Accessibility Links

Amazon rumoured to be developing a smartphone, Apple tries to patent 'tapping stuff'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 12/07/12

Patent battles are getting uglier, so technology is relying ever more on intellectual property experts.

Let's say, for instance and insanely, you want to bring a new smartphone to market. "The iPhone doesn't do enough," you think. "You have to use your finger instead of a stylus! You can't play Flash videos on it! Siri is rubbish!"

What is the first step: get some engineer in a pure white room to tinker about with a soldering iron, maybe? Do some market research, perhaps? Think of a cool name for it (consider please: 'the yPhone')? Well, no, nope and double-no: the first step is to get the biggest, baddest patent lawyer you can find and put him in your corner.

And it seems like Amazon were reading those last two paragraphs, so congratulations on that. Why? Because a. they are rumoured pretty significantly by Bloomberg to be developing a smartphone device and b. ahead of a reported partnership with Foxconn to forge said device using nothing but grey tactile plastic and steel, the web giant has acquired Intellectual Ventures' former senior director of acquisitions Matt Gordon to head up patent acquisitions and investments for the firm.

Why this is important: because Amazon has metamorphosed over the past year from e-retailer that sells books and such to 'actual magnet for patent cases': they've had to deal with circa 25 major patent or patent-related suits in the last year, according to Bloomberg. And seeing as Google dropped $12.5 billion (£8.06bn) on buying Motorola mainly for the patents, intellectual properties is big business.

For Amazon wanting to protect any great leaps and bounds in wireless technology they stumble across over the course of their Foxconn dabblings, that is 'a good thing'. For the judges who have to oversee the various intellectual property squabbles in court, it is not. Just ask court of appeals seventh circuit judge Richard Allen Posner, who this week threw out a case between Google-Motorola and Apple over what constitutes a swiping gesture and what contributes a tap. Or something, who cares. "Apple's argument that a tap is a zero-length swipe is silly," said Posner, with a just huge roll of his eyes. "It's like saying that a point is a zero-length line." As patent cases descend into inter-business one-upmanship and quasi-philosophical line speculation, expect more of this in the months to come.