Earlier this week, Apple got a bunch of new patents approved, including one covering the “design” of the original iPad.
What does this “design” patent cover?
Mostly, it covers the fact that the iPad’s “design” is a rectangle with rounded corners.
If there has been any recent patent that better reveals the absurdity of our current patent system, it’s hard to imagine what it would be.
For the last few decades, the idea of tablet computers has often been discussed. Several companies have created prototypes. As far as I can remember, all of these prototypes were rectangles with rounded corners. (Do you remember a triangle-shaped one? Maybe a disk? Neither do I). Sharp corners, meanwhile, could potentially hurt consumers, so of course intelligent designers will round them.
But now Apple has been given a patent for the iPad design that includes its rectangular shape and rounded corners.
So… Does that mean that Apple will now seek an injunction against Google, Amazon, Samsung, and other companies that have produced rectangular-shaped tablets with rounded corners? Will Apple try to use the patent to extort billions out of these companies?
Thankfully, patent expert Alexandre Montagu of MontaguLaw, the author of Intellectual Property: Money And Power In A New Era, doubts that it will.
Montagu believes Apple will use the patent primarily to defend against “counterfeit” iPads.
Montagu also points out that there’s precedent for patents like these: A shoe maker, for example, was given a patent for using the colour red. And he observes that U.S. patent law only covers the United States, leaving plenty of room for interpretation elsewhere.
If Apple only uses its iPad “design” patent to prevent counterfeiters from producing fake iPads, great. Given that Apple just successful sued Samsung for copying some elements of the iPhone, however, it’s hard to share his optimism.
As the recent patent wars between Apple, Google, Samsung, and other tech giants illustrate, our patent system has not kept up with the times. The idea that a company could patent rounded corners is laughable. The fact that the company could use this patent to force other companies to stop making rounded corners is scary. It’s also terrible for consumers.
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