Apple’s Multi-Touch Patent Revisited


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.