Monday, March 26, 2012

How is the pull-to-refresh invention ‘fairly ridiculous’?

Dustin Curtis blogged today about Twitter owning the patents to pull-to-refresh, the function iPhone and, in some cases, Android users can't live without.

It's the best way to refresh time-based lists (and it's why, hand's down, Sparrow is in many ways better than the default Mail.app on the iPhone),

In the post, Curtis writes:

This is fairly ridiculous and serves as a showcase for the need of software patent reform.

I disagree, emphatically. Here's Loren Brichter's patent application for pull-to-refresh.

Here's the relevant part of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure:

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.

Loren Brichter did that.1 The concept of pull-to-refresh had never existed, before he invented it with Tweetie 2.It dramatically improved iOS and the app economy. As I noted in my Twitter for iPhone history post, it was extremely innovative for cleaning up the iPhone UI. Without that feature, we'd be shaking our phones to refresh (Facebook 2.0's refresh functionality relied on that) or poking at a cluttered interface to refresh an app.

Sure, he used Apple's tools to build it, but what Curtis appears to be arguing is that Apple should be free to piggyback on his invention without any sort of licensing deal. Why? Because he built pull-to-refresh in iOS? Because every app with sensible design ripped him off? Now that's fairly ridiculous.

When Apple revealed its intentions with regards to its cash hoard I tweeted jokingly (perhaps no one actually got it, however) "Apple really blew it by not buying Twitter/Lytro/Samsung."

Well, look at that, if there was ever a reason to buy Twitter, it's for pull-to-refresh.2

I can't verify this, but chatter on Twitter suggests Apple's own internal apps apparently have pull-to-refresh implemented.3 Obviously, Apple sees the benefits of pull-to-refresh, but the company must be hedging against a patent fight. And, perhaps, Twitter might be reluctant to license it (if the patent is awarded. How do you put a price tag on such a feature? Pull-to-refresh is almost invaluable.

If I were a betting man, however, I'd speculate that Apple acquired the license to Brichter's patent when it granted Twitter deep OS-level integration in iOS 5 and Mac OS X. Perhaps iOS 6 will bring Mail up to speed?


Someone once wrote about stealing designs:

This is almost unbelievable. No matter what you think about me or my product decisions, it is flatly wrong to ripoff work. It's shameful, even.

Wait. That was Dustin Curtis, battling ripoffs of his own (beautiful) invention a few days ago.


  1. Brichter, and his company Atebits, filed for the patent a day before Twitter announced the acquisition

  2. Also a joke.  

  3. For example: http://twitter.com/#!/tommypicard/status/184370952296075264