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.
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.