A couple of years ago, I reported on how Apple was using patents to block a W3C specification.
The end-result was that the patent didn't seem to be relevant to the specification at all, and one or both of them were even rejected by the patent office. That Apple would use invalid or irrelevant patents or patent applications to block or delay an open standard seems odd, but if you look at their general behavior during the whole thing, it is easy to conclude that the intent was indeed malicious.
And while I didn't report on this (I suppose I should have), Apple actually used two patent applications to prevent a W3C standard from proceeding in 2010. This patent claim, too, seemed to have been filed at the very last minute, much like the patent claim in 2009.
As I mentioned, the submissions in question were still only patent applications, and Apple were basically saying that the claim covers not only the patent applications as they were then, but also "any claims that issue in any continuations, divisionals, continuations-in-part, reissues or other counterparts" in future versions of the applications.
Not exactly helpful.
And guess what, Apple is at it again. Another year, another attempt by Apple to block open standards using patents.
This time they have four claims – three patents and one patent application – that threaten to block the W3C Touch Events Specification. They filed their patent claims a little over a month before the time limit expired (the claim was filed on November 11, and the time limit is December 26, 2011).
The odd thing is that Apple chose not to join the working group that handles touch events. If they had joined, they would have been forced to file the patent claims far sooner. So now we know why they didn't join. What we don't know is why Apple insists on waiting almost until the last minute before filing its patent claims.
I'm starting to see a pattern here:
- 2009: Apple discloses one at the last minute. Patent Advisory Group created. Patent was found not to be relevant.
- 2010: Apple discloses two patent applications at the last minute. PAG created. One patent found to not apply. The other deemed not relevant.
- 2011: Apple discloses three patents and one application at the last minute. PAG likely to be created. Unclear what the result will be.
What makes this matter even worse is that this doesn't just affect these specific standards. The Patent Advisory Groups could in fact slow down the development of other standards by pulling people from other projects in order to investigate these claims. The investigation can take several months, and will take time, resources and money to complete.
That's time, resources and money that could have been spent on improving various other work-in-progress standards.