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When Apple got serious about software patents

According to the New York Times, Apple made a dramatic change in its legal strategy just after having to spend millions to settle a 2006 spat.

Apple's exploits in the world of software patents are under close scrutiny, and with good reason. Every few weeks new applications are unearthed providing possible clues to future products, or insights into what's already been released.

In recent years though, the focus has been less about products and more about how Apple can use these patents in court -- or to avoid it entirely. Case in point, just a handful of patents (seven to be precise) were enough to set the stage for a dramatic U.S. court battle between Apple and Samsung, a fight that already has is sequel lined up.

But it wasn't always this way.

In a story about the world of software patents, The New York Times notes that Apple got deadly serious about patenting just about everything it could after the company had to shell out $100 million to settle a patent lawsuit between it and Creative Technology in 2006.

According to the former Apple executive, the Times says then Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs completely changed the way the company handled patenting its products, going so far as to set up monthly "invention disclosure sessions" where engineers would meet with patent lawyers to make sure every change to any products was covered in a patent.

The end result has been a nearly tenfold increase in the number of patent applications Apple submits each year, the Times noted.

One other notable tidbit from the piece was the fact that Apple had to re-apply for a patent 10 times before it was approved. The patent in question was for Siri's search feature, though it was first filed in 2004, long before the feature would ever be included in an Apple product from the company's2010 acquisition of Siri. Apple has since used it against competitors, including Samsung, in an attempt to bar its products from sale in the U.S.

Rare details into Apple's patent portfolio were on display in the trial between it and Samsung earlier this year. As part of a testimony, Boris Teksler -- Apple's director of patent licensing and strategy -- noted that Apple had three distinct tiers of patents, including one it did not share with others called its "unique user experience" group. Patents from that group, which Teksler said "makes our brand identity and keeps us in the marketplace," were only licensed to a small handful of companies with the stipulation that they're not working on a "clone product."