We have always known that the patent battles between big tech companies have been a little bit overreaching, but I think today's news may have upped the already high bar of oddity. According to the website Patently Apple, the site's namesake company has filed a patent claim for face unlock technology, the exact same kind that is found in Google's Galaxy Nexus, and noticeably absent from the iPhone 4S.
Now, before we get our pitchforks out, we need to be rational for a bit. Apple actually filed for the patent back in June, which was before the Galaxy Nexus was released. It was also the time when Google was buying a facial recognition software company, but whether or not that company had already envisioned or tested face unlock is not known.
Also, Apple could not have simply predicted that someone was going to create face unlock and patented it. Their application would have to explain how to actually execute a face unlock, with enough detail that someone would actually be able to build the technology from the patent. Basically, they would have to be capable of building it themselves if they wanted to.
What this all means is that while Google was the first to market with face unlock in a phone, both Apple and Google had the idea at about the same time. So, even though Google built it into a product first, Apple was able to organize the technical details and file a patent.
Therefore, Apple technically owns the technology, unless another company has filed a similar patent in the past. Fortunately, even in the absence of other filings, a simple case of prior art where an old TV show or comic shows the idea of face unlock can invalidate any related patents held by companies.
Even though they haven't been granted it yet, I think it is a bit absurd that Apple even felt the need to file this patent. Face recognition technology has been around a long time, and the idea of using it to unlock a phone is just that-an idea. Unless there is some kind of new technological process involved, I don't believe that should be patentable.
We will obviously have to wait to see the outcome of this filing, but if Apple is granted this patent and tries to use it to stop Android, I think it will be another clear indication that something is wrong with our current software patent system.[Droid-Life]