Apple Imposing NDA For Patenting Purposes?

The NDA looming over iPhone app development has been causing developers a lot of frustration. It’s viewed by many to be largely unnecessary, and blocks open collaboration among developers, limiting the resources at their disposal. But there may be a reason for Apple to be doing all of this.

Jeb, a reader of Daring Fireball, wrote in with his explanation of the situation. John Gruber thinks is probably the best explanation so far, and we agree. His theory is that Apple is being advised by their lawyers to keep everything under NDA, which is technically still not considered “publishing” the content. The reason for this is that once the software is “published”, it can no longer be patented. Jeb believes that Apple’s lawyers think that there’s still something contained in their SDK that Apple can patent, which is their reasoning for the secrecy.

He explains in his email:

At my company, our lawyers advised us to keep what we considered more-or-less public software under NDA for a very long time because demoing software to someone under NDA, no matter how many people it is, avoids “publishing” the software and any inventions contained therein. We know Apple’s been building up a patent strategy around multi-touch, maybe their lawyers believe there are patentable inventions described in the iPhone SDK and they are telling Apple to keep everything under NDA until they know provisional patents can be filed within a reasonable amount of time (you get a year after publishing in the US, but in the EU, I think you forfeit any patent claims once your invention is “published”).

Patenting issues have also been theories behind Apple’s not releasing a copy/paste function for the iPhone yet. And even though some of the NDA’d content leaks or is overly broad, it will still keep them in the clear as far as the USPTO is concerned.

[via Daring Fireball]

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