It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. I’ve been busy with my podcast, my recurring fall job as Professor of IT, and following the Apple/Samsung trial. That last one could be a full time job itself! While the comments I read on the Apple, Android, and general tech websites seem to be in line with what I would expect (that is, each side has a well-reasoned argument for why the trial outcome is good or bad), the comments on the lay-people sites really opened my eyes. Some folks missed the point entirely.
I’ve heard the argument that Apple’s patent victory will stifle innovation. Maybe it will, I don’t know. But I’ve seen on sites like Fark that a large number of people don’t know what innovation actually is. I actually saw several commenters say that without the ability to use pinch to zoom or rubber band scrolling, Apple’s competitors can no longer innovate.
I see them say that a lot too. Dictionary.com defines innovate as:
So, explain to me how using a feature that someone else has defined so well as to patent it is innovation.
Let me give you another example. Loren Brichter, originally of Tweetie and later of Twitter, was granted a patent on “pull to refresh”, a concept now used by many applications. Apple has implemented P2R (as I call it) in iOS 6. Even though Loren had stated that Twitter would not sue anyone for using P2R, I suspect Apple doesn’t want to take that chance. I believe this may be why Apple’s implementation is slightly different.
Now, I may be reading the patent wrong, but for the sake of my case, let’s assume I’m reading it correctly (it’s just an example, anyway). The patent implies that the refresh occurs once the user removes their finger from the screen while the refresh icon is showing. In Apple’s implementation, the user does not have to remove their finger. They simply have to pull far enough to trigger the refresh. They made a change to avoid the patent. Whether it’s a good change is debatable, and beside the point.
Was that change innovation? Maybe. But surely it was more innovative than simply using the feature as it was originally designed.
I think most of us agree by now that, for technology, the patent system is broken. I’m not trying to debate that. I don’t even mind when some company uses a feature that another company pioneered. In fact, I as a customer usually benefit from that. But it’s not innovation. It’s more like the opposite.