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Apple’s Multi-Touch Patent Revisited

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I wrote about the patent Apple (s aapl) received for this, but I’d like to comment further in light of all the discussion going on about the relative usefulness of this patent.

A lot of the discussion seems to stem from these sources:

  • A Gizmodo article using a “professor of patents law” as a source.
  • An analyst report that claims Apple going after Palm (s palm) could cause more harm than good.

I do not dispute these are valid opinions, but so are the opposite.

The tech world has set this up as between Apple and Palm despite Apple’s own denials. Frankly, it’s not clear to me why Apple would stop (or start, for that matter) with Palm. Seems to me, if they’re going to fire this weapon there are plenty others in line.

My biggest issue is that none of these articles and opinions can possibly be even close to definitive. They cannot. Let me see a show of hands on the following:

  • Who believes that Gizmodo could just as easily have found a patent “expert” who believes the opposite?

Good, good, all hands are raised.

  • Who believes another analyst report could have reached the opposite conclusion?

Yes, that’s correct. Nothing but hands.

  • Finally, who believes that Apple’s “experts” support Apple’s view, and their counterparts at a rival company support that company’s view?

A sea of hands. Excellent! TheAppleBlog must have the smartest readers anywhere.

My point is that if an “expert” could read the patent and make a definitive determination we’d never even have gotten this far. After all, if he read it and then told Apple it’ll never fly, wouldn’t they just say, “Oh, shucks. Well, it worth a try. We never get to patent the cool stuff,” then pout and sulk back to their rooms?

This cannot be solved definitely unless and until it gets into a courtroom, and there are hours of testimony from “experts” on each side (who, surprise!, do not agree), and judge and jury are involved. And even then, when a decision is reached, there will be howls of derision from many that it was all wrong.

I don’t know what Apple’s strategy is here. I suspect they don’t want obvious rip-offs to make a few bucks, and hope to keep them at bay. Still, only they know what their plans are.

There seems to be more than just one overall multi-touch patent. I think any moves Apple makes would be somewhat specific, and not some kind of hammer claiming all touch devices since the iPhone are rip-offs. I believe Apple is more specific in what they consider IP rip-off than people are giving them credit for.

Most of the attention has settled on Palm and Apple. Many think Palm has patents of their own they can hammer Apple with. To that extent, they believe there could be some cross-licensing agreements made. My first thoughts on this are:

  • If Palm’s patents are so good, why did they abandon their own OS — in which presumably the patented technology is used — and start selling Windows Mobile, an OS even Microsoft (s msft) fans ridicule?
  • Why has Palm sat around for over two years and said (and done) nothing about the iPhone if it’s walking all over their patents? Forget action, there hasn’t even been so much as a threat. Palm was awfully quiet about this patent portfolio until they responded to the tech press stoking the fires about Apple.
  • Seems to me Palm taking no action with valid patents, and abandoning their own OS, goes a long way to saying they may not have the dangerous patent portfolio some people think they do. At the very least it doesn’t help their case any.

Apple’s patent was just granted. It remains to be seen how they’ll use this potential weapon, but it seems to me they have bullets in their gun. I suspect half of them are blanks, but at least it’s loaded; I think Palm’s may be empty.

5 Responses to “Apple’s Multi-Touch Patent Revisited”

  1. First of all, patents like copyrights, are only valid if one intends on using them, otherwise they are considered abandoned and up for grabs! Palm not only has to prove that they have multi-touch patents, but that they had every intention of using them, something that is hard to prove since they abandoned their own OS for Microsoft’s lousy alternative!

    Also, as far as Jeff Hann and other are concerned, they may have demoed the possibilities of multi-touch, but they did absolutely nothing that I know of to actually bring it to market, thus without such prove, they too have clearly abandoned it to others. Their abandonment is clearly seen by the fact that they too didn’t see it worthwhile to attempt to even bother patenting it!

    As for the university to claim that it’s now suddenly in the mobile phone or desktop business is utterly and ridiculously stupid – they too have done virtually nothing to commercialize anything – therefore, they too have demonstrate that they abondoned it! If they were serious, like Apple, they too would have filed patents along, long time ago, so how can they claim that they never abondoned it?

    Same goes for Microsoft who only seemed to take it up after first seeing Apple succeed in it’s employment with the wildly popular iPhone!

  2. @Shaminder

    No one stopping you, it is a free world, buy the goods that suit you best but what happen when you discover that the iPhone can do something better than the Pre?

    Jump ship again?

    It is the sum and not the part.


  3. I really don’t understand all the noise behind it. And I also fail to undderstand why all the Apple centered blogs behind Apple on this one.

    The Patent laws are a mess and if Apple has a bunch of patents on multi-touch (which to me is absurd), then Palm also has a couple of patents which they can use against Apple.

    If Apple goes after Palm, do you guys realise that the only one who’ll suffer is the consumer ?

    This is going to become a Netscape vs. MS war all over again.

    I own an iPhone and love it for all it is, but also hate Apple for not giving me the features that I want. I am sick of having to memorise a phone number everytime I have to send a contact. I am sick of not being able to forward SMSs. And what has apple done about it in the last 1-1/2 years, nothing ? Infact, I went back to 1.1.4 because the 2.x firmwares make the iPhone just unbearable to use.

    I mean this is not an engineering issue. This is about the company’s ethics.

    I, more than anyone, would be happy to switch to a Palm pre as and when its released just because I really don’t believe in Apple anymore.

  4. SimpleLife

    I was going to link to the Gizmodo article in your last post.

    I’m glad you wrote this clear and concise follow-up because it pretty much sums up how I feel about the topic and all the blogosphere noize surrounding it.