With the second patent battle between Apple and Samsung now underway, we thought it would be useful to look at each of the five features Apple claims Samsung (or Google) stole from iOS.

The patents are, of course, worded in the usual dense legaleze. If you want to read them for yourself, you can find them on the US Patent and Trademark Office website in the links below. But here’s my reading of what each one is about, in plain English … 


Patent 5,946,647: “System and method for performing action on a structure in computer generated data”

This is the feature where iOS recognizes certain key phrases in emails, text messages and other text and automatically turns them into links. For example, I just received the above text message from my supermarket, Ocado, confirming my grocery delivery for 7-8pm tonight. iOS has highlighted the time, and if I touch that it will ask me if I want to create an event or view that time-slot in the Calendar app.

iOS does this intelligently, recognizing and parsing such phrases as ‘tonight,’ ‘Thursday,’ ‘Next Monday’ and so on. It’s pretty handy when someone suggests a meeting or get-together and one touch allows you to check whether you’re free or add it to your agenda.


Patent 6,847,959: “Universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system, a patent that Apple claims is central to universal search”

Universal search means that when I type something into the searchbar of my iPhone or iPad, iOS searches both my device and also offers to search the web. In the example above, I’ve searched for ‘memory map’ and iOS has shown me both an app and an email concerning my order of the app, but it’s also putting me just one tap away from searching either the web as a whole, or Wikipedia specifically.


Patent 7,761,414: “Synchronous data synchronization among devices”

The wording used to summarize this patent must win some kind of award for impenetrability. If you want to keep your data really safe from the NSA, just hire Apple’s patent lawyers to convert it into this kind of language:

Systems, methods and computer readable media for synchronization tasks and non-synchronization tasks being executed concurrently. In one exemplary embodiment, a method includes executing at least one user-level non-synchronization processing thread and executing at least one synchronization processing thread concurrently with the executing of the at least one user-level non-synchronization processing thread. The at least one user-level non-synchronization processing thread may include operations to access a first database which is synchronized by the at least one synchronization processing thread during a synchronization operation between the first database on a first processing system and a second database on a second data processing system.

But it appears to describe the process by which an app can simultaneously interact with the user while performing synchronization tasks in the background. So, you can be adding a note to the Notes app while it is also updating iCloud so that the note is immediately available on other devices.

Synchronization between devices of course existed long before iCloud, but what Apple appears to be protecting here is a particular approach which makes it more immediate. This is Apple doing what Apple does best: turning a useful piece of technology into something that Just Works for non-technical users.


Patent 8,046,721: “Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image”

This one is obvious. One of those deceptively simple user-interface elements that is completely obvious after someone first thought of it. Prior to that, if you didn’t have a lock set, smartphones would switch on and be immediately on their homescreen. Great if you wanted to use them, less great if the phone switched itself on in your pocket or bag and started doing random things. The Slide to unlock feature solved that while hardly adding any delay or inconvenience.


Patent 8,074,172: Method, system and graphical user interface for providing word recommendations

And finally, another immediately obvious one: auto-correct. Again, Apple didn’t invent the concept: predictive text has been around since the featurephone days. What Apple did was to make auto-correct incredibly simple to use: corrections are shown right where we’re typing, and if we want to accept the correction offered, we don’t have to tap the word, all we have to do is hit space and carry on.

Android doesn’t use quite the same approach: correction options are offered immediately above the keyboard, rather than inline with the text, but it does use the same ‘hit space to accept’ approach.



What jumps out here is that only one of the five features – slide to unlock – is Samsung-specific. The four other features are all part of Android, supporting the suggestion that Apple’s real target is Google, not Samsung.

This, indeed, forms a key part of Samsung’s defence: that it didn’t copy the features because they came with Android. To succeed in that defence, it’s going to have to call Google execs to the stand – likely to include former Android head Andy Rubin. Google will, in turn, have to argue that these features were already in development in Android before they launched in iOS.

The really interesting question to me is: if Apple wins, what next? Will it bring cases against other Android handset manufacturers individually, picking them off one at a time, or will it use the verdict here to go after Google directly? We’ll of course keep you advised of all significant developments in the case.

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61 Responses to “What are the five iOS features Apple is claiming that Samsung (or Google) stole?”

  1. jpatel330 says:

    I don’t understand Apple’s approach. Why not go straight after Google? Try to cut off the head, instead of the arms. Even if they win this and then decide to go after Google, it will be another few years before there is a decision. Who knows if smartphones will be as popular as they are now few years later. Maybe wearable tech will replace it. They needed to go after Google as soon as Android was launched on smartphones.

    • Tallest Skil says:

      Go for the head and the arms will grab you. Apple’s cutting off the legs and arms before severing the head with a righteous monologue.

    • If Apple wins these cases against Samsung, smaller entity, it is clear proof and evidence against Android. Google has a lot of money, but they cannot win against something that was already proven.

      • The patents claim that you need a physical device with a processing unit. Android is not a processing unit. A Samsung smart phone is a physical device with a processing unit, hence, the device maker is the one infringing the patents, not Google.

      • You should know that Sammy is taking part in business of making daily products, clothes, electronic devices, semi-conductors, software, home appliances, automobile, oil, gas, plastic, aerospace, weapons… anything you can name it..

    • Perhaps Apple is a little more subtle than that.

      Consider what the result of an Apple win here might mean for Samsung. It would mean that it will cost them more money to continue to use Android. An OS, by the way, that Google is becoming more and more heavy handed about Samsung using.

      At what point does Samsung simply throw up its hands and say good riddance to Android? At what point does it become more cost effective for Samsung to really focus on developing Tizen?

      Now, what does this mean for Apple if Samsung does move to Tizen? It pretty much immediately fractures the Android market by removing its largest vendor from the Android fold. Interestingly, it also removes the only smartphone manufacturer making any profits off of Android from the Android market.

      Analyst have been projecting for a while now that Samsung will eventually move away from Android. Perhaps Apple sees this case not so much as a way to setup an attack on Google through the courts, but a much more devastating attack on Google by pushing Samsung to divorce itself from Android and Google.

      After all, if Apple were to sue Google and win what would it get? Years of appeals and perhaps a couple billion? If Apple can make using Android too expensive for Samsung then it essentially guts the Android market, and makes another competitor for Google to have to worry about.

      Just some thoughts on why Apple might be focusing more on suing Samsung than Google.

    • If Apple had gone after Google as soon as Android was released they couldn’t argue that they had suffered damages. By waiting to see if Android was successful they could then argue that these features cost Apple money by unfairly stealing business. If they had gone after Android right away and won, they would have given Google the opportunity to correct these problems and re-launch. While going after them now, Google and/or the individual manufacturers may have to pay a licensing fee on each new device, in order to use these features. Additionally, they may have to pay every time a user downloads an update. The other option is to remove these features, or re-design them in a way that doesn’t infringe on Apple’s patent. If they choose to remove features this will upset Android users, and could result in decreased market share for Android. It was the better move to wait.

      • Gage Eakins says:

        This lawsuit is ridiculous. IP law in the US is pretty ridiculous that you can “patient” features that are common sense.

        Auto-correct has been around forever and for apple to claim that the location of the auto-correct words means it is their’s is ridiculous.

        As far as gesture swipe goes, are they also going to sue Microsoft and Google and Blackberry? Because all of them do it.

        Syncing in the background has been around a lot longer than the iPhone and again it is ridiculous for them to claim that they invented it.

    • computica says:

      If the award is based on profit, Google doesn’t make any profit on Android since it’s free. So Apple would win $nothing.

      • Dave Huntley says:

        google makes plenty cash off Android, it is an advertising and data collection tool for them. Google doesn’t do thing’s to be your friend or ‘be cool’ they are in it to make money.

    • It’s obvious if you follow the money. Google isn’t Apple’s competitor in the mobile device market, Samsung is. When measured by units and by revenue, Samsung is the leader, Apple is second, and everyone else is bit-players. When measured by profit margin, Apple leads samsung 65%-35%, and nobody else has any profits to go after. Apple’s following the money to the competition. Google isn’t the head. Without Samsung, Google makes free software for an unsustainable market of niche phone vendors that don’t turn a profit.

  2. rzozaya1969 says:

    I understand trying to protect their marketshare… but all this sounds like if Ford demands Toyota because they use circular wheels, and four doors…

    • telecastle says:

      You can’t build an ecosystem on stolen ideas. The “swipe-to-unlock” gesture did not exist until Apple invented it. There are other ways to solve the problem at hand, so by copying Apple’s invention, Samsung is benefiting from stolen intellectual property.

      At one point in time, these invention should become part of the public domain. Perhaps, in 25 years, the “swipe-to-unlock” will be the ONLY way that people unlock their smartphones. Until then, if Samsung wants to use this gesture, they should pay Apple a licensing fee.

      • danbridgland says:

        20 years from initial filing, not 25.
        So since this patent is now granted, protection runs from
        23 December 2005 through to 22 December 2025.

      • telecastle says:

        I was using 25 years as an example. I didn’t know about the 20-year rule, but it seemed there should be a limit on how long the patent is in force before the patented feature enters the public domain. I’m glad to have learned that my suggestion of 25-years was not far from reality.

      • For reference all intellectual property, copyright and trademark has a time limit on it. The theory is that you should be able to make money off of your idea within that time. Now, often things aren’t used out of legal protection as new inventions or ideas take over. Corporations and estates also have legal avenues to extend their time limits, and often do.

      • A U.S. patents last 20 years and then the technology becomes open source. This isn’t a copyright. In pharmaceuticals, its common practice for the manufacturer to make improvements in the drug, and when they do so, they go back to the patent office for a new patent on the modifications. So sometimes a patent on a drug seems to last forever, but the original formulation’s patent will expire. So all the stuff that Apply has patented on their smart phone will eventually become open to the public. Again, 20 years after its invention date.

      • Ezhik says:

        Actually a little unknown device called Neonode N1m had swipe-to-unlock. Back in 2005.

        This is a typical case of something existing in a rough form, then Apple taking it, polishing it as hard as possible, and releasing it as the new hot thing that everyone would follow. It happened with the Macintosh (Xerox Alto), iPod (various MP3 players), iPhone (Windows Mobile), and iPad (again, Windows tablets).

        Apple has a very good eye for new technologies, and knows how to implement them very well, but this does make some of their patents questionable. Still, considering that it’s possible to patent a screen gesture, anything goes…

      • puggsly says:


        You don’t know what you are talking about. The device you reference is known by both sides and the court and is not enough to invalidate the swipe to unlock patten.

        As for the Mac, Apple stole that from Xerox in the same way, computers were a rip-off of typewriters. There were some similarities but it wasn’t just polish Apple added. The same can be said for Mp3 players, iPhones and tablets. Apple completely changed what these devices were.

        Note: It is not enough to be first to market to be considered an innovator. Samsung is not innovative in bringing out the Galaxy Gear watch first, when everyone knows they were just following Apple’s patten filings and trying to make it out first to market with anything. You have to make something people want.

        Apple will not bring out a device until they can make something compelling. Something that solves a real problem. It may have more features than what others have delivered, or it may have fewer better features. I don’t know, but it will not ship something till it can innovate in that space.

      • Ezhik says:

        @puggsly I never said Apple stole those things. I never said that Apple did not innovate. But a lot of the things that Apple did existed beforehand – Apple was the first to do them in the nicest way that people wanted.

        Also I’ll never understand is how it’s possible to call the smartwatch an Apple ripoff, considering how an iWatch does not even exist yet. Sony first launched its smartwatch all the way back in 2011.

  3. telecastle says:

    I think Apple is going for the war of attrition. They are going to first establish a precedent, and then go for every major Android phone manufacturer based on the established precedent. Within a few years, no one would want to touch Android with a 10-foot pole because of a risk to be sued by Apple. This way, Google will continue putting out Android releases, but OEMs would be reluctant to use Android going forward. Therefore, this will result in a colossal collapse of the Android ecosystem with no OEMs wanting to rely on the OS riddled with patent infringements while Google continues to heavily invest in the OS development.

    Google cannot actively engage in the current litigation because they are not party of the law suit. They can’t throw their weight and billions of USD to try and defend Android because they are not being sued directly. The OEMs will have to defend themselves against the behemoth that Apple is with its very capable legal team. They can use “it’s not our fault” defense, but this will not indemnify them from the guilty verdict and the multi-billion dollar fines. They may have to go after Google themselves to recoup their losses due to the fines imposed by the courts. This will make the whole Android ecosystem implode when OEMs start suing Google.

    • The android ecosystem will implode? really man? lol. Get a grip on reality. Legal battles are part of the game. There are so many android OEMs out there, to think that a behemoth like android itself will implode because of legal battles is absurd.

      • Dave Huntley says:

        By going after Samsung Android is threatened. No one else comes close to making nayhting as licensee of Android. Android wouldn’t be destroyed but it would be nicely bruised.

    • If Apple is successful, Google will just have to alter Android to avoid infringements… like they should have done from the beginning.

      I don’t believe that Apple necessarily has discovered the “one true way” for mobile UI. Creative people can come up with alternatives. Windows phone is an example. At least Microsoft had the balls to try. Active tiles is a perfect example of something that improves on iOS.

      However, instead of creating something genuinely different and original, Google took the easy way out and leveraged the identity and credibility that the iPhone had already established. It’s a cheap and shameful tactic. More importantly, it creates stagnation due to lack of genuine competitive innovation.

  4. riverjao says:

    I wonder if anyone will mention the many things that Android did before iOS ever did (although, not patent issues)? For example, Android did the following before iOS:

    Customizable wallpapers, live wallpapers, OTA updates, wireless syncing/transfer of music, dual/quad core processors, HD screens, 4G, app folders, front facing cameras, video chat, multitasking, accurate and very usable voice dictation, useful predictive capability (Google Now), NFC and more. And four of these things iOS still doesn’t have. I’m not hating on Apple, I just think it’s ridiculous how they claim to have so many magical, new-to-market ideas when in reality those ideas have been around for a while. (all of this is typed from my iPhone 5S which I LOVE)

    • riverjao says:

      Oh, I left off cloud services, which is a rather important capability that Android implemented before iOS. Again, there are more still yet. But these are plenty of things that Android did before iOS, but for some reason these things are never brought up when people are talking about things that Android/OEM’s supposedly stole from iOS.

      • puggsly says:

        You can leave it back off because Apple started cloud sync services back in Jan 2001 with iTools, later rebranded, .mac and MobileMe and finally iCloud. This allow for the syncing and sharing of contacts and calendars, and other things between multiple computers and multiple users. This was incorporated in the iPod’s and the original iPhone.

        As for other items you mention, check the Apple patten filing dates and not just the pre-mature release of features on android. Most of the things you mention are features that Apple intentionally left out when they were not truly ready for prime time. 4G, multitasking, NFC (which is still DOA). As for HD displays, Apple lead the way with the retina display and I hope they ignore the stupid 400+ dpi displays some companies are going to because they are a waste. And although other companies have added cores and increased Mhz, every year when the new iPhone comes out, it has the fastest CPU/GPU of any phone on the market. Although, I will admit that the competition matched and surpassed the A7 chip faster this year than any other.

        Go back and look at every “smart phone” pre 2007. Then look at the iPhone. Then look at the phones we are using today. The 2007 iPhone looks and acts very much the same as today’s smart phones. Find any other phone before it that is even close. It isn’t one thing that made this change, it is the entirety of what Apple put together.

        Proximity detection, slid to unlock, pinch zoom, double tap zoom, scroll lock, auto complete, desktop quality browser, scroll bounce, etc…. And there are hundreds of pattens behind the scenes that make virtual keyboards more accurate and user interfaces flow better. All you have to do is go back to the prototype Google was about to release before the iPhone was announced to realize how dramatically the iPhone influenced their redesign.

        I don’t want to see Samsung, Google or Android sued out of existence. But I totally get why Apple is going after them and I don’t fault them for it.

    • danbridgland says:

      You are mistaking adoption/implementation for patent ownership. A patent must be filed before any public disclosure of an invention, else the patent may not be granted or later withdrawn or revoked.

      In the case of OTA updates. Google didn’t invent that, they simply adopted it -admittedly before Apple, but this is not a game of who did what first. In Patent terms there is no second place, you either own the patent or you don’t.

    • Wallpapers were customizable when iOS first launched. Wireless syncing did exists to a certain extent, like photos and docs, Apple used other processors (which they paid for) and developed their own, they had patents for front facing camera they could probably use for the phones that they had on the macs, voice dictation was on the first iPhone (not as advanced as Siri though) along with Macs, Apple has NFC patents years before Samsung released it on their phones, but they were concerned with transferring of copyrighted material and malware.

    • This all started because Samsung did not want to do what Apple and Microsoft agreed to do. Apple and Microsoft have an agreement to view each other’s patents and see what they are working on so they don’t copy each other. Samsung turned Apple down, and instead copied a lot of what they were doing. Hence the 100+ page internal document that Samsung made showing how their phones should be more like Apples which killed their case and awarded Apple almost a billion dollars last year.

      • danbridgland says:

        Apple and HTC also formed a cross licensing agreement. Would be crest to know the term of that agreement.

      • danbridgland says:

        Also. They don’t view each other’s work as such. They agree to licence certain granted patents. The patents are public domain. The right to enforce the patent and licence it lies with the assignee or owner.

    • Well, you’re just a troll of course, but a lot of what you say is simply untrue. You haven’t been around long enough to know that Apple invented many of these things first, long before “smartphones” ever existed. I mean, come on … someone may have made an Android phone with a front facing camera a month before Apple did it, but Apple has had front facing cameras in every computer they sell for many years, and did it long before anyone else made cameras default on computers (they still aren’t universal even today). You say an Android phone synced music first, but this completely ignores decades of iPods doing it first. You hedge your bets by using modifiers like “usable” and “useful” which is a subjective judgement. You say that Android was first with voice, dictation etc. but this ignores the *decades* of this feature being standard on every Mac that shipped. Mac was doing built in voice dictation and intelligent agent stuff before OS X was even a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye. Overall, you come across like a very young, very uninformed person.

    • thejuanald says:

      You’re also forgetting a big one: the notification pulldown window.

  5. Samsung is the target because they have the MONEY!!!! No money at Google they give android away. HTC, broke, the other android makers, loosing money. Samsung is Android. go to any phone store,,,,, Samsung. They are the ones benefiting from the stolen booty. This is the way of thermo nuclear war by Apple on the stolen stuff that android is made of. Follow the money or as the bank robber admitted when he answered why he robbed banks….. that is where the money is. The courts are where a plaintiff sues for loss, but if the thief has given it away to charity then no fine. but if he creates a huge conglomerate then they go to the mattresses.

  6. danbridgland says:

    How is it that Samsung are the only Android vendor infringing the slide to unlock patent (as suggested in the main article above)?

  7. The first two are a lock. Apple not only originally invented both, they were the only ones to implement the second one for twenty years at least. If they lose on those two, the patent system is completely, irretrievably, broken. 100% Apple-first implementations of “deep” concepts that they have been using for literally decades. If someone can just copy that, then nothing is patentable.

    • thejuanald says:

      I get that it’s a first for a phone, but I could do a system wide search on my Windows computer that would pull up programs, folder, files, or anything since like Windows 95.

      • You could do it on a Mac since before that though. System 8.5 (two versions before the very first OS X, and years before it became a useable OS) had it. Apple basically pioneered system wide search for computers. It makes sense that they have old patents for it.

        Also, I find no evidence that Microsoft had this in Windows 95. The earliest mention of system wide search in Windows I can find says it began with plug-ins for Windows XP, and only became a full search (like Apple’s spotlight technology), in Windows Vista. All this is long after it was standard in Macs, the same as the voice technology, the data detectors (first patent above), and all the rest.

        Love em or hate em, Apple did actually and for reals think of all this stuff first, and they patented it. If that doesn’t work for them at the end of the day, then it means that the patent system is completely useless. Samsung *has* to lose on this stuff. They certainly deserve to.

      • thejuanald says:

        You actually are probably right about it being in XP and not 95. I also didn’t start using Apple OS until OSX. Just to be clear, I’m a big fan of Apple.

  8. I hate those trivial patents. Good that Apple does not own a patent on breathing…

  9. thejuanald says:

    Just so you know, Slide to unlock was not invented by Apple, they just got the patent. I am not well versed in patent law but it seems to me that prior art might apply here. The Neonode N1m (a windows CE 5.0 device) had it in 2005. If you want proof, look at this video (the video is dated 2007 but the phone came out in 2005) and scroll to around 3:55 and watch from there.

    That certainly looks like slide to unlock to me! Samsung already brought this to attention of the courts in the Netherlands and brought the device in front of the court there to show that Apple’s claims over slide to unlock are invalid, and the court determined Apple’s claims over slide to unlock to be “trivial and likely invalid”, and the court refused to consider them.

    If Apple’s patent holds, it’s insane.

    • If you read the first claim of the Apple patent, it specifically says that the unlock icon has to move with the finger. The video you show above does not have a graphical element that moves with the finger. Hence, the above device is not prior art. So the patent is one a graphical element moving with the finger, not swipe to unlock. Patents are defined entirely by there claims. A device must infringe each and every part of the claim. Only one step of a claim has to be unique in order for the claim to be valid. Different countries have different laws regarding patents and, specifically, how claims are constructed. Patent lawsuits are won and lost in the early stages of a trial as the lawyers argue in front of a judge, not a jury, about what the claims mean and how they are infringed. Again, the video you show does not satisfy all parts of the first claim of the patent.

      • thejuanald says:

        If that minor change is something that can be patented, then the patent system is awful.

      • If its such a small thing, why doesn’t Samsung just remove the graphic element and just copy what is being done on the smart watch? Going to an all touch display is a really big deal. While you might take it for granted now, touch displays are challenged by a user’s need for some kind of feedback. In the smart watch example, what happens if the watch doesn’t actually unlock when you swipe your finger across. Wouldn’t you wonder why isn’t this sliding thing working and then try over and over again to get it to work? What Apple has done is recognize that by having a moving graphic, the user at least knows that their finger is being detected and that the problem is with the software not unlocking. Perhaps it is unlocking but by doing so is stuck in a user-app’s thread, which was put asleep while the phone was locked. If the graphic doesn’t move, then the user can surmise that the screen isn’t detecting touches or its the OS that is locked up and unable to handle the user input.

        I once took a macro-economics course where everything was valued according to its price in dollars. The obvious question became is there a better way to judge something’s value. In micro-economics, we used the unit of, “utils,” which translates into utility units. I might make more money as a lawyer than making sandwiches, but I might like making sandwiches better. So I’m going to make sandwiches. In macro-economics, decisions are made based on dollars. The justification was always that it might not be the best, but there’s nothing else one can practically equate with value. I would say to you that if the sliding graphic was an obvious solution, then why was Apple first to propose it? Could it be that its just one piece of a much larger puzzle of what it takes to make a practical multi-touch interface without physical buttons? Apple just so happens to have successfully completed the puzzle first, and they decided to incrementally patent everything they have come to believe is an important part of that puzzle. This one patent is just one piece of those pieces. Would be feel better about it if Apple had created one giant patent with 1,000 independent claims?

    • The patent is more specific than just “swipe to unlock” the patent actually states “unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image.”

  10. The patents claim that you need a physical device with a processing unit. Android is not a processing unit. A Samsung smart phone is a physical device with a processing unit, hence, the device maker is the one infringing the patents, not Google.

  11. Ebru says:

    They seem quite common sense to me!

  12. “Patent 8,046,721: ”Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image” — was available in Windows Mobile 5; so was “Method, system and graphical user interface for providing word recommendations” — patents should be invalid.

    • Windows Mobile 5 was a stylus based OS. So the claims says you need to use your finger, touch a graphic, and that the graphic has to move with the finger. The patent filing date is 2005, but the laws for patent prior to this year are based on when the idea was first conceived. So if Apple can show a journal entry that is date before the filing date, then Apple can claim ownership of the idea as long as no other invention was made prior to the entry. So you need to find a device that predates 2004, that detects human finger touches and has a moving graphic. If you can find that, then you’ve invalidated Apple’s patent.

  13. Ralph Martin says:

    Apple goes BEAST MODE!

  14. Guy Godin says:

    The synchronous data synchronization one is so ridiculous. I can’t believe they allow companies to file patents on such vague and general programming concepts. Any programmer who has had to synchronize data between 2 devices will do something like this. Nothing original there. I bet they make sure nobody on the jury is tech savvy or knows anything about programming.

    • First off, don’t read what Ben wrote in the article. Look up the patent from the USPTO’s website and then read the claims. The claims are quite specific about having a user interaction thread and a separate synchronization thread operating on a shared piece of data. And even then, don’t focus solely on the independent claim but the dependent claims, and you’ll see that its quite specific about how the process should work.