Steve Jobs Told Samsung Not To Steal Inertial Scrolling, Right Before They Stole It Anyway


Steve Jobs was particularly proud of the iPhone's inertial scrolling feature.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned blogging about Apple, it’s that the company doesn’t stand for copycats — especially when those copycats go after patents that Steve Jobs was particularly proud of. That’s what Samsung did when it copied Apple’s inertial scrolling feature, right after Jobs told them not to.

Apple’s ongoing legal battle with Samsung — in which it is seeking $2.5 billion in damages — isn’t just about design patents and how Samsung Galaxy devices look identical to Apple’s. It’s also about utility patents, which are related to the iOS operating system itself, and how users interact with it.

There are three utility patents in the case, which are noted by NetworkWorld as:

  • 381′ patent – this relates to the “rubber band” effect that occurs when a user attempts to scroll past the end of a displayed document or webpage. This is also known as intertial scrolling.
  • ‘915 patent – this relates to how the OS determines whether or not a user is attempting to scroll with one finger or zoom in via a multitouch gesture
  • ‘163 patent – this relates to tapping to zoom

Patent 381′, which cover inertial scrolling, is one that Steve Jobs was particularly proud of. During an interview with All Things D back in 2010, Jobs said that this feature was a turning point for Apple, and prompted the company to shelve the iPad and create the iPhone instead.

I asked our people about it [a tablet], and six months later they came back with this amazing display. And I gave it to one of our really brilliant UI guys. He got [rubber band] scrolling working and some other things, and I thought, ‘My God, we can build a phone with this.’ So we put the tablet aside, and we went to work on the iPhone.

When Scott Forstall, Apple’s Senior Vice President of iOS, was on the stand late last week, he was probed about the inertial scrolling feature, and the discussions Jobs had with Samsung over it. Forstall said:

I don’t remember specifics. I think it was just one of the things that Steve said, here’s something we invented. Don’t – don’t copy it. Don’t steal it.

He continued:

Rubber banding is one of the sort of key things for the fluidity of the iPhone and – and all of iOS, and so I know it was one of the ones that Steve really cared about.

I actually think that Android had not done rubber banding at some point and it was actually added later. So they actually went form sort of, you know, not yet copying and infringing to – to choosing to copy, which is sad and distasteful.

But I can’t give you a specific recollection of – of Steve, you know, going over rubber banding with – with them in those meetings or not…

I expect it came up, because it’s one of the key things we talked – you know, he and I talked about, but I don’t know if it came up there.

Apple reportedly offered to license the patent to Samsung in November 2010, and Jobs met with the company in an effort to settle these issues out of the court room. Apple was also unhappy with Samsung smartphone icons, many of which look remarkable similar to those used in iOS.

Forstall goes onto describe one of those meetings:

Well, so I – I think, in general, what Steve did in these meetings was just talk through. There’s a set of things we’ve done, which you’re copying, and those – those things, you know are – and I think a lot of different things were discussed.

Now, I can’t give you specific recollections of – of what – you know, I can’t precisely say this is – was what was discussed at this meeting and guarantee it. I know like the design of icons with the rounded recs was something that we cared about because it – it – it looked uniquely ours, and we didn’t want other people to go and copy that design, because it would confuse users as to what’s, you know, an iPhone versus what’s one of these copy phones.

So – but I don’t remember specifically even if in one of these things if – if the icon appearance was discussed.. icon design was discussed.

I do know that there were specific icons that were discussed where they absolutely ripped us off, and these were – some of those were extreme. One was in merging calls.

Clearly the two companies could never meet an agreement, and now they’re battling it out in court. It’s unclear whether Apple’s demands were just too much for Samsung, or whether the Korean company felt it shouldn’t pay for Apple’s IP, and that it would just continue to use it anyway.

Forstall also talked about patent 163 last week, and he revealed that he got the idea for the “tap to zoom” gesture in iOS after browsing the web around with an iPhone prototype. He frequently found himself pinching the page in and out to make things look “just right,” and so it occurred to him that the iPhone needed a simple gesture that would do all this automatically.

Forstall said his team worked hard to develop a solution, and that he feels tap to zoom — like inertial scrolling — is another one significant feature in iOS.

Source: NetworkWorld

  • András Oláh

    inertial scrolling and tap to zoom is such a basic feature of any capacitive multitouch interface i think no company should have the right to patent them. Can you really imagine a modern touchscreen smartphone delivering a great user experience without these features?

  • originalp

    inertial scrolling and tap to zoom is such a basic feature of any capacitive multitouch interface i think no company should have the right to patent them. Can you really imagine a modern touchscreen smartphone delivering a great user experience without these features?

    APPLE created this now-industry-standard design. You can’t imagine devices without it because everyone has just copied it and you’ve gotten used to see it everywhere but it was invented by Apple!

  • András Oláh

    APPLE created this now-industry-standard design. You can’t imagine devices without it because everyone has just copied it and you’ve gotten used to see it everywhere but it was invented by Apple!

    This is exactly my problem and unfortunately without a time machine neither of us can prove who is wrong or right, but I think that these ideas are so obvious that any company that is developing UI for touchscreens would have developed it the same way…

    This is about user experience and it should not be patented. I am an android user and I want to use these features. I am pretty sure there are many great android user experience features that enchance the iPhone experience, take the notification drawer for example.

  • Alfred2612

    I would argue that the true root of this whole dispute is that the whole patenting system is inadequate. The inventors of great innovations (like Apple) should be rewarded for their efforts, but at the same time, companies should not be allowed to stifle progress by sitting on patents (e.g. Microsoft) while others could be improving upon them for the benefit of all mankind.

    Patents should expire after a shorter period of time. Currently it’s 20 years for “utility and plant” and 14 years for “design patents”.

    I say this should become 3 years for software patents and maybe 7 years for design related to consumer electronics. Enough time to reap the rewards, whilst allowing real innovation to benefit everyone when they expire. At the same time, during these 3 and 7 years, patent owners must allow others to license their patents (for a reasonable price, decided by a court if necessary) after the first 1 or 2 years have passed.

    Also, if a patent is not used by the patent owner within the first 1 or 2 years, the patent should be declared null and void and open for anyone else to use.

  • Th3_1d

    I don’t think Samsung should take all the blame for this as it is something that all of android adopted. That being said, do you really think that such features should be patent-able? What if we start to see patents on desktop features such as double click, click and drag, the mousewheel, hotkeys, function keys, a windows/apple key. I could spend all day listing features we take for granted in windows, mac and linux environments. It’s understandable that Apple is protective of their ideas, and for good reason, but preventing other companies from using their ideas kills innovation and will ultimately halt any technological advancement at all. Think of what would happen if the creator of the flip phone started suing all other flip phones or if blackberry and treo tried to sue apple for common smartphone features such as email integration and exchange support. Sorry if this was a little off topic, just an opinion I have had for a while that I don’t feel has been properly expressed on this site.

  • Bauldoff

    Apple didn’t invent the physics of nature. The “rubber-banding” effect is something that is very natural and intuitive, because it suits our expectations of how real tangible items would react.

    If Samsung hacked into the iOS source code, copied the Apple programming, variable by variable, and pasted it into their own OS, THEN it would be theft. The exact work and iteration of the Apple team is not available for other companies to steal and reproduce. To incorporate instinctual human expectations in an environment which is inspired by natural physics, however, is open territory. Apple has no right to claim ownership (in my opinion), because the cosmos, in which we all live, did it first.

    I commend the Apple team for being the first to widely incorporate this natural behavior into their UX, and sharing it with the mobile masses, but to claim ownership over it is quite excessive to me. The line between intellectual property and the inevitable conclusions of global intellect is often blurry, but I believe that this particular issue is so far from that line, it is a nonissue. If Apple’s interpretation was not the first to be widely available, another team’s similar interpretation certainly would have been.

  • Aidan Taylor

    Imagine micro soft decided to sue apple over features; if they did osx would not exist. Scrolling, CMD, OS search, user system, control panel, boot up screen, desktop, task bar and many many more are all patented by Microsoft. But they dont go around suing everyone who uses these features? Neither does Google, they have patents on streaming audio across devices (like apples air play); imagine Google sued apple over that? A huge features from IOS and even some products apple makes such as the air port express would no longer e allowed.

    Apple to me are just plain dicks, they should be suing Google over these features and not Samsung. In my opinion they did not even copy apples designs and the argument that customers thought the Galaxy tab was an iPad is invalid, maybe apple should make there products more clear in adverts and best buy should inform there more stupid customers better.