Holy Timing, Batman: Apple Wins Coverflow Design Patent

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In what may have been intended as a flambouyant exercise of bureaucratic irony, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office granted Apple a design patent for Cover Flow, one week after the company was found guilty of violating someone else’s patents for the very same technology.

Apple was granted design patent D624,932, a very undescriptive patent where the images do all the talking, with the (sort of, but not really much of an) exception of this closing sentence: “The appearance of the transitional image sequentially transitions between the images shown in FIGS. 1 through 9 and FIGS. 10 through 18, respectively. The process or period in which one image transitions to another image forms no part of the claimed design.”

The image below shows figures 10, 11, 12, and 13, which demonstrate Cover Flow in action.

Cover Flow Patent Images

The timing of this patent being granted to Apple couldn’t be more fraught with intrigue due to the lawsuit brought against the company by Mirror Worlds, LLC which alleged that Apple was violating patents that company owned by using Cover Flow on iOS devices and the Mac.

A jury in East Texas found that Apple had violated those patents and awarded Mirror Worlds US$208.5 million, damages that could be applied to all three patents for a possible total of $624.5 million. Apple is appealing the award and asking a Federal judge to overturn the verdict on two of the patents.

So, will this new design patent play a role in the appeals process? We’ll have to wait and see, but as one attorney told The Mac Observer, “it certainly can’t hurt Apple’s case, and may help it a great deal.”

PatentlyApple was the first to note today’s Cover Flow patent.

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FYI, design patent does not mean what you think it means.
It is just the look and feel patent not the implementation.
May be you need to go back to school.


There’s way too much prior art on this one that its not really unique ... perhaps only by name. Wonder why they even got a patent of any kind here.


There is no irony here, “flambouyant” or otherwise, and certainly no “intrigue”.  Design patents (like the one awarded Apple) and utility patents (like those held by Mirror Worlds) cover two different, non-overlapping characteristics of an item.  Design patents cover the ornamental design of an item, not its function.  Utility patents cover the function of an item, not its ornamental design.  Hence Apple can be awarded a design patent on an item even though the item may infringe a utility patent.  The attorney who told The Mac Observer the design patent “may help [Apple’s case] a great deal” must not be a patent attorney - that statement is dead wrong.  In fact, Apple could have been even awarded a utility patent on the function of its cover flow application if it is a non-obvious improvement over the prior art - and the patent award would be valid even if the cover flow operation infringed prior art patents.  The awarding of the cover flow patent to Apple will have no role in the appeal process.


^^  What he said…


OK, so all my fellow posters think they are legal eagles.  I’m not buying this.  WHERE DID ANYONE USE ANYTHING LIKE COVERFLOW PRIOR TO APPLE???  Examples please?  None?  Thought so.

I certainly had not seen it, and I distinctly remember it as new when I first saw it in iTunes.

Lee Dronick


They got the idea from a slowly rotating zoetrope smile


rd and asa1940 are bang on.

The US makes this confusion more likely, by using the word “patent” to describe what Apple was awarded.  In most jurisdictions it would be called something like a “registered industrial design”.


Reading is fundamental.  The attorney, supra, didn’t say that it would help Apple’s case, only that it may.  Not having read the Mirror Worlds’ complaint, I don’t know whether a design patent is in suit.  However, if a design patent is at issue in the case, the design patent granted to Apple could be quite helpful.


I agree, reading is fundamental.  As I previously posted, Mirror Worlds holds utility patents, not design patents.  Only utility patents were asserted in Mirror Worlds lawsuit.  In my understanding of patent law, the design patent granted Apple is irrelevant to Apple’s appeal.  Thus, the attorney quoted by Brian Chaffin was wrong to say Apple’s patent “may” help.  If someone who knows what they are talking about can explain how Apple’s design patent can help Apple’s appeal, I would be happy to consider his/her explanation.


asa1940:  You have the advantage of me, because I don’t know what patents or claims Mirror World alleged in its complaint, and it may be that the lawyer, supra, didn’t know the allegations either, which is why he said the recently issued patent may, and not will, help Apple’s case.  May is a statement that depends on conditions, which were not stated.  So if design patents are not in suit, then the granting of a design patent to Apple won’t be helpful.


Wasn’t Cover Flow purchased from another company by Apple?  One would assume they had patents….?


Even if Apple was granted a utility patent that covered its coverflow program, it would not be a defense to infringement of a valid blocking patent. 

As the Federal Circuit recently stated in Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Eli Lilly and Co., 598 F.3d 1336, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2010), “A ?blocking patent? is an earlier patent that must be licensed in order to practice a later patent. This often occurs, for instance, between a pioneer patent and an improvement patent. The Supreme Court has long acknowledged the ‘well established’ rule that ‘an improver cannot appropriate the basic patent of another and that the improver without a license is an infringer and may be sued as such.’ This blocking condition can exist even where the original patentee ‘failed to contemplate’ an additional element found in the improvement patent. Blocking conditions conceivably occur often where a pioneering patent claims a genus and an improvement patent later claims a species of that genus.”

Moreover, this wasn’t even a utility patent, but rather was a design patent that covers only the precise look and design of Apple’s product, not its functionality.  As the Federal Circuit recently reiterated in Richardson v. Stanley Works, Inc., 597 F.3d 1288, 1294 (Fed. Cir. 2010), “we have made clear that a design patent, unlike a utility patent, limits protection to the ornamental design of the article.  If the patented design is primarily functional rather than ornamental, the patent is invalid. However, when the design also contains ornamental aspects, it is entitled to a design patent whose scope is limited to those aspects alone and does not extend to any functional elements of the claimed article.”


OK, so all my fellow posters think they are legal eagles.  I?m not buying this.  WHERE DID ANYONE USE ANYTHING LIKE COVERFLOW PRIOR TO APPLE???  Examples please?  None?  Thought so.

None of that matters if someone patented it before Apple began to use it.  The process for obtaining a patent does not include a requirement that the inventor practice the invention commercially.


What was Bryan Chafin referrring to when he said,

“Despite the fact that many of the concepts were in use in Apple?s Hypercard product years before the patents were filed, a jury ruled in favor of Mirror Worlds.”

What was Hypercard?s version of this CoverFlow-ish technology like, and why was it not pertinent as discrediting prior art against Mirror Worlds? claims in the Texas (kangaroo) court? 

Why can’t Apple use this to sue Mirror World for infringement of Apple’s (Hypercard?s) utility patent and to have Mirror World utility patent invalidated?

(Thank you, again, wonderful Bill Atkinson - Godfather of the Mac UI and so much else in cyberspace!)


(Thank you, again, wonderful Bill Atkinson - Godfather of the Mac UI and so much else in cyberspace!)

I feel I should also thank you, too, amazing Andy Herzfeld, for being the other Godfather of the Mac UI, even though your marvelous endowments to us don’t pertain here to this discussion of Hypercard?s role in this patent suit.

Wait and see

OK, so all my fellow posters think they are legal eagles.? I?m not buying this.? WHERE DID ANYONE USE ANYTHING LIKE COVERFLOW PRIOR TO APPLE???? Examples please?? None?? Thought so.

I agree with the above, I have not seen it before except on Apple products. The company that sued Apple is probably hurting and they wanted to make some quick cash cause they suck.

I agree with you, many people dont know that Apple has been around since the 60’s. But there is a new Apple computer company out today, and its the one that we know. Many people dont realize that Apple created the first Laptop they bought out Macintosh and Macintosh was the first to come out with the mouse. Little do ppl know that Bill Gates worked for apple back in 1985 and quit. When Steve went to a convention he saw Bill (ass) sitting there with his computer, Steve noticed that Bill (ass) stole the OS. microsoft was not born yet. Steve and Bill (ass) were fighting each other on a lawsuit. Bill (ass) settled out of court to keep things hush. Later in 1991 or 92 Microsoft was born. Microsoft was sued again by other companies for infringements. Bill (ass) lost them all, he settled out of court again, in 1992 Bill (ass) was on the front of a magazine sitting in front of a bunch of Apple computers saying it was a superior computer. The funny thing is that I believe it was the Macworld magazine (not sure exactly what magazine it was). Apple in 1998 (I think) came out with the first MP3 play know as the iPod. In Between 1995 and 1996 Apple came out with iTunes, before that it was called something else. Microsoft was sued again in 1999 by Apple. Apple was not going under nor did Microsoft bail them out, the reason for all the money was from a lawsuit. When Apple introduced the iphone for the first time they do mention in the keynotes that they have taken the stylus, cell phone, mp3 player and made it into one. Steve does mention this. Microsoft back in 1999 or 2000 was being sued again but the lawsuit was thrown out cause it was settled and Bill (ass) wanted to keep it hush. Because there has been so many lawsuits against Microsoft not only by Apple Bill (ass) Gates steps down from full CEO to part time CEO several yrs ago. Then shortly after he “retires” from Microsoft. He only did this cause Microsoft is in trouble. There is allot more than this. But to all Apple haters just remember Microsoft is not leading in technology even tho they are a multi billion dollar company. Bill got his ideas off of others, so why doesn’t ppl go after Microsoft and not just 2-3 diff. companies go after Apple. This company is only targeting Apple and not Microsoft either cause there is touch screen stuff that Microsoft has come out with 2yrs and why dont they go after Microsoft too. Just keep that in mind before you ppl judge Apple. Remember Bill “retired” from Microsoft cause of the trouble that Microsoft is in.

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