Who Owns Your Right to Turn Pages?
I’m really confused. On November 16, New York Times blogger Nick Bilton reported that the US Patent Office had approved Apple’s patent on the feature that enables you to virtually turn pages on your e-reader. But over two years ago, in August 2010, we reported that Microsoft had filed a patent application for the very same touch-screen page-turn! (See Can You Be Sued for Turning a Page?) What happened to Microsoft’s application? Did the Patent Office misplace it? Did Apple buy Microsoft out? Did Apple do some sort of end-around on its rival?
In fact, Microsoft’s patent had some special wrinkles such as the ability to flip a lot of pages at once (y0u do it by dragging your finger down the right margin). Another is pretty mind-blowing. “Sources other than fingers may be used to execute a page-turning gesture,” the filing stated. Anybody got an idea what else you might use to turn an e-book page? Your nose? Your elbow? Or some other, unmentionable, body part?
Whether or not Apple’s patent provides for flipping pages with organs other than fingers, they now own the exclusive right to the page-turn, and God help you if you infringe it. But, as Bolton points out, you risk a receiving a lawyer letter from Apple for violations that border on the bizarre. “The company has also been granted patents for an icon for music (which is a just a musical note), the glass staircase used in the company’s stores — yes, stairs, that people walk up — and for the packaging of its iPhone.”
Apple isn’t the only outfit sewing up everything but your right to breathe. Amazon was sued by a company claiming violation of its patent on one-click ordering online. And years before rival Barnes & Noble released the Nook, Amazon had patented the same underlying technology but conveniently didn’t reveal it until the Nook came out. (Never heard what happened to that claim.)
Back in 2010 when I reported on Microsoft’s page-turn application I said some pretty unkind things about patent lawyers. I called them “the ticks of the Digital Age. After quietly applying for a patent they set up their nest on a tree branch and patiently wait – sometimes for years – until a fat cat walks underneath their perch. Then they drop on their victim’s neck and drain its blood.”
Nothing I’ve heard since then has altered that opinion.