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.
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.