back to article Does this float your boat? Dead Steve Jobs to hijack yachts from beyond the grave

Apple cofounder Steve Jobs shuffled off this mortal coil in 2011, but his name is living on in patent filings. The patient and endearing CEO is listed as a co-inventor in a US patent application that describes a handheld gadget remotely controlling a large boat. The filing sets out a system in which a tablet or smartphone can …

  1. NoneSuch Silver badge

    A perfect example of why the US Trade & Patent Office needs an overhaul.

    1. J. R. Hartley

      Yes, I could swear I saw a remote controlled boat in Tesco which was controlled by a downloadable app...

      1. Uncle Siggy

        That boats been done floated partner!

        I recall amusement parks where we floated our boats.

    2. Ogi

      Even Tesla developed a remote control boat.

      Tesla patented it in 1898: so we have 100+ years of remote control (boat, or otherwise) patents.

      Ok, so the interface would have been non-touchscreen, but it was an interface, sending commands wirelessly, to a boat, which would then respond to commands and move about. Apart from a flashy touch-UI, a lot more power, and encoding differences, what is the difference in the basic premise?

    3. GBE

      The PTO has no control over who files what

      The article is about an _application_ that has been filed. Blaming the PTO for that is like blaming you for the junk mail you receive.

      It hasn't been granted. It hasn't even been examined.

      It's just some bullshit that Apple sent to the PTO because one their IP attorneys had nothing better to do one afternoon, and wanted to chalk up another mark towards his quota.

      If it gets granted, _then_ you can bitch about the PTO.

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Just grab any Sci Fi video from last 20 years (Stargate Atlantis comes to mind) and there will be at least one guy controlling a boat (OK, granted a space one) with a tablet.

    Granting a patent to this one is frankly... nuts... Which cave did the examiner live in?

    1. Mark 85

      Chances are, the examiner doesn't read or watch Science Fiction for fun. It's his job and most of the crap he looks at probably makes the worst SF seem good to us non-examiner types. Or, the examiner is an idiot and hasn't a clue except "it's for Apple, it must be new and innovative".

    2. westlake

      Repeat after me.

      Voland's right hand:

      "Just grab any Sci Fi video from last 20 years (Stargate Atlantis comes to mind) and there will be at least one guy controlling a boat (OK, granted a space one) with a tablet."

      Fiction is not prior art.

      I have never understand why the geek finds this simple concept so difficult to grasp.

      The screenwriter only has to suggest an affordable prop or special effect which will look plausible on

      screen and won't bring the action and story to a screeching halt.

      He doesn't have to engineer a solution robust and sane enough to trusted when remotely piloting a 60 meter yacht.

      1. Russell Hancock

        Re: Repeat after me.

        @westlake... You do understand that a patent filing is just a piece of paper right? They have not built anything, so it is exactly the same as the as the ideas in Sci-fi - just some ideas on paper!

        In fact it is even worse than x sci-fi, at least they had something physical...

      2. James 51

        Re: Repeat after me.

        Actually, there's a tale (probably apocryphal) about how a submarine patent wasn't awarded or invalided because Jules Verne described the workings of the Nautilus in such detail. On a side note that book should be renamed 20,000 lectures under the sea.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Repeat after me.

        "Fiction is not prior art".

        Not necessarily true. The Donald Duck Case is an example where fiction may be prior art in the patent world. The devil is in the details as usual. Does the patent describe a particular method which is also present in the fictional example, and so on.

        Of more immediate interest is Jobs being named as a co-inventor. This implies that he personally made a contribution to the invention. If he didn't, then it would be grounds for rejection of the application, or even nullification if the application were ever granted. If the patent were to be challenged, then the defence team would have to provide evidence satisying the court that he contributed to the invention, otherwise it would likely fail.

        And "running the company where the invention was made" doesn't count.

        (And this is just an application, not a granted patent. The USPTO hasn't even reviewed it yet.)

      4. Nuke

        @westlake - Re: Repeat after me.

        Wrote :- "Fiction is not prior art. ... [A screenwriter] doesn't have to engineer a solution robust and sane enough to trusted when remotely piloting a 60 meter yacht.

        Neither does an applicant to the US Patent Office. All they need is a proposal on paper which can be a mere flight of fancy, let alone fiction.

    3. P. Lee

      > Which cave did the examiner live in?

      The one where the examiner's organisation gets revenue for issuing the patent and someone else (the courts) have to sort out the mess.

    4. Lars Silver badge

      " Which cave did the examiner live in?". Worse than that he is also probably a lawyer. They take your money and then lawyesr again enjoy fighting it out in courts., Job creators.

  3. disgruntled yank

    Avast, there

    I've long since seen kids standing at the side of ponds steering boats with electronic controls. They weren't using smartphones, because phones were still dumb, and they weren't using tablets because tablets were either Palm Pilots or Newtons. but still.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Avast, there

      Person manipulates device. Device sends instructions to receiver. Receiver directs actuator to move. Actuators move.

      I fail to see how anything novel could be introduced into this basic premise.

      1. Stoneshop

        Re: Avast, there

        I fail to see how anything novel could be introduced into this basic premise.

        WiFI, tablet, application, Apple.

        1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Re: Avast, there

        2. John Bailey

          Re: Avast, there

          "WiFI, tablet, application, Apple."

          See line you quoted.

  4. Lars Silver badge

    High time

    High time I patented an app/device that flushed my toilet remotely, and why not for a handheld gadget remotely controlling a small boat, and a large and a small train, and let me think..

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: High time

      You're starting to think like Mr Jobs, please take a pill and lie down before your hand starts reaching for the patent pad.

    2. Nuke

      @Lars - Re: High time

      Wrote :- "High time I patented .... a handheld gadget remotely controlling a small boat, and a large and a small train,

      Ah ha! You forgot something - an aeroplane! Too late for you, I thought of it first. And a guided missile : Oh wait, they thought of that three-quarters of a century ago :

  5. Dan Paul

    Already being done....does anyone ever check for prior art?

    Maybe not specifically on a luxury yacht per se, but iPads and phones are already being used by several manufacturers for building automation control and I'm sure Crestron is already doing this for luxury recreational vehicles and homes.

    There is little difference besides naming conventions between RV's and Yachts. The mechanical systems are the same.

    Why are patent officers so lazy? Because they get paid on what they approve.

    Time to change that!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Already being done....does anyone ever check for prior art?

      Yep - I can control my (non luxury) boat using an iPad running Raycontrol software from Raymarine. And it looks an awful lot better than the tatty diagram in this patent.

    2. Fluffy Bunny

      Re: Already being done....does anyone ever check for prior art?

      Prior art, indeed. Check WWII. The Germans had remote-controlled boats loaded with explosives.

      Add a smartphone to the equation - nill intellectual value added - patent not valid.

  6. David 138

    So we can expect a boat driven through the next Black Hat?

  7. .@.

    So this is a patent on a remote control. Huh, WTF?

  8. Winkypop Silver badge

    If you are rich enough... will have crew to steer the tub.

  9. T. F. M. Reader

    Prior art candidates - in fiction and in real life

    Fiction: Certainly either the late Desmond Llewelyn or MI6 or maybe Eon Productions have a reasonable claim to prior art because of that ill-fated - but remotely controlled from a cell phone - BMW Series 7 in Tomorrow Never Dies? Wheels or screws - there is little conceptual difference. The villain in Speed 2 only used laptops to control a luxury cruise liner, not cell phones, right? Disqualified, then.

    Reality: Jim Clark's Hyperion was completely controlled by a network of SGI servers, and the interface was LCD touch screens. The touch screens were not called "tablets" at the time - so? The network was wired, I assume, but is it reasonable to insert the word "wireless" into something completely obvious and claim to have invented something?

    Joking aside, whatever "innovation" Apple may claim here I can't see how this can conceivably be qualified as an invention. And you need to invent something for a patent, don't you? Oh... Sorry...

  10. lglethal Silver badge

    Easy way to fix the Patent system...

    There is one easy way to fix the US Patent system. When you submit a patent application, you pay the full amount and whether they approve it or not you lose the money. Allow one appeal for rejections. If the appeal is rejected, and someone wants to resubmit with additional paperwork, they pay again.

    The USPTO would then have no reason to just approve anything that comes, because they get paid either way. It would also decrease there workload, as fewer cranks would be willing to stump up the fee knowing they were going to lose the money even if their patent was rejected. Simple and effective.


  11. Anonymous Blowhard

    Prior art? How about actual products?

    "The electronic control system is coupled to, and receives information from, sensors that collect environmental information (e.g., wind speed, wind direction, water depth, etc.) and/or system status information (e.g., engine speed, transmission settings, etc.) for the vehicle (e.g., the vessel)."

    This sounds like the functionality of the fifteen quid Bluetooth widget I bought from Amazon to receive "system status information (e.g., engine speed, transmission settings, etc.) for the vehicle" using the free "Torque" application on Android:

    So the system monitoring is already performed by CAN-BUS and I think some aspects of remote control of vehicles (cars, aircraft, boats, ICBMs) via a tablet may be ruled out on safety grounds. Remote control of small vehicles by tablet/phone is already available:

  12. Hellcat

    Driving a fairly hefty boat by any sort of general consumer grade control device is pretty scary in my opinion. Tables and smart phones do crash, and it would be a shame if your boat crashed too because of it. We run a Raymarine ST60 system on our yacht. Despite the relative simplicity the modules are expencive; partly because they are built to be super reliable. Tablets just aren't stable enough to be relied on.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      You have the idea on it's head: The tablet does not control the boat - the boat's systems control the boat. The tablet is nothing more than an interface into the boat's systems. Of course, this doesn't justify a patent but this is the US PTO...

  13. Frankee Llonnygog


    If you're going to source stories from blogs, at least link back to them.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Price of Patents..

    Can you imagine how expensive patents would be if the patent office had to ensure that each one was fully defensible in court with no overlapping patents or prior art?

    The job of the patent office is to record who invented an invention and when they did it, not to ensure that they are unique, or even that they work.

    1. Nuke

      ZanzibarRastapopulous - Re: The Price of Patents..

      Wrote :- "Can you imagine how expensive patents would be if the patent office had to ensure that each one was fully defensible in court with no overlapping patents or prior art?

      Would not cost much if they demanded to see a working prototype before they granted a patent. The UK Patent Office used to do this.

      Nor would it cost much if they employed some people with enough general knowledge to had already heard of the existence of stuff as commonplace as radio control. Christ, I became aware of radio control devices when I was still in a pushchair. Where the hell do the USPO find such unworldly people - from unexplored parts of the Amazon Forest or something?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ZanzibarRastapopulous - The Price of Patents..

        I think some people don't understand the difference between an application being filed and a patent being granted.

  15. Mage Silver badge


    What did Tesla use to control the remote controlled wireless demo model boat around 1897?


    The Price of Patents..

    But the USPO doesn't seem to check anything, They are supposed to. Or is operated for the benefit of US lawyers?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Tesla

      "What did Tesla use to control the remote controlled wireless demo model boat around 1897?"

      Not sure about Tesla, but I remember seeing a working re-creation of the first(ish?) radio control on, (I think) the BBCs Reeth Christmas lectures many years ago. The transmitter was a spark gap generator and the receiver was a line of iron filings in a tube on a floating model airship. When the spark gap generator was triggered the receiver aerial picked up the EM which made the circuit by (I assume, It was a long time ago now!) routing the EM through a coil to make a small electromagnet thus operating a more powerful circuit which triggered the airship rudder.

      After a few seconds on Google...

      According the wikipedia entry on radio control "In 1898 at an exhibition at Madison Square Garden Nikola Tesla demonstrated a small boat which could apparently obey commands from the audience but was in fact controlled by Tesla interpreting the verbal requests and sending appropriate frequencies to tuned circuits in the boat."

      The wikipedia entry on radio controlled aircraft has this to say "The earliest examples of electronically guided model aircraft were hydrogen-filled model airships of the late 19th century. They were flown as a music hall act around theater auditoriums using a basic form of spark-emitted radio signal."

  16. Crisp

    They've invented a radio controlled boat.

    How innovative! No one has ever done that before. How do they keep coming up with these fresh ideas?

  17. Peter Simpson 1

    Shiver me timbers!

    No TRUE pirate would command his ship from a handheld trinket!


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shiver me timbers!

      Modern pirates would find a use, once they'd hacked the controller. And didn't Apple just 'improve' security by requiring your mobile number.. I mean using 2FA to your mobile device that's now controlling your yacht? Could making cloning more lucrative, or just more fun.

      Also fairly certain there's prior arrrs in controlling via handheld trinkets, although they would have had sharp edges rather than rounded corners..

  18. Terje

    Is it waterproof?

    I can just imagine the scene, expensive big yacht pulling up to a pier and suddenly goes full throttle and rams the small insignificant boats ahead.

    Accident investigator:

    Well captain care to explain what happened.


    I was standing on the bridge wing to get a good look at the distances to the pier when a light rain started to fall.




    Well.. the IPad got a little damp and decided to go full speed ahead.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patent system stupidity

    I've been in engineering associated with the Mining and Marine sector for more than three decades in the UK, and I was brought up to believe that patents could only be submitted if they were innovative. My company has since been swallowed by a large Americon concern and we are now encouraged to submit patent applications on our work. I've held back on this, partly because I don't see that the work I do is innovative ... it's more derivative.

    No more. This patent application is a derivative of a standard HMI control .. replace the HMI screen with a tablet and replace the hard wired communications with Wifi (i.e a derivative work) and you appear to have this application. I understand that this has not yet been granted but the very fact it has been applied for fills me with despair.

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