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Speaking of suing

Wed Feb 18, 2009 - 3:47 PM EST - By Jay Gross


Palm might have a point about its ability to withstand lawsuits over the Pre's interface. The company is listed among paying licensees of a smooth scrolling technology patented by a Scottish firm. That firm has filed suit against Apple in the U.S., claiming the iPhone and other Apple products infringe the patent that Palm pays to license.

One thing I learned back in the distant past in journalism school: threats to sue are not news. Moreover, actual lawsuits aren�t new, though sometimes they might be news, and the final results are rarely as dramatic as the litigants' filings might claim.

These days, that lesson applies even more. I take an old journalist's view of the recent speculation that Apple might sue Palm over the Pre. I fully expect them to sue - everybody does, after all. Besides, it's doubtful AT&T will sit idle while Palm chips away at their iPhone exclusivity advantage.

But the plot thickens. Now Apple is the respondent in a patent infringement suit from Glasgow-based Picsel Technologies, which accuses Apple in Delaware District Court (for some reason) of using its zooming technologies without paying. The technologies are covered by its U.S. patent number 7,009,626, "Systems and Methods for Generating Visual Representations of Graphical Data and Digital Document Processing." Granted March 7, 2006, the patent talks about "tweening" a rough rendering of the display during scrolls, zooms, and other screen transitions - for one thing, in order to control the bandwidth required to perform the animation. Because the tween is in motion, the eye won't even notice that it's rough, and when it lands where it's going, the device swaps in a full image, so no one's the wiser. Clever.

The company's probably delighted that I went into writing, instead of becoming an examiner at the patent office, because I think it's also fairly obvious, and I'd be inclined to laugh them out of my office if they tried to patent the obvious. Not so picky is the Patent Office without me. Quoting Claim 1 of the patent as granted:

1. A method of redrawing a visual display of graphical data whereby a current display of the graphical data is replaced by an updated display of the graphical data, comprising, receiving a request for an updated display of the graphical data; storing a reduced resolution bitmap representation of the graphical data distinct from the current display; in response to the request, replacing the current display with a first approximate representation of the requested updated display, wherein said first approximate representation includes a scaled version of the stored distinct reduced resolution bitmap representation of said graphical data, generating a final updated display, and replacing the approximate representation with the final updated display.

There are 31 claims in all. Interestingly, Claim 25 is:

25. A handheld device having a graphical interface capable of redrawing graphical data, comprising a display memory for storing data representative of document currently being displayed on the handheld device, a second memory for storing a distinct reduced resolution bitmap representation of said document being displayed, and a module capable of detecting an instruction to generate an undated display of the document, the instruction including an alteration to an aspect of the document being displayed, and in response thereto replacing the current display of the document with a sealed version of the stored distinct reduced resolution bitmap representation of the document, generating a final updated display of the document, and replacing the scaled version of the distinct reduced resolution bitmap representation of the document with the final updated display of the document.

Makes me think this should be called a re-patent, instead of a patent, as this whole concept was built into my favorite-ever computer, an Amiga, invented in 1986. Picsel's patent is here, if you want to judge for yourself.

Filed late last week, Picsel's lawsuit is described in this posting on The Register, an online tech publication, complete with an illustration of how the technology, if you can call it that, is supposed to work. Since I'm railing on about stuff being used without permission (or not), I didn't steal the illustration. You'll have to browse here to check it out. According to the article, Picsel claims their technology is included in 200 million devices, and lists Palm (!), Fujitsu, NEC, Toshiba, Sharp, Panasonic, HP, Motorola, and Nokia as licensing partners.

In court, engineers aren't engineering, marketers aren't marketing, and management isn't managing while they're fighting out their claims. The only people in a courtroom who are making any money are the lawyers. Industry should learn that.

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