Apple Vs. The Swiss Railways Patent - InformationWeek

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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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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: Strategist
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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