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[July 16, 2012]
Tulsa World, Okla., Robert Evatt column
Jul 15, 2012 (Tulsa World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- It's fun for headline writers to refer to the strong competition between, say, iOS and Apple, or any other two tech products, as a "war." But in the courtrooms, the war between tech companies is a lot more literal.
It's to the point that I can't go a week without bumping into a new batch of legalese one company has hurled against another, and trying to sum up all of them is impossible in a short column. I've seen graphics attempting to chart who's suing whom that look like tangled plates of spaghetti.
Why should you care about behind-the-scenes lawyer fights? Some of them are starting to have very real consequences for the consumer.
For instance, there's Apple's multitudes of suits against Samsung. One of them, an accusation that Samsung is violating Apple's patent on universal search, got upheld by a judge last week. Apple didn't want money -- it wanted a ban on the sale of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone.
That's why you can't buy a Galaxy Nexus on store shelves right now. Fortunately, this fast, digital world has given Google a few workarounds. They can still sell the Galaxy Nexus through their online store, Google Play, and Samsung and Google are working on a software patch that they feel will distance themselves from the patent.
A similar ban very nearly happened in April, when the U.S. International Trade Commission released a preliminary ruling stating that Microsoft violated four of Motorola's patents in the Xbox 360, which would have led to a ban on sales of the game system if the ITC hadn't reversed itself in late June.
On and on it goes, with pretty much every major tech corporation taking part. While I can understand companies wanting to protect themselves from getting ripped off, most of this just seems like companies trying to eliminate the competition through the courts, or at least extort money from each other. Meanwhile innovation becomes stifled and customers get less choices.
How do we solve this? Part of the problem stems from our broken patent system, in which anyone can get a patent for seemingly any vague, broad and untested idea. Reforming the patent process would be a great first step, but no one seems to be taking it.
Military wars can get addressed by the United Nations, and surprisingly enough, so might the digital wars. The UN's International Telecommunication Union will convene meetings to try to address the problem on Oct. 10.
Still, I'm bracing myself for more retail bans and legally mandated feature changes for the time being.
RUMORS CIRCULATE ON SMALLER IPAD, REVAMP OF ITUNES: With the new iPad out and the next version of iOS already available to developers, you'd think that the rumor mill would be all about the likely release of the iPhone 5 this fall.
Instead, much of the talk, from Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal no less, have been about a smaller version of the iPad that could come out in a few months. The main impediment to a mini-iPad in the past has been Steve Jobs, who was very vocal in his hatred of the concept. But this is now a Jobs-less Apple.
I could see a smaller iPad really taking off, especially if it's a little less expensive. Even without the reduced cost, a lot of people could appreciate the smaller form factor -- see the strong sales of the Kindle Fire.
The other rumor from Bloomberg focuses on a total revamp of iTunes, which would include much closer integration with iCloud, the ability to share songs with friends and integration with Facebook and Twitter.
Which is all well and good, but I'm hoping the revamp makes the PC version of iTunes less of a memory hog and makes searching a bit more intuitive. iTunes has needed these changes for years.
APP OF THE WEEK: CONGRESSIONAL RECORD: Griping about the latest antics of Congress has become a popular pastime. So why not make sure you know what you're griping about? This new app gives you mobile access to the Congressional Record, the official journal of the U.S. House and Senate.
For the most part the app simply presents the publication, easily searchable by section. But you'll have to zoom in on the text to make it readable.
The good news is that you can search the Congressional Record back to 1995. So you can relive that happy day when Congress passed that one bill you liked.
Free Suggest an app for App of the Week at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow us on Twitter Follow @RobertEvatt to get the latest tech news and insight from World technology writer Robert Evatt.
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