Apple, Inc. (AAPL) may have fared pretty badly of late, in terms of its lawsuit performance, scoring nothing but Pyrrhic victories and outright rejections  . But the electronics maker is determined to kill its arch-nemesis Google Inc. (GOOG). It has now filed a new major suit which looks to cripple Android Ice Cream Sandwich.
I. Apple Latest Attack Hits Ice Cream Sandwich
The core panzer in this patent blitzkrieg — brought against Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930), and by proxy Google, in United States District Court for the Northern District of California — is U.S. Patent No. 8,086,604. Filed in 2011, and granted just after Christmas (Dec. 27), it describes a “universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system.” Apple is using the patent to attack the search features found within Android Ice Cream Sandwich
The suit specifically calls out Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone, which was the first smartphone to carry the new version of Android.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.
II. The Return of the Touch Unlocking Patent
In the suit Apple also brings some familiar weapons to the table. The four-patent suit is rounded out by U.S. Patent No. 8,046,721, which describes a method of “unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image”; U.S. Patent No. 5,946,647, which covers turnings phone numbers/addresses in actionable hyperlinks; and U.S. Patent No. 8,074,172, which covers voice search word suggestions.
We’ve discussed at length how a wealth of prior art with regard to slide unlock existed (and was seemingly ignored by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office). It may be that the USPTO intended to only grant the patent on a narrow scope, but if that was the case, it will be crucial that the federal court recognize that and avoid giving Apple credit for a technology it clearly did not invent.
The data tapping patent was file in 1996 and granted in 1999. It was not originally targeted at the mobile space. Here, Google may again be able to defend itself via prior art. Microsoft Corp.’s (MSFT) Word 1997 used a similar method to recognize and generate hyperlinks, though it remains to be seen whether this would be similar enough to invalidate the patent.
Apple has already succeeded in banning some of HTC’s handsets using its double-tapping patent. Now it looks to do the same to Samsung. [Image Source: Droid-Life]
Both slide-to-unlock and the data tapping are relatively crucial, as they’re features users have come to expect from smartphones. Apple’s hope is clearly to drive these features out of Android, and thus drive users to the iPhone, slowly bleeding the life from Android.
Recall, also, that HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) was forced to gimp its Android smartphones, removing data tapping after Apple won a preliminary injunction against it, on the basis of that feature.
The third patent — word suggestion — was filed in 2007. Again, this was a feature that appeared as early as 2006 in Ford Motor Comp.’s (F) SYNC platform. That said, this patent is less crucial. While the quality voice search app, Siri, is a major selling point of the iPhone 4S, it’s not as big a deal in Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Still, being forced to remove the voice search app would be another setback for Android.
Apple hopes to force Google to remove voice search from Android.
[Image Source: Gadget Pdamu]
III. What’s Next
Apple has already brought a preliminary injunction against the Galaxy Nexus, looking to ban it from sale in the U.S. Apple’s new case appears very aggressive, but it remains to be seen if Apple will be able to achieve its fantasy of a Google-free world in court, when it has thus far struggled to scrape together many wins.
Google has a powerful second line of defense, via Motorola. Motorola has won key decisions abroad , thus far and may succeed in banning the iPhone, iPad, and iCloud in some regions. If it can do that, it may force Apple into an uneasy armistice, out of self-preservation.
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