Can Apple’s Patent Lawyers Stop Me Before I Text (or Sext) Again?

One of the greatest lines in Hollywood history occurred in the 1967 Paul Newman film, Cool Hand Luke: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Well, 43 years later, that is no longer a problem in 21st century America. In fact, just the opposite is true. What we’ve got here is way too much communication, and we’ve got to figure out a legal way to stop it.

But not to worry. Some of America’s best patent attorneys may be coming to the rescue.

There are now more than 270 million Americans with wireless communication devices including iPhones, smart phones, average intelligence phones, dumber-than-a-bucket-of-rock phones, Blackberries, boysenberries and raspberries. We are now sending more than 3.5 billion SMS text messages every day, over a trillion messages a year. With apologizes to the late, great Paul Newman, what we’ve got here is a failure to stop communicating.

The problem is many of these text messages are at best inappropriate for family reading, and at worst can constitute “Exhibit A” in a divorce action.

I am referring not to texting, but to “sexting,” the sending of sexually explicit messages or, worse yet, photographs between mobile phones.

If you don’t believe sexting is a problem, let me call a witness … Mr. Tiger Woods.

Tiger was at one time the world’s number 1-ranked golfer and a cultural icon. But faster than you can type “LOL,” Tiger found himself in a virtual sand-trap from hell. The problem is that when Tiger wasn’t either driving or putting, he was texting very explicit messages to a number of women around the country who were willing to be his caddy for services off the golf course. Unfortunately for Tiger, his wife, Elin Nordegren, discovered his sext messages. Her discovery led to an automobile accident involving Tiger, a fire hydrant, and a neighbor’s tree. Mrs. Tiger then reportedly used one of Tiger’s golf clubs to smash open the window to Tiger’s crushed SUV and pull Tiger out to safety, although it wasn’t safety at all since Mrs. Tiger then used the golf club to practice her own long drives on Tiger.

Tiger was hospitalized, and upon his discharge, he was hit again by Mrs. Tiger, but this time with a divorce suit rather than a 5 iron.

Tiger’s sexting eventually cost him a reported $110 million in settlement of his divorce case, and he hasn’t won a golf tournament since.

But while it’s too late for Tiger, the noted entrepreneur Steve Jobs and his patent lawyers may be coming to the rescue of millions of Americans who just can’t stop sexting their loved ones at the risk of their real loved ones finding out.

According to a recent article in the ABA Journal, Apple’s patent attorneys have now obtained a patent for an anti-sexting control device that can be installed on iPhones to block incoming or outgoing sext messages.

Well, I’m not an intellectual property lawyer, and I don’t play one on the Internet. I’m not sure exactly how these “sext filters” are supposed to work.

As best as I understand it, the filter allows an iPhone administrator (i.e., a parent, sports agent, unfaithful spouse) to block incoming and outgoing texts containing certain inappropriate words such as … well, let’s not get specific. Besides, The Tennessee Bar Journal has cleverly installed an anti-sext filter for this very column!

Well, I seriously doubt this “stop me before I sext again” device is going to work. First, I’ve been told (not texted, told) that teenagers are particularly adept when it comes to inventing sexting acronyms for being naughty. Moreover, the Apple anti-sexting filter does not prevent the sending of nekkid photographs to and from all these smarter-than-the average-bear phones. I used the sext term “nekkid,” inasmuch as the late great Lewis Grizzard once texted in a column, “Naked is when you don’t have any clothes on. Nekkid is when you don’t have any clothes on and you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing.”

No, I’m afraid that even Apple’s best patent attorneys can’t stop millions of Americans from sexting naughty messages and nekkid pictures.

We’ll just have to leave it to the divorce lawyers to sort all this stuff out.


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.