In an move for which no level of facepalm can suffice, the USPTO granted Apple a patent for a rectangle with rounded corners last week. Regardless of how ridiculous it may sound, sadly it’s true. According to patent no. D670,286, design rights for a “portable display device” with an external shape that is a rectangle with rounded corners are now owned by Apple. See for yourself:
Note that only the solid line is part of the patented design; the dotted lines serve as mere reference, or more likely influence, to make it look more like a patentable product, but who exactly are they fooling here? The USPTO, apparently.
What makes it even more inexplicable is the fact that design patents are almost always quite specific, to the extent that anyone else would really need to replicate that particular design in order to infringe upon it. In this case however, nothing else but the rounded cornered rectangular shape is patented—no buttons, no back shape, no screen shape, not even the radius of the rounded corner. This in itself raises questions about the practical validity of this patent, and whether those in charge of putting a stamp on this patent application were under the influence or in the reality distortion field.
As most of you may know, this isn’t the first time Apple has resorted to something like this. The company has had a history of getting overly broad and non-essential patents, trying to license them to its competitors, and taking to court those who fail to comply. Such broad patents awarded to Apple in the past were at times deemed as invalid by the USPTO after further investigations but the damage was done by that time, in form of import bans on competitors for the products initially declared as infringing. In the end, it’s the consumers who suffer from all of this.
So what should be the course of action from here? As discussed recently by egzthunder1 in The Weekly Apple Fail Update, both the USPTO and the US justice system should take cues from the UK, extract their heads from their rears, and take a closer look at what is being examined before awarding a patent or a ruling. Untill that happens, let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that Apple doesn’t start taking all tablet and smartphone manufacturers to court for infringing upon this one.