One thing that stuck out to me in Apple's Q1 2009 earnings conference call was Apple COO (and acting CEO) Tim Cook's multiple mentions of competitors who might "rip off our IP" (Intellectual Property) relative to the iPhone. Well that and his raspy voice – get that man a lozenge!
We like competition, as long as they don’t rip off our IP, and if they do, we’re going to go after anybody that does … We will not stand for having our IP ripped off and we’ll use whatever weapons we have at our disposal [to make sure that doesn't happen]. I don’t know that I can be more clear than that.
— Apple COO Tim Cook on the company’s iPhone intellectual property
While he didn't mention Android, Blackberry or Palm specifically by name, Cook fired a very clear warning shot across the bow of all three iPhone competitors as they start to make inroads on Apple's turf.
Cook's comment seemed to be targeted squarely at Palm and its new Pre handset. At issue are several Pre features that tread dangerously close to Apple's 200 iPhone patents. The Pre's multitouch and touchscreen gesture technology similar to that found on the iPhone. SlashGear notes:
Both the Pre and the iPhone have capacitive panels capable of recognising multiple points of contact and complex gestures; judging by the state of the technology, it’s fair to assume that today’s implementations of multitouch are simply scratching the surface of what is possible. Palm is believed to be using a capacitive panel by Cypress Semiconductors, who boast their technology is capable of individually tracking ten touch-points; the origin of the iPhone touch panel is still unknown, although in Cypress’ video demo they do show the Apple smartphone at several points.
Let's also not forget that Palm’s executive chairman is Jon Rubinstein, the former Apple executive behind the iPod and that Palm is full of former Apple engineers. One can see why this combination of coincidences might ruffle a few legal feathers in Cupertino.
Update: Palm doesn't seem to be scared by Apple's saber rattling, telling Digital Daily that "If faced with legal action, we are confident that we have the tools necessary to defend ourselves." Palm spokesperson Lynn Fox (also, ex-Apple) went on to say that "Palm has a long history of innovation that is reflected in our products and robust patent portfolio, and we have long been recognized for our fundamental patents in the mobile space."
Update 2: When Apple first announced the use of capacitive surface trackpads in their PowerBook line they also announced that Cypress Semiconductor was supplying the chips for the trackpads. This thread explains the origins of Apple's touch surface and how it is originally believed to come from John Elias and Wayne Westerman, co-founders of FingerWorks. (Tip: Dan)
Should Cook release the hounds? Or does Palm have a case for the Pre?