USPTO Reaffirms Powerful Apple Location Services Patent

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The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has reissued a patent to Apple covering location services that could become a powerful weapon in the company’s mobile arsenal. The patent could give Apple singular control over basic location-based services and serve as yet-another legal truncheon in Apple’s patent wars against Android and Android device makers.

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The patent was acquired from Xerox in 2009—it was originally filed in 1998 and issued to Xerox in 2000. According to CNet, Apple took ownership of the patent on December 17th, 2009. Apple refiled for the patent on September 1, 2010, and the U.S.P.T.O. reaffirmed it by reissuing it on November 15th, 2011.

Not only does the patent cover essential location services concepts, it’s old enough to predate current social networking location-aware ideas by many years.

According to the patent documentation, “The invention generally relates to obtaining information relating to a specific location using a positioning system. More particularly, the invention relates to a system and method for obtaining location specific information about a particular location using a distributed network in combination with the positioning system. “

In other words, the patent covers the idea of getting information about a given location over a “distributed network” (say, the Internet). The specifics describe a method of doing so that combines transceivers, GPS, and other ideas that precisely cover what we do today with smartphones.

If Apple is able to assert this patent against other companies that use location-based data to provide services, it could result in a licensing windfall against companies like Square, Facebook, Google, and other social networking services, and it could conceivably also be used stop location services on Android and other non-Apple devices, though such an outcome would be extreme, to say the least.

Comments

Lee Dronick

I love your graphics Bryan.

BurmaYank

”... and it could conceivably also be used stop location services on Android and other non-Apple devices, though such an outcome would be extreme, to say the least.”

If that patent could not serve as a thermonuclear warhead, it could well serve as an ICBM.

Bryan Chaffin

Thanks, Lee. smile

skipaq

I would hope that this sort of IP would be governed under FRAND rules. To me this is not the same as copying the design of a product or OS. If this is enforced, it should be under fair licensing terms.

Bryan Chaffin

I could see Apple being forced to offer up licensing under FRAND terms for this patent, Skipaq. It will be interesting to see what some folks who know more than me have to say about it.

furbies

Why would the patent be needed to be offered under FRAND ?

It isn’t required/essential for a tablet device ?
It’s not required like some patents are in 3G etc.

skipaq

While it is true that you could have a smartphone or tablet without location services; who would want one? Being able to find restaurants, stores, motels and so forth are one of the must have features of such devices. Just couldn’t see how this feature could be monopolized by one company and not become an anti-trust issue.

Lee Dronick

Just couldn?t see how this feature could be monopolized by one company and not become an anti-trust issue.

I suppose that it could be a bargaining chip. You give me that and I give you location services.

BurmaYank

Given how clueless Samsung’s legal department seems to be, regarding the obligations & restrictions imposed upon FRAND patent holders such as themselves (vis ? vis Apple’s rights to their FRAND patents), this new patent situation, in which Samsung’s legal department will probably soon need to approach Apple to demand their own rights under Apple’s soon-to-be-FRANDed location services patent, could actually turn out to be a good “teachable moment” for them, which could conceivably benefit both Samsung and Apple, if Samsung thus became more legally savvy and so dropped its harassing & frivolous lawsuits falsely alleging “infringement” of Samsung’s own FRAND patent “rights” by Apple .

jfbiii

Of course, there’s no telling from the story how many people may have current valid licenses of this patent already. Just because Apple bought it doesn’t necessarily mean that all previous licenses are invalid.

geoduck

While it is true that you could have a smartphone or tablet without location services; who would want one? Being able to find restaurants, stores, motels and so forth are one of the must have features of such devices.

Even deeper than that. Check the weather where you are? That’s a location service. Find my iPhone? That’s a location service. Tagging a picture? That’s a location service. Location is core function of a surprising number of Apps.

I agree this should be FRAND.

I also agree that’s a great graphic.

Nemo

Interlocutors:  Licensing under FRAND terms is voluntary.  That is, a patented technology is licensed under FRAND terms only if the owner of the patent chooses to submit its patented technology to a standards organization for licensing under FRAND terms.  Patents are property, and as such, a party generally can’t be forced to licensed its patents or other IP.

Though there is an exception in antitrust law, which does authorize a federal district court to force a license, when enforcement of patent right precludes the ability to compete.  That doctrine is known as the Essential Facilities Doctrine.  However, it is a difficult case to prove, and even it proved, it often does not offer a competitor much relief, as the court is required to set a license royalty that, while it is not so high as to preclude competition, fully reflects the economic value of the patent holder’s patent.

Thus, the Essential Facilities Doctrine would be useless to, for example, Android which is only viable as a free or virtually free OS.  Neither would Android OEMs take much joy if, for example, some or all of Apple multi-touch patents were held to be essential to the ability to compete, because it is almost certain that a court would impose a royalty, if Android OEMs could win on the Essential Facilities Doctrine, that would transfer much of their profits to Apple, though court would not impose so great a royalty that there would not be sufficient profit to bother making an Android device.

skipaq

Thanks for the info Nemo. Since I don’t know much about making location services work perhaps there are other methods that wouldn’t infringe this patent. However, I would not be happy if this is used to block other platforms from using location services. I hope that such a thing is not even possible. We are not just talking about iOS’s battle with Android.

archimedes

Looks like that location is pretty close to Cupertino.

Lee Dronick

Looks like that location is pretty close to Cupertino.

Do you know the way to San Jose? smile

BurmaYank

Congratulations, TMO, on adding Nemo to your illustrious Staff.  (I had been hoping Nemo would be able to continue making his great contributions to these blog comments, after he went rather quiet here recently, so I was delighted to see his Comment heading appear in blue, now.)

Thank you very much, Nemo!

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