The iPhone patent Steve Jobs particularly cared about - inertial scrolling

Steve Jobs seemingly had a special affinity for Apple's '381 patent, which covers intertial scrolling

We're about a week into the Apple-Samsung trial, and so far the bulk of the testimony has centered on Apple's design patent claims, specifically relating to the form factor of the iPhone itself (rounded corners, a bezel on the outside of the device) and the grid layout for icons Apple implemented way back in the original iOS.

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But Apple's patent claims against Samsung go far beyond those assertions and also include utility patent claims which relate to how a user actually interacts with the OS itself. The patents Apple is asserting in that regard are as follows.

  • 381' patent - this relates to the "rubber band" effect that occurs when a user attempts to scroll past the end of a displayed document or webpage. This is also known as intertial scrolling.
  • '915 patent - this relates to how the OS determines whether or not a user is attempting to scroll with one finger or zoom in via a multitouch gesture
  • '163 patent - this relates to tapping to zoom

While on the stand late last week, Apple's Scott Forstall - who serves as the Senior VP of iOS software - explained the impetus behind the '163 patent.

While using early iPhone prototypes to browse the web, Forstall frequently found himself pinching and zooming in order to get the page to look "just right." It soon occurred to him that it would be much more efficient to have the OS take care of all the dirty work and automatically zoom in appropriately with a simple double tap.

“The team went back and worked really hard to figure out how to do that,” Forstall explained. And when asked if the feature was a significant one, Forstall didn't mince words, stating: “Absolutely! I remember what it was like before, during development and after. It allowed me to browse the web much more fluently.”

So Forstall is an enthusiastic fan of the '163 patent (where he's listed as an inventor) but after poring through Forstall's deposition from a few months ago (at least the portions that weren't redacted), it seems that the rubber-band effect embodied in the 381' patent was one particularly near and dear to Steve Jobs.

Indeed, Jobs even referenced the rubber band effect as a key turning point in the development of the original iPhone. During his appearance at the 2010 All Things D conference, Jobs explained how the rubber band effect, otherwise known as inertial scrolling, prompted Apple to abandon designs for a tablet computer and instead focus on developing a phone.

I asked our people about it [a tablet], and six months later they came back with this amazing display. And I gave it to one of our really brilliant UI guys. He got [rubber band] scrolling working and some other things, and I thought, 'My God, we can build a phone with this.' So we put the tablet aside, and we went to work on the iPhone.

Returning to the Forstall's deposition, Apple's iOS guru is asked about discussions Steve Jobs seemingly had with Samsung over the rubber banding patent.

Forstall responded:

I don't remember specifics. I think it was just one of the things that Steve said, here's something we invented. Don't - don't copy it. Don't steal it.

After a few more pages of redacted material, Forstall is asked if the rubber banding patent was ever discussed again after that first meeting.

Again, due to the redactions it's hard to gauge the context and determine just which meeting/s Samsung's attorney is referring to. Might it possibly be in regards to Apple's initial overtures towards Samsung regarding its concerns over various Samsung smartphones? After all, Apple's former Chief patent lawyer Richard Lutton revealed that Steve Jobs directly contacted Samsung in July 2010 to discuss his concerns with Samsung's allegedly infringing products.

Lutton explained that Jobs approached Samsung himself, initially, because of the "deep relationship" the two companies had and that Apple wanted "to give them a chance to do the right thing."

In any event, Forstall responded:

Rubber banding is one of the sort of key things for the fluidity of the iPhone and - and all of iOS, and so I know it was one of the ones that Steve really cared about.

I actually think that Android had not done rubber banding at some point and it was actually added later. So they actually went form sort of, you know, not yet copying and infringing to - to choosing to copy, which is sad and distasteful.

But I can't give you a specific recollection of - of Steve, you know, going over rubber banding with - with them in those meetings or not...

I expect it came up, because it's one of the key things we talked - you know, he and I talked about, but I don't know if it came up there.

That notwithstanding, court filings from a few months ago revealed that Apple offered Samsung a license to the '381 patent in November 2010. Clearly, that offer never resulted in any sort of agreement. Perhaps the royalty Apple was seeking was too high or perhaps Samsung felt it shouldn't have to pay anything at all.

Moving back to Forstall's deposition, he is later asked about iOS icon designs whereupon he once again references meetings that Steve Jobs, we would guess, had with Samsung over Apple's concerns. Note that it has previously been revealed in court documents that Apple executives in 2010 laid out Apple's case/concerns before Samsung executives.

In a court filing originally spotted by The Verge a few months back, Apple explained how it attempted to avoid litigation with Samsung altogether.

On or about August 4, 2010, Apple representatives met with Samsung in Korea and showed a presentation titled 'Samsung's Use of Apple Patents in Smartphones.' This presentation emphasized Samsung's copying of the iPhone and identified two of the patents-in-suit (the '002 and '381 patents), giving Samsung actual notice of at least these patents, and many more.

On or about August 26, 2010, Apple sent Samsung an electronic archive file containing claim charts further illustrating Samsung's infringement of Apple patents. A presentation document that accompanied these claim charts identified the '002 and '381 patents as two patents that Samsung products infringed, and it substantiated these allegations with text from the patents and photographs of Samsung devices illustrating infringing functionality. Apple later presented these slides to Samsung at a meeting in Cupertino, California on or about September 9, 2010.

In any event, Forstall goes on to describe said meetings in vague detail:

Well, so I - I think, in general, what Steve did in these meetings was just talk through. There's a set of things we've done, which you're copying, and those - those things, you know are - and I think a lot of different things were discussed.

Now, I can't give you specific recollections of - of what - you know, I can't precisely say this is - was what was discussed at this meeting and guarantee it. I know like the design of icons with the rounded recs was something that we cared about because it - it - it looked uniquely ours, and we didn't want other people to go and copy that design, because it would confuse users as to what's, you know, an iPhone versus what's one of these copy phones.

So - but I don't remember specifically even if in one of these things if - if the icon appearance was discussed.. icon design was discussed.

I do know that there were specific icons that were discussed where they absolutely ripped us off, and these were - some of those were extreme. One was in merging calls.

Funny enough, we've learned much more about the development of the iPhone in the last few weeks than we ever did from Steve Jobs' biography.

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