Jump to content.

Apple wants to patent Disposable Email

 

A patent application has been filed by Apple Inc. on Feb 13, 2014, claiming to have invented an easy way to use disposable email. It can be viewed here: Patent application US20140047043

The patent claims that disposable email is difficult to use, and therefore, not widely used. The solution they propose mostly describes how to integrate a regular email client with their disposable email solution.

How do they make it easier? As best as we can interpret the patent,  your web browser will automatically detect an email address field, and then offer to use a disposable email address. If you receive a new email to that disposable address, it will arrive in your real inbox, and if you reply to it, it will not reveal your real email address.  (Email will pass through some kind of proxy which maps and changes the ‘from’ and ‘reply-to’ email headers). You can also choose how long the address will last for, and the system will also track which service the email address was used with, so that the source of any future spam can be traced.

It also describes a solution for circumventing the problem where some services may detect and refuse disposable email addresses. It does this by using a disposable address which looks like a real address. Eg, normally we can tell which Gmail addresses are disposable, because they have a + after the name. eg. user+something@gmail.com – however, if they looked like MikeSmithJones47@apple.com then it would be impossible to distinguish.

In a way, it is fantastic that a company such as Apple is thinking about providing disposable email to the everyday consumer. This is one of the things that Apple has always been good at – making things simple and easier to use. However, by filing out a patent application is not the best way in the spirit of the internet, and the general user.

Do we have a problem with this patent application? Our system works slightly different than what they propose, so technically it’s slightly different… However, if the patent is granted, what if Apple doesn’t do anything with it and simply sit on it until it expires years later? In that case, nobody will be able to provide a better integrated disposable email service for their users without being in danger of infringing on the patent.  Therefore, every disposable email user will be negatively affected by this patent.

We believe that the idea of disposable email should be open and free for everyone to develop and provide for the masses. The more of such competing services, the better, because spam fighting is a problem that we all share and should combat together.  Guerrilla Mail didn’t invent disposable email,  so if it wasn’t for the open nature of sharing ideas for free, we would not be around. (The idea and the development of the idea of disposable email should be credited to some of the early providers such as http://spamgourmet.com/ and http://mailinator.com/ and there are many other innovators in this field)

Besides, a tiny outfit such as Guerrilla Mail has no resources or funds to be able to file patent applications, even though Guerrilla Mail has an endless supply of unique ideas.

Reading the patent application, it looks like Guerrilla Mail could have come up with a similar idea presented in the patent in 30 minutes or so. Because patent applications are expensive, only those with large budgets can file them, even though they do not have a product yet and they do not intend to use them.  If the reason that we have patents is to protect the small inventor from being crushed by the bigger players, then this system is totally broken – small inventors simply do not have the resources or budgets to file patent applications.

There is a chance that we can get the patent application squashed by finding prior art. The date is prior to 8/13/12

A thread on “Ask Patents” has been created here: http://patents.stackexchange.com/questions/6054/disposable-email-addresses-apple-patent-application-prior-art-request/6124#6124

If you know of any prior art, please post your comment there, thanks.

Guerrilla Mail also provides an API. With the API, it is possible for developers to integrate disposable email features in to their products. Has anyone used our API to integrate disposable email in to their product / service? Perhaps you made a browser extension, a plugin for an email client or used the API in any way that makes disposable email easier / more accessible? Let us know.

Finally, here is an interesting link to a Wikipedia page with resources summarizing the software patent debate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_patent_debate