back to article Florida man sues Apple for $10bn, claims iPod, iPhone was his idea

A Florida man is suing Apple for $10bn and demanding a 0.5 per cent cut of future sales – because the iPhone, iPod and iPad allegedly ripped off his ideas. In 1992, Thomas S. Ross filed a US patent for a rectangular device with rounded corners and a backlit screen that could play music, store books, or have mobile …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alan Kay's 1968 design for the Dynabook?

    Oh, wait, it didn't have rounded corners...

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Many of Apple's ...

      Many of Apple's patents and registered designs are invalid due to prior art, or obviousness. The USPTO isn't very good.

      But I know designs much more like iPhone that dated from 1986, even with rounded corners.

      The iPod was copying Creative and iRiver with a case and silly control inspired by Dieter Rams' stuff for Braun. It succeeded due to iTunes. The iPhone succeed partly due to bought in Fingerworks GUI (Nokia had stupidly scrapped S80 / Crystal in favour of S60 and MS was still obsessed with putting win 95 GUI on 320x 240 screens), but real reason for iPhone success was the data deals with operators, till then the cost of using data on a Smart phone was horrendous..

      This doesn't have much chance.

      1. Just Enough

        Re: Many of Apple's ...

        The entire concept of an electronic book, with a screen and buttons, qualifies as the bleedin' obvious. The very suggestion that anyone, or any company, can patent that is ridiculous and a fair indication of the mess that patent law is.

        A patent on a device with rounded corners? Give me a break. The earliest pocket watches in the 16th century had them.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Many of Apple's ...

          Apple didn't just draw a picture of a Newton/iPhone in the early 90s, they invested in ARM to help make it happen.

          1. attoman

            Re: Many of Apple's ...

            So is your point that any Inventor or small entity is to have no right to recover from a deep pocket infringer? Regardless of this particular case.

        2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          @justenough

          "The entire concept of an electronic book, with a screen and buttons, qualifies as the bleedin' obvious. The very suggestion that anyone, or any company, can patent that is ridiculous and a fair indication of the mess that patent law is.

          A patent on a device with rounded corners? Give me a break. The earliest pocket watches in the 16th century had them."

          well said sir!

          Anyway , didnt Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect have a similar electronic book circa 1980?

          1. Ian Moffatt 1

            Re: @justenough

            With the words Don't Panic written in large friendly letters on the front cover.

        3. attoman

          Re: Many of Apple's ...

          You really don't understand patents. This man filed a suit based on having filed a Design Patent it's now a fight between his lawyers and theirs.

          You know nothing about Apple or the internal organization nor do you know anything about the Florida inventor.

          Picking sides and casting aspersions in a state of ignorance suggests you are working on a new app iASSkisser, good luck with that.

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Many of Apple's ...

        >The iPod was copying Creative and iRiver with a case and silly control inspired by Dieter Rams' stuff for Braun.

        I think you've got your dates muddled, Mage! :)

        - The iRiver H120 wasn't released until 2003, two years after the 1st gen iPod. It used the same Toshiba HDD and battery as the iPod, but featured analogue recording.

        -The iPod took its dial interface from a 1990's Bang and Olufsen telephone and from Sony AV gear, not Braun. The control mechanism on the iPod was superior to the iRiver. I had the iRiver H320 - it was a very good machine, but without a scroll wheel it was PITA to navigate long lists.

        -The pre-iPod Creative player used a laptop HDD and as such it was the size of a CD-Walkman. It was not pocket sized.

        In short, Apple got to market first with the right combination of size, convenience and capacity. Had they not, somebody else would have done - the essential part, the HDD, was available to anyone to use. It's worth noting that the iPod was $600 dollars when first released, and was FireWire and Mac only - indeed, most PCs at the time didn't have FireWire, and USB 1.0 wasn't fast enough. The 1st gen iPod wasn't a massive seller, but it got Apple's foot in the door.

        It was a strange time - the first MP3 players were from unfamiliar names like Rio or LG, and the Japanese, though they had done much research in the area, hadn't got involved. Some were sold with only enough capacity to store a few songs. There were still competing formats of memory card, too, before we largely standardised around SD. Until I got an iRiver, I didn't bother with MP3 and stuck with my Sharp MiniDisc player (1999, with scroll wheel).

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Many of Apple's ...

        but real reason for iPhone success was the data deals with operators, till then the cost of using data on a Smart phone was horrendous..

        That may have been a contributing factor, but IMHO it was simply the UI which made the iPhone a success - it simplified the whole "smarts" of a smartphone to a point where non-geeks could actually use it too. I'd been using smartphones up to that point in various guises, but the iPhone UI just made it less of a battle.

        The only thing I miss from those days was the calendar in the Sony Ericsson P1i where you could schedule calls. It's such a simple, logical thing to be able to do that I'm at a loss why no other calendar program supports this too. I guess it may be patented :(

      4. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Many of Apple's ...

        I'd ask you to show any designs by Dieter Rams that Apple copied. There are photos of things floating around on the internet where some of Rams' products, cleverly photographed at just the right angle, sometimes turned upside down, look like Apple products, but nothing that stays similar if you rotate it by 30 degrees.

    2. JetSetJim Silver badge

      everything has rounded corners, just with a different radius of curvature. Below a certain threshold, it will feel pointy, but still be rounded.

    3. Lotaresco Silver badge
      FAIL

      Florida man doesn't have much chance

      Apple had a Dynabook in mind right back to the early days of the Mac. HyperCard was a Dynabookish idea wrapping up a programming language, hypertext and "rich multimedia" (sound, animation, ebooks) before the web. At the same time Apple was working on the idea of a handheld device with HyperCard like features. Both HyperCard and Apple's Dynabook which had Alan Kay's involvement date back to 1987. The Dynabook eventually became the Newton (with rounded corners). Although the Newton shipped in 1993, it had been touted before that time and of course there was the Psion Organiser, that dated from 1984 and the Psion Series 3 from 1991.

      It's fairly clear that not just Apple but a number of organisations can claim prior art over this dweeb's patent.

    4. Crazy Operations Guy

      That drawing looks more like a first-generation Kindle to me. But then it also looks like an early Palm Pilot, IPaq, or almost any other PDA from the 90's. Hell, it looks like a cheap $10 'personal organizer' I had in the mid 90's.

      Even if his patent was legitimate, the fact that he hasn't enforced it in the face of so many devices that could be considered to violate the patent, invalidates it.

    5. attoman

      Neither Kay, Apple and possibly Florida Phil are anything but design patents

      It is not clear that Alan Kay ever patented his design although he may have copyrighted it.

      Apple patents every design they have.

      It would seem that Florida Phil tried to patent his idea which had it issued would have expired in 2012 making any forward going royalty questionable. The fact that he didn't pay the filing fee (a small amount) makes this an unlikely winner for Phil.

      A useful utility patent for Kay's design would be low energy touch screen (which did not exist in 1968), or a low energy high resolution flat screen (also no where around in 1968).

      We were inspired by Alan went about inventing Utility Patents most of which were infringed or had expired when in the 90's a long list of companies including Apple began using them. The fact that Apple never acknowledges us suggests a worm in the Apple.

      An analogy about the different kinds of patents may be useful.

      A Design Patent is how the cloth is cut to style a skirt or shirt.

      A Utility Patent is how to make the cloth itself.

  2. Oengus Silver badge

    Seriously...

    Subject says it all.

  3. moiety

    Rounded corners. Someone over at Samsung is swearing profusely.

    1. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

      Re: swearing profusely

      > Rounded corners. Someone over at Samsung is swearing profusely.

      Since this must be one more piece of prior art to throw onto the fire, it must be getting pretty hot there by now.

  4. AndyS

    "...adopt a culture of dumpster diving..."

    Oh shut up.

    1. paul-s

      Re: "...adopt a culture of dumpster diving..."

      At least he realises his patent was trash.

  5. nuked
    Facepalm

    "...he neglected to pay the fees for the submission, and it was declared abandoned..."

    Best of luck with your watertight lawsuit against these litigious lightweights

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: "...he neglected to pay the fees for the submission, and it was declared abandoned..."

      He's boned! He doesn't have the legal firepower to match the professional litigators known as Apple...

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: legal firepower

        legal firepower.

        and that right there is whats wrong with the legal system

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: legal firepower

          Partially true. What's more wrong is too many lawyers and too many people who think they can sue anyone, anytime and make big money from it. Look at the history of step ladders and lawsuits, for example.

          In this case, the USPTO has some serious problems that the lawyers can use to their advantage.

          1. attoman

            Re: legal firepower

            The real question what court did he file in. Federal (where the dollar amount cannot be part of the pleading) or state court (where it can).

            In any event it's a matter for the lawyers.

            Lawyers who will take between 50% and 70% of any award. The plaintiff (if indeed its an individual) will be exposed to all of Apples costs if his lawyers lose.

            Probably a retiree he may keep his house (in Florida bankruptcy law) and lose his life's savings.

            Our patent system is specifically designed to protect and enrich (20 years) inventors, not corporations.

  6. 's water music Silver badge
    WTF?

    rounded corner tablet prior art ftw

    information technology

    Icon letters in wrong order -->

  7. Paul 76

    There's a patent in the database (4,279,421) which is a touch based electronic gameboard. It looks exactly like an iPad type device except its square not rectangular. Yes, it has round corners.

    Oddly it is actually buildable with the tech of the time, I think (1979), rather than an LCD graphic display it uses an 8x8 array of 7 segment displays, and its powered by an RCA1802.

    It is an iPad in practice - in the same way that a ZX80 and a modern PC are both computers - very primitive .... but the same idea.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "It looks exactly like an iPad type device except its square not rectangular. Yes, it has round corners."

      And don't forget http://dilbert.com/strip/1995-04-03

      1. Sureo

        Re. Dilbert

        Etch A Sketch (1960) has rounded corners too.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Mark 85 Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Re. Dilbert

          I found the only way to issue an Etch A Sketch to a manager was to paste an IBM logo on the front.

          Edit... damn autocorrect cobbled it the first time.

  8. Wolfclaw Silver badge

    If he gets a payoff, Apple knows he had a case if patent had been registered.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      He'll be lucky if he gets a $5 iTunes gift voucher out of this.

      1. bzn

        It wouldn't surprise me if Apple fight it just for the lolz...

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        "He'll be lucky if he gets a $5 iTunes gift voucher out of this."

        No, he said that he has been so hurt by Apple selling the iPhone, that money cannot help him. So Apple won't try.

  9. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Newsflash: Nebuchadnezzar cliams prior art on rounded corners!!

    I am really baffled why anyone would want to bang on about the rounded corners bit. Functionality and general form-factor (easily hand-held/pocketable) make sense, but the rounded corners bit is already ancient. Clay tablets could be used to record things (OK, cuneiform rather than mp3), and certainly had rounded corners. Playback is a little cumbersome, granted, but the rounded corners bit is not the bit I would personally focus on when claiming novelty.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Newsflash: Nebuchadnezzar cliams prior art on rounded corners!!

      The 'rounded corners' is what we in the UK would call 'trade dress' - like the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle or the shape of an Aston Martin's grill. In the US it is called 'design patent' and is not we call a patent in the UK.

      Apple's objection was that Samsung used the same specific corner radii, making their phone look very similar to the iPhone, potentially confusing customers. It was never about a device having any rounded corners.

      Regardless of who you side with, I think it's best if people understand exactly what the dispute was about.

      Kind regards

  10. PNGuinn Silver badge
    Boffin

    HHG2

    I'm getting old.

    Can anyone remember when Douglas came up with the concept of The Book? Seems to me that and the ideas associated with it were pretty revolutionary at the time. (Updates over the 'net, anyone?)

    Has Apple got anywhere with the Electronic Thumb yet?

    Does giving everyone the Finger count?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: HHG2

      >Has Apple got anywhere with the Electronic Thumb yet?

      Not yet, but Uber and Lyft have.

      It's also worth noting that the Dynabook and the IBM-branded tablet from Kubrick's 2001 (1968) predate the HHGTTG. Douglas Adams died before playing with an iPod, let alone an iPhone.

      If you want to go further back, HG Wells pushed for a global encyclopedia (which is effectivily what the HHGTTG is) in the thirties, though he took a step back from it because he thought his political views wouldn't help the project.:

      In 1936, before the Royal Institution, Wells called for the compilation of a constantly growing and changing World Encyclopaedia, to be reviewed by outstanding authorities and made accessible to every human being. In 1938, he published a collection of essays on the future organisation of knowledge and education, World Brain, including the essay, "The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia".

      - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._G._Wells#Writer

      - http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/hg-wells-author-who-imaged-a-future-based-on-scientific-achie/7463446

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: HHG2

        ... and in the 1940s on the first page of 'The Machine Stops' E.M.Forster describes a portable communication device, that could have been the fore-runner for all later ideas.

        1. Peter Stone

          Re: HHG2

          Actually The Machine Stops was first published in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909) Visionary or what?

          1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: HHG2

            Interesting. I was going by the publication date on my hardback copy. As you say, a real visionary. A story that gets remarkably close to the world today and it's dependence on 'machines'.

    2. Lotaresco Silver badge

      Re: HHG2

      "Can anyone remember when Douglas came up with the concept of The Book?"

      Yes. You mean the idea he stole from Robert Sheckley's 1968 novel "Dimension of Miracles"? Except Sheckley called it "The Prize."

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just tell the judge you've got Aspergers, Thomas....

    ...its worth a shot son!

  12. Byz

    The Newton came from...

    John Sculley pushed apple to build the Newton because Steve Jobs had spoken about such an idea with him in the early 1980's (read various biographies). Jobs wanted to build an iPad like device for years but the technology didn't exist (to slow, to big...etc).

    It also seem to be forgotten that the iPhone was a spin off from the iPad project.

    Also as someone who had a Newton it always stuck me as curious at the time that Apple didn't release the software into the public domain for the community to maintain after it was killed off. After the iPhone was released I realised why, very similar interface.

    Some of us are old enough to remember early handheld computers in the 1980's (I think Sharp and Tandy might have done one), everyone thought that was the way things were going strange how things turn out.

  13. corestore

    DynaBook... 1972 version... https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CmG-wgiVAAAR-4Y.jpg

  14. Velv Silver badge
    Boffin

    "Here's the report you requested Captain Pickard"

    1987

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      "Good move Dr Bowman"

      For an even earlier example.... 2001: An iPad odyssey

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      TOS had tablets. (Okay, you never saw what was on it, but there are plenty of scenes where JTK is handed a tablet to sign off something.)

    3. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Wow. I could have sworn TNG was early 90s. Well, I feel old now...

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