On Tuesday, December 27, Apple was granted yet another key patent, this time related to how the iPhone’s multitouch display functions. The patent covers the method in which an “oscillator signal interacts with a signal,” or how touch is interpreted by the operating system. While it would seem that this is a massive win for Apple, it isn’t being covered as such. There’s several good reasons for that, including the fact that the world is finally desensitized to patent warfare.
2011 has been a busy year for patent lawyers. As the dust surrounding the initial smartphone market share sprint began to settle, it was clear that not everyone would be happy relying on the quality of their products to win the entire race. Apple has been the poster child for this line of reasoning. The Cupertino based company has started lawsuits with nearly every top Android device manufacturer, using technical patents and design infringements to challenge the competition.
So far, any victories for Apple have yet to really show any major impact on Android. Sure, Samsung has had to retool their Galaxy Tab 10.1 in some parts of the globe, and some older (not even sold anymore) HTC handsets have been banned. But Samsung’s modified Galaxy Tab 10.1N isn’t likely to be banned even if Apple fights for it, and HTC is already developing a workaround to prevent any future problems for their handsets. Both of these stories were highly publicized, and both had a rather lackluster outcome.
When it comes to Apple’s newest multitouch patent, we may be looking at the same situation. Back in mid-December, HTC was already looking into alternative touch panel suppliers, because their current Atmel maXTouch displays may infringe on Apple’s patents. You can bet that HTC isn’t the only manufacturer accessing their options. And by the time Apple is able to take their latest patent to court, it would probably only apply to, you guessed it, old handsets not even being sold anymore.
Right now, the mobile industry is engaged in a vicious cycle of legal battles where even the victors aren’t awarded much. Apple is going to keep landing patents. They’ll continue to sue rival manufacturers, who’ll continue to rework their hardware and software to avoid any missed sales. And eventually, even technology enthusiasts won’t know it’s still going on. Because if nothing monumental happens when some huge company does win in a patent case, no one’s going to care.
It’s like that story, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Every patent suit against Android is touted as the one that will end the platform. But that’s not what happens. So the townspeople don’t even listen anymore. They just don’t care. I think we’ve finally reached that point.