Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Palm Pre versus Apple iPhone

engadget: in-depth analysis


It appears there are grounds for Palm and Apple to cross-share patents, and declare a truce. In these tough times, allies are better than enemies. Neither Apple nor Palm can afford a draw-out legal battle.


Apple and Palm kicked a lot of dirt at each other last week -- acting Apple CEO Tim Cook flatly told analysts that "We will not stand for people ripping off our IP" when asked specifically about competition like the Palm Pre, and Palm responded with a similarly-explicit "We have the tools necessary to defend ourselves." At issue, of course, is that the Pre employs a multitouch screen and gestures almost exactly like those made famous on the iPhone -- and if you'll recall, Steve Jobs introduced multitouch on the iPhone with a slide reading "Patented!" To top it all off, the past few days have seen a number of media outlets proclaim that Apple's been awarded a "multitouch patent" without so much as a shred of analysis, instead hyping up a supposed future conflict. That's just not how we play it, so we enlisted Mathew Gavronski, a patent attorney in the Chicago office of Michael Best & Friedrich, to help us clear up some of the confusion and misinformation that's out there -- read on for more.

Just a couple notes before we begin: first, we're not going to get into whether or not Apple or Palm should have been granted particular patents or if the patent system is working as it should -- that's a philosophical argument way outside the scope of any potential lawsuit that might arise. Suffice it to say that although we're aware the patent system has flaws, there's no debating that people and companies should be compensated for their work, and we're not going to begrudge Apple or Palm for trying to do everything they can within rules of the current system to protect and profit from the hundreds of millions of dollars each has spent on R&D. You can bet the public policy implications of the patent system don't keep Ed Colligan or Steve Jobs up at night; we're going to assume both sides will be using every trick and decades-old patent it can find to win a potential lawsuit.

Second, while we can sit here and play with an iPhone to figure out what exactly Apple's trying to patent, we really don't have much to go on with the Pre apart from some brief hands-on time with units running alpha-level code at CES, so we can't really make definitive calls one way or another. A lot can change between now and whenever the Pre is launched, so while we're going to do our best to identify the elements of the Pre and the iPhone that could potentially infringe Apple or Palm patents, treat the Pre stuff with an extra dose of salt.

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