You have probably not heard of iDrumTech , an Android/ iOS music app that allows drummers to easily and quickly tune their drums. You probably know nothing about Overtone Labs or TuneBot. CERTAINLY you don’t know that Overtone Labs recently sued iDrumTech for patent infringement. Yet this little-known lawsuit could establish precedent for all mobile software .
iDrumTech Tuner Improves on an Idea
Like any instrument, drums need tuning, but their physical structure complicates “traditional” techniques. Seve ral competing methods evolved , among them Overtone Labs’ TuneB ot. T his digital device clips to a drum and listens to a played drum head, allowing drummers to precisely adjust the pitch.
Y ears after TuneBot’s release , musician Eric Rose brock designed and distributed an app for iPhone (and recently, Android) that allows drummers to simply use their smartphone for drum tuning . The cost of this practical piece of musical innovation? Less than four dollars. The TuneBot sells for around $100. different devices, different methods, different interface , very different price… Only the result is the same: a better sounding drum set.
Obviously, most drummers will try the inexpensive drumming app before purchasing the $100 device and, in the majority of cases, will be delighted with the result.
That’s not patent infringement. That’s PROGRESS .
TuneBot’s Absurd Patent Lawsuit
This frivolous lawsuit has all the makings of a soap opera. Upstart company. Cutting edge technology. A sweeping lawsuit. Professional musicians. Smart phones. Legal harassment. The future of software. Pretty exciting. Had this been a more commonly used app like Candy Crush or Evernote, this lawsuit would have wallpapered every tech blog in the country. But drummers are a minority.
For a young device like iDrumTech , a lawsuit means thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours exhausted in court rooms and legal offices. No matter the result, iDrumTech will be wounded by the lawsuit . For any newborn company, every dollar matters and this could bleed its resources. It could even be a fatal blow for the comp any. Right or wrong , Overtone Labs kills its competition. Win-win for them, lose-lose for iDrumTech. That’s a travesty.
What Can a Patent Cover?
Understanding patent law is like solving a Rubik’s Cube…blindfolded. Even lawyers have a hard time deciphering that legalese, yet any casual glance at the complaint shows exposes the frivolous lawsuit..
Reading Overtone’ s official complaint and patent is like wading through stereo instructions, even for musicians, but here’s the gist :
You hit a drum, it releases a note. Both TuneBot and iDrumTech analyze note s as a drummer taps different spots on a drumhead , and then he or she adjusts lugs until the drumhead has a single frequency. T he drum is now in tune.
Overtone’s TuneBot device uses overtone selection and pitch estimation to get the job done. And iDrumTech? Creator and owner of iD rumTech, Eric Rosebrock , stated , ” TuneBot only produces one mathematically-calculated frequency per drum tap. iDrumTech produces as many as there are available – no suppression, no overtone selection, no guessing .”
Is it possible to patent sound waves? I doubt middle C has a “patent pending” symbol behind it
Overtone Stacks the Deck
“W inning” the lawsuit isn’t necessarily Overtone Lab’s objective. They only need to choke iDrumTech on legal fees so the young er company flounders ; Overtone Labs has deeper pockets than iDrumTech. Professional drummer Stephen Taylor has used both devices and considers the lawsuit frivolous…and universally damaging . In his opini on “[This lawsuit] enables Overtone to get rid of their competition in a different way…by tying them, and their profits, up in court.”
Taylor’s drum lesson website Stephen’s Drum Shed has thousands of students, representing a true cross-section of professionals and amateur musicians. “Some of my students love the TuneBot, and some love iDrumTech. But this has farther reaching connota tions than just drum tuning,” Taylor said. “Was it reasonable for Apple to think they could patent a particular way you swipe on a device?”
Curiously, Overtone Lab altered its patent only ONE WEEK after iDrumTech’s release. Almost as if they were fabricating the grounds of the lawsuit. And a simple glance at other tuning apps on both Google Play and the App Store shows that although numerous drum tuning apps were released, Overtone Labs harasses ONLY the most successful app.
Small Music App, Immense Consequences
History is filled with inventors who looked at a device and KNEW the y could do the same job better: Steve Jobs and LeeIococca , among others . “I wasn’t the first, I won’t be the last, and I encourage ANYONE to build something better, and I will purchase it myself,” Eric Rosebrock said.
iDrumTech may evolve into a tool as essential to drummers as a pair of sticks … but this controversy isn’t about a single app or a single inventor or a single company. This frivolous lawsuit can spawn progressively more destructive lawsuits against upstart companies, slowing and even crippling software innovation.