U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902 appears, from a quick scan, to be yet another “concept” patent, awarded not to an actual invention, but to a general idea. This is a bad thing in general, because it serves to stifle innovation, not to encourage it. (It is sometimes said, for example, that it is now completely impossible to design a method for encoding video without trespassing on many of the overly broad patents which exist in the area.)
In the specific case of this patent awarded to Apple, though, there are other problems:
What that means in real-terms is “preventing wireless devices from communicating with other wireless devices (such as in academic settings),” and for, “forcing certain electronic devices to enter “sleep mode” when entering a sensitive area.”
But the patented technology may also be used to restrict protesters’ right to free expression in oppressive regimes around the world — if you haven’t checked recently, there’s plenty of them — by preventing camera images and video being taken at political rallies and events.
Because while Apple may patent the technology, it would not be they who threw the switch.
Of course, this invention would not, in actuality, force phones or other mobile devices to shut down or to disable certain functions. What it would do is send a signal telling the phone to turn off the camera. So make sure your phone ignores those signals. This is yet another reminder that we control our destiny better by supporting Free Software.