Patent Of The Day: All Your Smartphone Multitasking Are Belong To Apple

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 27 2011 10:24 AM

Patent Of The Day: All Your Smartphone Multitasking Are Belong To Apple

Steve Landsburg brings us patent #8,082,523 -- a "portable electronic device with graphical user interface supporting application switching" -- owned by Apple, Inc. and recently granted by the good people at the Patent Office. It seems to suggest that no Apple competitor should be allowed to manufacturing a smartphone that's capable of multitasking while you use the phone function:

A portable electronic device displays, on a touch screen display, a user interface for a phone application during a phone call. In response to detecting activation of a menu icon or menu button, the UI for the phone application is replaced with a menu of application icons, while maintaining the phone call. In response to detecting a finger gesture on a non-telephone service application icon, displaying a user interface for the non-telephone service application while continuing to maintain the phone call, the UI for the non-telephone service application including a switch application icon that is not displayed in the UI when there is no ongoing phone call. In response to detecting a finger gesture on the switch application icon, replacing display of the UI for the non-telephone service application with a respective UI for the phone application while continuing to maintain the phone call.
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Sometimes critics of over-patenting lean to heavily, I think, on the idea that these abusive patents are somehow overly broad or trivial but I don't think that's the real issue here. The issue is that there's just no sound public interest case for granting monopolies over certain features to the first-to-market firms in this industry. Apple has already gained a very large competitive advantage from the fact that they were the first people to deploy a working touchscreen smartphone and even without patents clearly has a strong financial need to continue investing in improving its product lest lower-margin Android-powered phones eat away at its profits. Consumers will benefit much more strongly from a world where innovators race to stay ahead of the curve knowing full well that any cool new products they release will soon face competition from rival implementation of similar ideas.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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