured the facility and came away just as enthusiastic. They went on to produce the Macintosh user interface based on visual elements, powered by a mouse.

At the time, Microsoft was producing software for Apple, and Jobs and Bill Gates had struck a deal where Microsoft would produce software for the Mac and leave Apple a year's lead time, before bringing windowing software out for the IBM PC. But the Mac was late and the year was nearly up when the Mac finally launched. Soon, Microsoft Windows was available in the market as well, and Jobs took offense that Microsoft dared to produce a competitor, although Gates had lived up to their agreed timetable.

Furious, Jobs summoned him to Cupertino and confronted him in his conference room, "surrounded by 10 Apple employees eager to watch their boss assail him," according to Jobs' biographer, Isaacson. It was during the period when Jobs was known for his volcanic temper. "You're ripping us off," he shouted. "I trusted you, and now you're stealing from us," Jobs said. Thirty years later, he would still tell Isaacson, "They ripped us off completely because Gates has no shame."

But Gates knew where the graphical user interface had originated. With Apple employees looking on, he advised Jobs: "I think it's more like we had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you already stolen it."

So did Apple copy the Swiss Railroad clock or didn't it? During the trial, Apple didn't accept Samsung's explanation that internationally recognized symbols, such as the Ma Bell phone, make good user icons and should be available to all. But Apple has been caught doing something similar, recognizing a useful icon in a design that it now concedes belongs to the Swiss Federal Railway. The amount of payment wasn't disclosed. But I hope it was more than a slap on the wrist.

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scottslc
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scottslc,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/1/2012 | 8:07:10 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
I thoroughly enjoyed your article. I can see by the comments (I suggest you edit the article to remove the claim that Switzerland is irrelevant and follow that up with a written apology to the Swiss ambassador.) and the like how difficult it is to write and get a simple point across. You have made a fan, the rest of you, quit taking it all so seriously.
Vikikuks
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Vikikuks,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/29/2012 | 10:56:12 AM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
1.was sarcasm really needed here?
2. Is an offensive comment meant for "a small and irrelevant European country" (are you serious ?) like Switzerland (for God's sake !!) supposed to be taken as sarcasm ? ...just because it comes from an American Writer ? and I dont even come from Switzerland btw, just that the "holier than thou" attitude is so jarring .
3.just as "Apple's design ...is a national treasure, ....needs to be protected ..." should there be any doubt that clock designs hold similar value for the Swiss ?
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/27/2012 | 1:21:34 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
I suggest you edit the article to remove the claim that Switzerland is irrelevant and follow that up with a written apology to the Swiss ambassador. That part removed any credibility from this article and was entirely unnecessary. Next time think before you write!
As far as the design patent goes, Apple has numerous of questionable design patents and uses them to sue the pants off from others. Now they are on the receiving end and folks get upset? Besides that, the Swiss railway patent on the clock face has an important historical aspect to it. Further, Switzerland is a global powerhouse in regards to clock manufacturing. And the red dot on the second hand's end was added so that train conductors and other staff can easily see when the full minute is reached to make departures exactly on time.
Mr. Babcock, maybe you should read first about things that you plan to write about, otherwise your posts are nothing more than an embarrassing string of clueless accusations. I know you can do better!
TreeInMyCube
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TreeInMyCube,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2012 | 5:36:59 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
I'm also interested in Apple's business arrangement with MS. If Gates merely kept to his agreed-upon timeline, and shipped on time, that's one thing. It was not Bill's fault that Apple's ship date was later than Steve and his team anticipated when they signed the agreement. Not even Apple fanboys would argue that MS should be compelled to delay its product because the Mac product was late.
It reads to me like the story of the tortoise and the hare, unless I've missed something. Sure, Steve had a volcanic temper, and it probably made him feel better to yell at Bill in front of Apple employees. That does not equate to MS actually stealing something from Apple.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
10/23/2012 | 3:34:27 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
I understand the point of the article, but it misses the target. So, sure, every company copies some minor aspect of something else once in a while, there's nothing new in that. But copying major elements of a complex design is different. As far as Apple at Parc, the author either doesn't know the real story of the events around that, or is deliberately leaving the most important parts out.

Xerox invited Jobs to Parc to show him what they were doing with a UI. He wasn't there on some public tour. Apple and Xerox had a business arrangement, Xerox was actually inviting Apple to license the UI. A deal was done, with Xerox receiving Apple stock. Apple then took that primitive UI and made major changes, such as overlapping windows, which the Xerox didn't have.

It's interesting to note that after Apple designed their superior version, Xerox came out with their own computer, called the Xerox Star. I remember this pretty well. It cost $15,000, in the currency of the time, while the much superior Lisa cost $8,000. While neither was a commercial success, it killed Xerox's computer ambitions, while Apple's went on to thrive.

This is the story as it actually existed, and as it should have been told here.

The story given as to Apple and Microsoft's relationship using the Mac UI is equally inaccurate.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
10/23/2012 | 1:54:30 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
Sarcasm is effective only if it is a shared opinion. Otherwise lets label it offensive, intimidatory, bullying tactics ... Effective sometimes in a court battle or a political debate, does it really fit in an unbiased op-ed piece read internationally? Oh right, who said it was unbiased. Besides if you looked at the side by side comparison clearly one had the label removed from the face so it was not in effect a perfect copy.
dm5hats
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dm5hats,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2012 | 1:48:41 AM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
Where will this all end?! Sure, patents are necessary to protect inventions, but when things get this convoluted, who is really in the right?
And...who pays? Of course, the consumer suffers once again. All such costs are transferred to the product eventually, and we pay, and pay, and pay.
There must be a way to stop this frivolity!
Place the issue and suit details in the public domain and let the public vote as jury. Our decision will be binding. Any penalties to be paid (or received) must be processed within 90 days otherwise the offender must pull the product from the shelves. No further appeal process will be allowed. Maybe that will stop them all!
gball435
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gball435,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/22/2012 | 8:50:46 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
No fancy red globe on the end of the sweeping second hand... so shocking? I think not.
Dadinator
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Dadinator,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/22/2012 | 5:50:15 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
Charles, I got the drift of your piece, your tongue firmly in cheek. Nicely written.

Amazing watching people get bent out of shape over such silliness. Maybe we are all just a little too quick to find offense in everything.

BTW, did the Swiss look at the clock that comes up when you click the date and time on the taskbar in Windows 7. The similarity is shocking. So who gets to sue who?
Leo Regulus
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Leo Regulus,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/22/2012 | 5:43:50 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
Somewhere back in US Major Industrial History, some major US Auto exec is said to have something with words to the effect: 'Make the front grille look like a Jaguar and go with it.'. This could go on ad-infinitum etc. If I build a car that travels on 4 wheels, maybe it is copying some else's patent?
There is a reasonable level of reality that needs to be looked at here. But, 'If it looks like an Apple, Walks like an Apple and Tastes like an Apple' -- Good thing that I didn't step in it.
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