back to article Former Apple engineer fights iPhone giant for patent credit and denied cash, says Steve Jobs loved his 'killer ideas'

A former Apple engineer is suing his old employer to force it to acknowledge his role as the inventor of "Find My iPhone" and to compensate him for unfair dismissal. Darren Eastman, the inventor credited on an Apple patent for detecting battery errors (US 7877631B2), is seeking to have his name added to five Apple patent …

  1. trevorde
    Unhappy

    It happens to all companies eventually

    Substitute Apple for Google, Microsoft, IBM...

  2. steviebuk Silver badge

    He shouldn't also forget that Steve said....

    ...."Good artists copy, great artists steal". A quote I know he didn't invent but the point is, maybe that's what Apple will point him to. "Yeah we are great artists so stole your patent". Funny that quote considering Jobs went mental at Bill Gates for Windows claiming he'd copied Apple's idea to which Bill pointed out they'd both been to see the Xerox OS. And Jobs going mental over Android.

    Unfortunately for this guy and the way the American legal system works, I suspect Apple will just continue to drag out the lawsuit until he can't afford to fight it anymore.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: He shouldn't also forget that Steve said....

      Unfortunately for this guy and the way the American legal system works, I suspect Apple will just continue to drag out the lawsuit until he can't afford to fight it anymore.

      That only works if the other side is paying a lawyer and will run out of cash to pay the lawyer with eventually. He's representing himself, so it shouldn't happen.

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Re: He shouldn't also forget that Steve said....

        > That only works if the other side is paying a lawyer and will run out of cash to pay the lawyer with eventually. He's representing himself, so it shouldn't happen.

        Well, until he runs out of cash to pay for food, then. Although if there is a modicum of truth in his allegations then I'd like to see him win.

        Either way, he may be on to a loser. Depends on what he documented in the ticket he made, and what's written in the patent applications. If the methods used are different enough to what he documented then he won't get his name on them.

        As to "unlawful termination of employment" and associated gubbins, US employment law seems to be more on the employers side mostly - not sure at what point on the spectrum California sits, but I'd say it doesn't bode all that well for him.

      2. Astara

        Re: He shouldn't also forget that Steve said....

        The article said he had financial issues due to not working. The same dynamic is at work...not enough money to pay the lawyer (himself).

    2. Ian Joyner Bronze badge

      Re: He shouldn't also forget that Steve said....

      "Bill Gates for Windows claiming he'd copied Apple's idea to which Bill pointed out they'd both been to see the Xerox OS"

      No Apple did not steal from Xerox, but Microsoft did steal from Apple. I don't believe Gates saw anything before Jobs demonstrated the Macintosh to him.

      Douglas Englebart invented the mouse around 1963, not Xerox PARC. Jef Raskin at Apple was doing similar stuff to PARC and knew those guys. Raskin did his Ph.D in the 1960s on the graphics package that became Apple's Quickdraw. He was working at Apple doing similar stuff to the Xerox guys. It was Raskin who suggested to Jobs that he take up PARC's invitation to go and see what they were doing.

      PARC invited industry players in Apple, Tektronix, and IBM to view their stuff, because they had been ordered by Xerox HQ on the East Coast to drop what they were doing - it wasn't Xerox's core business. Tektronix and IBM didn't get it. But Jobs did. And the Xerox PARC guys were amazed how Jobs got it, since Xerox, Tektronix, and IBM didn't. Some at PARC realised it was the end of the road there, so those like Alan Kay and Larry Tesler left PARC to further this technology at Apple. They went on Apple's payroll, so were rewarded for their efforts.

      Apple still took considerable risks to develop this technology. The other part of the story is how PARC machines cost nearly $100,000, but Apple managed to put it in a machine selling for $10,000 (the Lisa), and then $2,000 (the Mac).

      Apple also did not exactly copy the PARC interface. Pull down menus at the top of the screen were Apple's innovation.

      Now Bill Gates did illegally copy Apple's stuff - particularly Quickdraw that was Raskin's.

      https://www.mac-history.net/computer-history/2012-03-22/apple-and-xerox-parc/2

      http://www.storiesofapple.net/larry-tesler-on-parc-and-apple.html

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJX8NiK2NZM

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: He shouldn't also forget that Steve said....

        I'm going on what I've read and from the film Pirates of Silicon valley which Steve Wozniak said was quite accurate.

        I knew about the earlier invention of the mouse.

        The Lisa was actually a commercial failure. Looking at the early system that Jobs got hold of, most appeared to be failures. The Apple 2 could of gone that way if Steve Wozniak hadn't convinced Steve Jobs to allow expansion. Reading Steve Wozniak's book he claims Steve Jobs didn't want to allow the computer to be upgradable, but when Wozniak convinced him otherwise, it was what helped keep Apple a float for years because the Apple 2 was where most of their money was coming from.

        1. Ian Joyner Bronze badge

          Re: He shouldn't also forget that Steve said....

          "The Lisa was actually a commercial failure"

          The Lisa was a very good machine, really better than the Macintosh. I saw lots of them. But the price was not right and not able to be less. It needed a 10MB (from memory) Profile disk drive. Not a bad machine for $10,000 and 1/10th of the cost of what Xerox could do.

          But the brilliance of the Mac was to do it for 1/10th of that.

          The expansion slots of the Apple II was also one of its worst features, but probably not at the time. Any extra hardware like that is now built in on the mother board, or provided by software.

          Glad to see you are reading the history. But what Microsoft did to Apple and what Apple did to Xerox are completely different things.

  3. deadlockvictim

    How should patents work?

    This fellow came up with the idea and Apple took him up on it. The idea belongs to Apple.

    Is this enough to be listed on the patent?

    The idea of mobile phones and smartphones was around in Star Trek in the late '60s. Should Gene Roddenbery be listed on the patents of smartphones to come?

    I am not a patent lawyer. It would be good if someone with experience in this field would clarify what entitles one to a place on the patent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How should patents work?

      This fellow came up with the idea and Apple took him up on it. The idea belongs to Apple.

      Is this enough to be listed on the patent?

      It should be. He may have signed over all rights to inventions to Apple as part of his contract, but if he (as an Apple employee, alone or in a group) invented something that was patented by Apple, his name should be on the patent as a (co-)inventor. I wonder if Apple (like other companies where I've worked) has any internal "possible patents" tool? That's usually a good way of starting the process and getting your name associated with it, the idea goes to the patent lawyers who decide if it's worth following up on it.

      Getting a name added to a patent later, though, is much harder. IANAL either, but I could see it being argued that a disagreement over who invented something could actually invalidate the patent.

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Re: How should patents work?

        His employment contract would definitely assign all rights to Apple, but yes if he has any meaningful contribution to the patent his name should be on it, and he would have received a one-off bonus payment as compensation (typically done as a small payment for the idea, another (larger) payment for the filing, and then finally one for the grant). I can't see it getting invalidated, though, as all his IPR rights were assigned to Apple.

        Seems like they were documenting ideas in that bug tracking tool - different companies have different methods. One I've worked at had a dedicated tool that would track the progress of an idea through comittee, drafting & filing. Another just used a few spreadsheets. The one I'm at has a very informal process, so I take care to keep records of stuff.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: How should patents work?

      Normally, you get listed on the patent, but you don't get royalties, because any ideas and patents created during your employment at the company are the property of the company. It is in most employment contracts I've seen over the years.

      That said, the rest of the case has merit, if what he alleges is true.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: How should patents work?

        Weird, I was just thinking of the Japanese guy who invented the blue LED and layer won millions from his former employer. A well known case, but I forget the details. Certainly his employer's argument is that he developed it in their time. Ianal, obviously.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: How should patents work?

        "Normally, you get listed on the patent, but you don't get royalties, because any ideas and patents created during your employment at the company are the property of the company. It is in most employment contracts I've seen over the years."

        At least one of the claims relates to patents relating to an idea he'd already come up with or started to develop before joining Apple.

        "The electronic ticketing patent application (20140364148), related to Apple's Passbook technology, was allegedly taken from technology Eastman developed prior to joining the company in 2006 and declared in the Intellectual Property Agreement he signed with Apple in 2005.

    3. Astara

      Re: How should patents work?

      At the very least, the fact that he mentioned the idea in his pre-employment documentation?

    4. jimbo60

      Re: How should patents work?

      In US patents, corporations are never inventors, only individuals are inventors. Employee inventors generally sign over rights to their employer, but they remain the named inventors.

      Deliberately leaving off an inventor can be grounds for invalidating a patent. Smart companies try to be careful and rigorous about making sure all involved inventors are named.

      The fact that one of the ideas was disclosed on his hiring paperwork as prior inventive work is a pretty strong document legal position.

  4. adam payne Silver badge

    "I’m reopening myself because my attorney had a stroke and has been in assisted living for some time," he said. "I don’t know if he’ll recover to his former ability level and I ran out of money after not working since 2014."

    The biggest problem for him is just that money, Apple are going to bury him to paperwork and string this along until he runs out of money.

  5. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Trollface

    It's MOULD, not mold

    "The manager's daughter, in a different division, was fired shortly afterwards for reporting toxic mold in the Apple building where she worked"

    I'd expect any apple employee to be fined for calling Tim Cook "toxic mold" to be fair...

    1. deadlockvictim

      Re: It's MOULD, not mold

      Outside the U.S. yes

      'Mold' is the U.S. version of 'mould'.

      I think that it is understood that he meant the lowly form of life rather the inverse form.

      1. cornetman Silver badge

        Re: It's MOULD, not mold

        That's pretty confusing, considering they are two completely different words.

        They just happen to sound the same.

        Sounds to me like a mistake that everyone (in the US at least) blindly accepted.

        1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

          Re: It's MOULD, not mold

          Noah Webster had a tremendous influence on American spelling, and he was down on "ou"s sounded as "o". I do see your point: yet the English-speaking world does manage to get along with quite a few words spelled and perhaps sounded the same.

          1. Ian Joyner Bronze badge

            Re: It's MOULD, not mold

            "Noah Webster had a tremendous influence on American spelling, and he was down on "ou"s sounded as "o". I do see your point: yet the English-speaking world does manage to get along with quite a few words spelled and perhaps sounded the same."

            Some words share spelling but are pronounced differently. The most prominent one in this industry is router and router. One is based on rout, pronounced 'raut' and refers to someone who commits atrocities. The other is based on route, pronounced 'root', and we use a lot of these in the Internet. This is related to routine, and no one says 'rautine'. There are plenty of examples where you (there's one) pronounce 'ou' quite differently. You, group, routine, should, tour, through.

            The final 'e' on a word most frequently changes the pronunciation of the final vowel:

            on(e), plan(e), hop(e), rag(e), sit(e), din(e), min(e), pin(e), sin(e), quit(e), rat(e)

            Thus rout and route are different words that should be pronounced differently.

            1. Ian Joyner Bronze badge

              Re: It's MOULD, not mold

              I wrote: "on(e), plan(e), hop(e), rag(e), sit(e), din(e), min(e), pin(e), sin(e), quit(e), rat(e)"

              Since we are talking about mould, I'll add slim(e)!

  6. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    On to a loser here

    So basically he didn't get on with his manager and got fired. The rest is window dressing. He doesn't even make it clear when he raised his point about the Patents.

    Bringing in everything else is just a waste of time, and just looks more like a disgruntled employee. Especially if he presumed that Tim Cook had any interest in using him as a back channel, just because Jobs did. You see this quite often in focussed techies with low emotional intelligence - just because you enjoy a privileged position at one point in the company doesn't mean you retain that whilst the company changes.

    TL;DR if you wander around moaning about how the place has turned into a crap hole, and keep spamming the CEO, and don't respect your boss - regardless of whether they deserve it - you ain't going to last long.

    1. Moosh
      Paris Hilton

      Re: On to a loser here

      This reads like it was written by someone who hasn't actually worked before but likes to LARP as an experienced devops guy.

      Firstly, you've created an entire fantasy reality in your head based off of a single, simple explanation of the situation, and completely ignored that he also claimed it happened after a period of absence caused by surgery.

      Secondly, I feel that if you had actually worked somewhere before, you'd understand the difference between fantasy "wow my boss was so horrible and controlled everything despite actually just being some no-name middle management that the execs hate" and real life "its actually very easy to criticise your manager provided you're professional about it."

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        Re: On to a loser here

        DevOps LARP'ing - I lol'd. I wouldn't be seen dead doing DevOps personally but each to their own. But what I have done is supported staff at grievance hearings, raised grievances myself AND been a management reviewer at grievance boards. I worked for managers that took criticism well and others who would do anything to make it your fault.

        I agree its hard to tell from the story whether its a straight factual representation of the situation or not, it could be that, it could also be a legal negotiation tactic to paint apple as big and mean or it could be total paranioa - my (badly made) point was that none of us can know that. I rather suspect the truth of the issue is somewhere in between.

        I do stand by my comment that anyone who assumes he can carry over a personal relationship from one CEO to another without any consideration that the new guy might not appreciate it is a muppet of the highest order.

    2. cornetman Silver badge

      Re: On to a loser here

      > TL;DR

      Well that's the problem right there.

      If your only knowledge of the case is from the Reg article which, TBH, is just a selection of soundbites surrounding the case then your impression of the actual case is going to be rather patchy to say the least.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: On to a loser here

        Well duh. That why I wear the name of commentard with pride.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: On to a loser here

          He has succeeded in supporting our suspicions that Apple actually are a sleazy, slime-ball corporation. (A bit like Uber, except with a semi-transparent veneer of good PR.)

          Next step, go to trial so that more dirt can fly. Vengeance extracted in public can be as valuable as money.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: On to a loser here

            Apple will probably countersue, so they can use that threat as leverage to minimize their settlement offer.

            All while *desperately* avoiding a public trial.

  7. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    Good luck, Darren!

  8. Robert Jenkins
    WTF?

    Since "Find my iphone" is pretty much a copy of Lojack for Laptops [aka Computrace] which existed before the iphone, I don't understand how Apple - or any Apple employee - can claim any "original technology" or patentable ideas in it..

    Computrace licenced the Lojack name in 2005, the very first iphone was 2007..

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020