October 24, 2014

Patently Suspect

Every few months, somebody, on one of the Android Google Groups, inquires about a certain touch-screen technology brought to the forefront by Apple’s iPhone. Apple holds patents related to this technology.

Most times this comes up, members of the group are cordially requested to avoid discussing the patent on the list. Many US corporations — apparently including Google — have a policy against discussing patents in public, due in part to the treble damages facet of US patent law.

Every now and then, somebody can’t follow simple instructions, and continues discussing a patent anyway, perhaps even linking to it.

You may not like patents. You may not like US patent law in particular. You may despise the treble damages clause. You may think that firms that try to erect a firewall between engineers and public discussion of patents are wimps. You may think the patents in question are invalid, or do not cover how you envision using the technology, or that they do not matter in your jurisdiction. You may think that the technology is just so cool that you do not really care about the patents — you want the cool tech anyway, and a pony besides.

That’s all fine. BUT DISCUSS THIS STUFF SOMEPLACE ELSE.

At minimum, it is really impolite to go against the request of the list hosts.

The best-case scenario of your continuing to discuss these patents on-list, after being asked not to, is to be banned from the list.

The worst-case scenario is you cause the list to be shut down, or for the hosts (in this case, the core Android team) to abandon it en masse, on orders of management, to protect the sanctity of the firewall.

You will note that none of these outcomes will help you in your goal of having this technology implemented in Android. The worst-case scenario, in particular, is rather frightening.

The Internet is a really big place. Surely there is some other site where you and like-minded folk can discuss the merits of the patents, ways around them, and the like. It’s not like the Android Google Groups (and this site) are the only Web pages in existence. Go find some other forum, or create one of your own. Heck, you probably can even link to said forum from a post on an Android Google Group, so long as that post does not itself discuss the patent. That way, you can let interested people know where they can discuss this topic, without causing the core Android team potential problems.

Even better, if you actually want this technology on Android, help out to invalidate the patent. Many of the people who chime in on these threads think the patents are invalid — well, prove it. Document prior art, convince the EFF to add the patents to their patent-busting project, donate money to EFF, etc. If you are in the US, consider aiming more strategically and contacting your Congressperson to get the treble damages clauses removed from the law, or contribute to candidates who agree with that position.

But please, don’t discuss the patents in the Android Google Groups.