Microsoft, General Motors, Apple, & Patents

Matt Loney of ZDNetis UK offices has penned an interesting editorial on the patent application we reported (in a scoop) last week. Mr. Loney questions whether or not Apple truly has anything original that it can properly patent, and he uses an old tit-for-tat story involving Microsoft, General Motors, and Apple to help illustrate his point.

That tit-for-tat take involves a comment from Microsoft (then CEO) Chairman Bill Gates saying the auto industry hadnit kept up the rate of innovation that Microsoft and the tech industry had. That led to comments from General Motors that following Mr. Gatesi analogy through to its conclusion would mean that we would all drive cars that crashed twice a day, as well as related Apple analogies. If you arenit familiar with that story, Mr. Loneyis editorial is worth the read just for that.

His overall point, however, is the reason for us telling you about the piece. Mr. Loney extends the automobile analogy to asking what would have happened to the car industry had someone successfully patented the mere idea of a steering wheel, a thought that has often been brought up in criticism of the current US patent system. From the editorial:

Few could deny that the iPod is a superb example of industrial engineering, or that the user interface is one of the coolest around, or, indeed, that the accompanying iTunes service may yet prove to be the one that makes the music industry recognise it can mix with the Internet after all.

But I have yet to see anything in the iPod interface that I have not seen before elsewhere. If this patent is granted, it will simply serve to show what a car-wreck the US patents system has become, and should serve as a warning to governments elsewhere.

You can find the full editorial at ZDNetis Web site, and we recommend it as an interesting read. In related reading, a designer named Noel Rubin is saying that many elements of the iPod are similar to ideas he developed for a Flash project called scrollJET.