From day one of the Apps Store, there have been a few applications that called it home. One of those, the wildly popular “Where To” app from FutureTap, has just had an interesting turn of events in its life. It seems that Apple might very well be trying to patent the technology that Where To uses, and could be doing so by directly ripping off the Where To UI in the patent application.
You know that “if it seems too good to be true” saying? I think it has an antithesis in “if it seems too bad to be true”. I don’t think that Apple is going after Where To. In fact, I think what we’re looking at is a case blown out of proportion…or at least I certainly hope so.
The original story broke on the FutureTap website, where the Where To creators had a brainstorming session in blog form about what could possibly be going on. It truly didn’t seem to make much sense, as Apple had submitted a patent that used a direct caricature of the Where To application to prove its points.
Clearly, if you’re FutureTap, there’s cause to be concerned when the Apple patent looks a whole lot like what you’ve already done.
The story then hit the waves over at Venemous Porridge, where a similar tale was told. It didn’t take long, though, for people to start coming up with possible alternate reasoning for Apple’s move.
The most viable of reasoning that we’ve seen, so far, comes from Brian Ford. He theorizes that Apple has a larger-scope idea in mind, and in fact simply used the diagram as an example. He thinks (and I have to agree) that Apple simply made a foolish move in copying the diagram, but that there is likely not a conspiracy at stake.
While we could delve deeply into the pros and cons of the patent process, it’s simply not worth your time to read it. Obviously, there are issues that have arisen with intellectual property patents, and the system is far from perfect. In this far-from-perfect state, it does leave an open door for larger companies with their swarms of patent lawyers to steal ideas from their originators.
We’d all like to think that Apple is smarter than this.
Apple, sadly, is in the perfect spot for people to have conspiracy theories about it. It is the sole source for applications for its iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices (at least if you still want a warranty). Because of the App Store approval process, Apple gets to see every application before it hits the market. In that position and with nearly unlimited funds, it could easily go to battle against small developers and simply run them out of money in court.
As for the case of Where To, we’ll have to sit and wait. If Apple does indeed decide to try to patent an identical application, the storm of bad PR would be unprecedented.