Apples most recent patent revolves around a new Fitnessapplication. That’s fair enough, were it to contain anything remotely new, innovative or unique.
Looking at it the patent includes: (courteous of econsultancy)
- Introduces a potential customer to a local fitness center via a “free pass.”
- Incentivises a potential customer to sign up for the fitness center using “membership promotion[s] and an affiliate offer[s].”
- Transmits “news, updates, daily promotions, and daily activities” to members and prospective members.
- Recommends workout buddies based on social network profiles and user-supplied criteria.
- Upsells personal training sessions.
- Tracks workout goals and accomplishments.
- Provides notifications, content and commercial promotions designed to encourage members to “re-energize” and return to the fitness center
Wikipedia describes a patent as:
“a patent application must include one or more claims defining the invention which must be new, non-obvious, and useful or industrially applicable”.
European patent law in contrast neither condones nor executes most business process related “patents”. This on the whole is a good thing, for all the reasons the US patent system is proving a bad one by allowing them.
Wikipedia again: “In many countries, certain subject areas are excluded from patents, such as business methods, treatment of the human body and mental acts”
I in my time of course, have joined the fray of patent applicants. As Founder of Rummble in 2006/7 I applied for a patent around the implementation of a personalisation algorithm based on trust network technology. This is at least partially a “process” but it does contain a unique mechanic and way of executing the processing in the way the mechanism has been coded.
Anyone who has read a patent document application after a Patent Lawyer has got their hands on it, will know that it’s a language far removed from the English you and I speak, or indeed write. In anycase, my expertise at describing patents in the appropriate legal manner, is virtually zero.
The patent system in the USA seems to favour those, as so often in legal situations, with all the money and resources to both file and subsequently defend the patents – all the time keeping the well greased wheels of the lawyer industry turning. It’s the biggest weeze out.
Patents are after all, only worth whatever you can afford to defend them with. You might have a legitimate patent, but unless you can afford to defend it (and actively do so) then it will lapse and you will lose protection – neither will the company or person infringing your patent be liable.
As a start-up then, or an SME, to patent or not to patent? Well in my experience at the very minimum it will cost you £20,000 ($35,000) by the time you’re done with amends, resubmissions and the like; although getting the ball rolling of course, costs perhaps only 20% of that.
Some US patent lawyers might even be persuaded to take equity in your company, or delayed remuneration if you can convince them of the sanctity and quality of your product or service – but in my experience these lawyers are few and far between.
The point is, Apples patent is ludicrous – if it’s granted I shall eat my hat. I guess I might aswell start hat shopping today…
P.S. ..and if you don’t believe me, a renowned US Patent Lawyer who would rather remain nameless, read this post and said “I can’t disagree with a word of it…”. Bowler or Trilby?
19th of Setpember 2011
So since I wrote this article, new laws have come into force in the USA, or rather a change to existing patent law. The details of the changes to the US Patent system are outlined here and a good case is put by Chris Dixon -a founder of a start-up working on topics close to my heart- on his blog as to why the US patent law changes are worse for start-ups.