This week Apple was granted a design patent for: “Display screen or portion thereof with animated graphical user interface.” Practically, Apple has now patented the page turn for electronic reading devices. The patent (D670,713) allows Apple to control the interface of a page turn similar to an actual book, but on an e-reader. Apple was also granted 37 other patents on various design features of its products.
As we discussed with the Apple Tablet case in class, there is gray area when it comes to design patents. While seemingly obvious, no other companies had thought to patent this particular design nor were other companies using this page turn interface. If you look at the Kindle, the text of the next page just appears when a button is pushed without any sort of user interface simulating a real life book. In comparison, this seems like a unique page turn.
For most people, whether or not this is a seemingly ridiculous patent comes down to each person’s view on what is patentable and how good of a job the patent office is doing promoting IP to promote businesses to invest in R&D. In this case (similar to the Samsung vs. Apple tablet case), Apple integrated a design feature that people feel is unique to Apple products and have begun to associate with the Apple iBook platform. This seems no more ridiculous than Amazon being granted a patent on one-click purchasing or Apple being granted the patent on rounded corners for its table product.
Apple’s products are based in simple, yet innovative design principles. Protecting its unique designs from the competition is crucial to the future success of the company as design is a major product differentiator for the company. Apple was not the first company to develop a tablet, smartphone or e-reader, but the company has shown that its design ability and skill with developing intuitive user interfaces has helped Apple succeed where others have failed.
One other key factor in this situation is that Apple has shown a willingness to sue over perceived patent infringement and another very general patent on a common product (e-readers) could lead to additional lawsuits by Apple against its competitors. It can be argued that Apple is patenting general design features in order to litigate its weaker competition out of the market. Apple has also had success in obtaining licensing agreements from competitors perceived to have violated Apple’s patents as has happened with HTC on tablets.
If the patent office is going to continue to issue design patents on very general designs, then this fits the prior protocol. However, many people feel that this design is too general to be patented and may generate calls for a change in the way the patent office approaches the issuance of patents.
Does this seem reasonable or does the way patents are issued need to be reexamined?