Regarding Apple’s patent filing and Where To, Marco makes a good point. For prior art to come into play, the actual claims of the patent would have to cover one or more functions of Where To, and as far as I can tell, they don’t: the patent is entirely concerned with automatic location-based travel notifications. The diagram is just part of an example of one way the technology in question might operate.
Brian Ford delves deeper:
Apple references the diagram (Fig. 6) and says that it includes features that are made available as the embodiment of the invention. I’m not exactly sure what “the invention” is, but it doesn’t seem to be referring to Fig 6.
The other clue that this isn’t about an underhanded attempt to patent the Where To app is that various pictures showing several completely unrelated app designs are all used to describe this same patent. None of the other drawings are consistent.
As such, my suspicion is still that this is basically much ado about nothing, but I suppose it’s always possible that Apple ripped off someone’s exact design and is now trying to patent it, thinking that no one would notice. (There’s a bit of sarcasm there, but I’m not saying it’s beyond the realm of possibility, either.)
I think it’s more likely that the people involved in drawing up this patent simply didn’t think about the message it would send to developers. I’m sure it’s not Apple’s practice (or intention) to plunder the App Store submissions bin for new things to patent. But there remains a conflict of interest in Apple acting as the sole steward of the iOS software universe while also filing patents in areas that have long been staked out by third-party developers. If those developers suddenly get cold feet toward submitting innovative apps for fear of their ideas suddenly appearing in Apple’s patent filings, it will be hard to blame them.
And regardless of who’s right or wrong, no one wants to end up in patent court against the biggest technology corporation in the world.
As for the rightness or wrongness of using the likeness of the app, I wonder: Does Apple reserve the right to do that as part of their developer agreement? Apple can presumably use apps as part of their advertisements, etc., and if they’re simply using the likeness of this app to help describe “the embodiment of” a patent invention that would make use of such apps, I’m not sure there’s anything in the developer agreement prohibiting that, is there?
There may be nothing prohibiting it, but there’s also nothing I know of in the agreement — or good developer relations, or even common decency — that permits it.