24 Comments

Summary:

A sharp reader on jkOnTheRun points us to a World of Apple article discussing the awarding of the multi-touch patent to Apple just a few days ago.  This is the patent they filed last year that covers how they have implemented multi-touch on the iPhone and […]

apple-multi-touch-patentA sharp reader on jkOnTheRun points us to a World of Apple article discussing the awarding of the multi-touch patent to Apple just a few days ago.  This is the patent they filed last year that covers how they have implemented multi-touch on the iPhone and the new MacBooks using the trackpad. The big question with this patent award is if this ends the multi-touch game for everyone else, including the upcoming Palm Pre smartphone.  Several netbooks also implement multi-touch using the touchpad and that seems to be in violation of this patent.  Apple could license this technology but it’s been their practice to keep it for themselves in the past and this could get pretty ugly very fast.

The patent assignment covers all of the gestures used in the iPhone including window scrolling, both horizontal and vertical, and two thumb rotation.  It specifically addresses using multi-touch to augment the web browsing experience and goes even further to patent the very process of recognizing multiple touches on the screen.  We are not experts in legal patent issues but the processes are discussed very clearly and it looks like they’ve got multi-touch totally locked up.

Palm is set to release their multi-touch enabled phone, the Pre, shortly and Apple has already made it clear they will protect their IP in regards to multi-touch.  The timing of this patent award by the US government couldn’t come at a worse time for Palm, that’s for sure.  We expect to see Apple do more than rattle their sabers at companies like Palm to protect this patent.  It’s a great time to be an Apple shareholder but not so much so for everyone else.

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  1. I’m no expert on this sort of thing but there are some pretty big companies working on multi-touch and I’d have thought at least one of them would have done their homework to ensure that this patent wouldn’t cause them any trouble.

    Microsoft, Palm, Synaptics, N-trig are just a few examples. I’m sure there’s more to this and Palm will be OK.

  2. Which netbooks currently use the multi-touch? I would like to run out and buy one before they are extinct. Might be a collectors item.

  3. I just don’t get patents like this, it harms everyone. Surely they have been able to recoup their R&D costs by now!

    Anyway didn’t Microsoft debut their “Surface” was before the iPhone was even conceived and that uses multi touch…?

  4. If Apple have proprietory technology around the Multi-Touch interface then that is fair enough, (companies that innovate should be protected from those that copy)… But I cannot see that the gestures themselves can afford much protection.
    A workaround is to allow the user to choose from a selection of gestures for each action during the initial device setup, or even add their own.

    There is a real risk though that companies like Palm may not survive the potential lengthy time-burden that a legal challenge can take, which will be a shame.

  5. Neil: I don’t know when development on either product began, but Surface was officially announced months after the iPhone’s announcement. With multi-touch, Apple beat everyone else to market, and now they’ve beaten them to the patent office. It will be interesting to see how everyone proceeds from here.

  6. Kevin C. Tofel Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    Putting the phone platforms aside for a second, I’m curious if and how this affects Windows 7. Hmm….

  7. James Kendrick Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    Kevin, you and me both. My next Mobile Tech Minutes is wondering just such a thing. The big battlefield will not be smartphones as many think but on the desktop. :)

  8. @Sumocat: I think multi-touch was around before the iPhone…

    Remember the demonstration on big wall screens on YouTube? Generally with mappings. And of course Minority Report.

  9. James Kendrick Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    Who thought up multi-touch and when is a moot point now. Apple holds the patent and has a number of products that use the technology. They will be hard to beat here.

  10. I remember seeing these patents on blogsbefore the Iphone was released. There was speculation that it might bean Apple slate tablet back then. Then the iPhone ended up being the product.

    As companies began releasing products with multitouch including our HP tx2 I vas surprised at Apples silence.

    I find it hard to believe nobody knew these patents existed.

    I wonder if the lawyers involved, have found a loophole in the patent.

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