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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.

Apple One Year After Steve Jobs: Hits And Misses
Apple One Year After Steve Jobs: Hits And Misses
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Apple's design sense is a national treasure, one that needs to be protected at all costs, not just for the life of a patent but for the lives of our children, our grandchildren, and our grandchildren's children. That $1.05 billion verdict handed down by the jury was just a slap on the wrist.

You can imagine my dismay, then, to learn that the Swiss Federal Railway informed Apple last month that the design of the clock face in the iOS 6 clock application running on the iPad bears "a remarkable similarity" to the wall clocks that occupy Swiss railway stations.

What on earth were they suggesting? That Apple copied their clock? You can't compare the intracacies of an iPhone, with its polished steel bezel, its Gorilla glass, its multi-gesture user interface, and its wondrously rich application choices, to a wall clock seen every day by travelers in a small and irrelevant European country.

Granted, the Swiss did not accuse Apple of "slavishly copying" their clock, although they probably suggested that the "ordinary observer" might find "substantial similarity" between the two. They also refrained from accusing Apple of "ripping off" the national railroad's design ideas. But unfortunately for Apple, the Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (railroad) had taken pains to trademark and copywrite its clock design. There were some minor differences, but those differences might not have stood up to review if the railroad went to court.

[ Read Beyond The iPhone, Why Apple Sues Samsung. ]

I've been in Swiss train stations and find very little that Apple is likely to want to borrow in the way of design ideas. But I have to concede, when placed side by side, Apple's hash marks around the perimeter and the red second hand in the iOS 6 clock application do look a lot like the Swiss clock. The giveaway is the circular pointer, a big, floating, red dot at the end of the second hand. It suggests some sort of railroad signal. Maybe that's why the Swiss adopted it for use in its train station time keepers.

If you shrink that clock face down to the size of an icon, the simplicity of the design still stands out. I believe Apple would only use someone else's design because so many people are trying to steal its intellectual property. When you use a distinctive design like the Swiss clock face, it makes it easier to point out to a jury that somebody is ripping off your design. That's probably why Apple copied the Swiss.

Wait, I didn't mean to say that. Samsung copies, Apple doesn't. 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.

The dimensions of my dismay were raised further earlier this week when Apple went ahead and settled for a secret amount with the Swiss rail corporation. Think of it. Apple's future R&D has been diminished by a nation of outmoded, cottage-bound watch repairers who have never been to California. Do the Swiss really think they invented the clock face? They certainly did not.

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bajangerry
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bajangerry,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/20/2012 | 4:30:14 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
"a small and irrelevant European country." Seriously??? How can ANYONE take your opinion on ANYTHING seriously when you make comments like this? And to say that Apple has NEVER copied anyone is just laughable. You dear sir are exactly why Americans on the whole are disliked worldwide!
" a nation of outmoded, cottage-bound watch repairers who have never been to California."
Who the hell wants to go to a polluted dump like California anyway? (See, I can do it too) :)

BTW, taken directly from Wikipedia "Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world by per capita gross domestic product, and has the highest wealth per adult (financial and non-financial assets) of any country in the world."
SH921
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SH921,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/20/2012 | 6:39:04 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
I find this article very correct and writer is correct in his opinion that Apple takes inspirations from places which are not directly related to the product and converts those ideas for making products better. This is different than copying someone idea and putting it in a competing product (which Samsung has done).

But at the same time I find writer's attitude towards Switzerland way too unacceptable. I am not an American neither a Swiss but what the statements like "a small and irrelevant European country" and "a nation of outmoded, cottage-bound watch repairers who have never been to California" are not acceptable while describing any country. You need to demean a country or it's people to show that US is better or superior.. Is this according to journalistic ethics and neutral reporting.. You should not insult even a country like Pakistan or Iraq leave Switzerland..
LairdDrambeg
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LairdDrambeg,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/22/2012 | 1:22:19 AM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
You forgot to mention that, while Gates admitted the "break-in" and "theft", Apple's adoption of Xerox technology was done with explicit permission and exchanged for shares in Apple, which if Xerox had kept would have rewarded them handsomely now. Apple was an approved plagiarist - Microsoft was a thief... who only realized the value of the technology after its elegance had been demonstrated by Apple. Who would you rather do business with?
JFUCCI890
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JFUCCI890,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/22/2012 | 4:55:17 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
Apparently you do not recognize sarcasm when you see it.
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
10/22/2012 | 5:36:19 PM
re: Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent
Attempted humor is always a dangerous thing. I tried to be so outrageous that people would see a completely ego-centric point of view asserting itself in accepting "copying" by Apple. I am an admirer of the Swiss, especially their swift and quiet trains, which I hope the Federal Railway will allow me to ride again one day..
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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