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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."
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.
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.
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 ?
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?
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..
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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