Apple's multi-touch patent sets up a legal battle with Palm

Apple's multi-touch patent sets up a legal battle with Palm

Summary: In what could be a game changer for the smartphone industry, Apple was awarded a patent for its multi-touch interface for the iPhone and iPod touch.Patent number 7,479,949 was filed on 11 April 2008 and was approved on January 20, 2009 and covers multi-touch and all associated gestures such as pinch, swipe and rotation.

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In what could be a game changer for the smartphone industry, Apple was awarded a patent for its multi-touch interface for the iPhone and iPod touch.

Patent number 7,479,949 was filed on 11 April 2008 and was approved on January 20, 2009 and covers multi-touch and all associated gestures such as pinch, swipe and rotation.

The initial patent abstract is as follows:

A computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a computing device with a touch screen display comprises: detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display, applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device, and processing the command. The one or more heuristics comprise: a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command, a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a two-dimensional screen translation command, and a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a command to transition from displaying a respective item in a set of items to displaying a next item in the set of items.

It looks like acting Apple CEO Tim Cook's shot across the bow of Palm now has some legal teeth behind it. Can it be long before Apple's legal department files a motion to block ex-Appler Jon Rubenstein and company's use of anything resembling multi-touch in their upcoming Pre handset? The engineers over at Palm better put their thinking caps on.

Meanwhile Palm PR may want to reconsider this part of their 8 January 2009 press release:

  • Instinctive user interface - With its multi-touch interface, webOS lets you move easily between activities like flipping through a deck of cards and rearrange items simply by dragging them; when you are done with something, just throw it away. And finding what you need is easy with universal search - as you type what you're looking for, the OS narrows your search and offers results from both your device and the web.

Having used the T-Mobile/HTC G1 for a few days makes me appreciate (and miss!) having multi-touch on that device. It's truly a competitive advantage for Apple because it's so intuitive and natural feeling. Android, on the other hand, is relegated to simple zoom in (+) and zoom out (-) buttons and a goofy loupe interface that allows you to scroll to a specific part of a long Web page. The only thing that I can compare the loupe feature to is reading a newspaper with a magnifying glass.

So, will Cook and Co. release the hounds?

Tip: World of Apple

Topics: Legal, Apple, Hardware, Mobility

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62 comments
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  • re: So, will Cook and Co. release the hounds?

    That question was rhetorical, wasn't it?
    Badgered
  • Apple can now sue EVERY touch screen device maker!!1!1one!!1

    From the patent:
    [i]detecting [b]one[/b] or more finger contacts with the touch screen display[/i]

    This patent doesn't cover just multi-touch, it also covers single touch. All touch screen devices have detected one finger contact since their very beginning. I guess the iPhone and iPod Touch are going to be the only touch screen devices allowed from now on.

    [i]a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command[/i]

    This says that applying one finger and moving it up or down on the screen to create a scrolling command now belongs to Apple. No one else can use it.

    Depending on who has more money (and we all know that Apple is now the 900lb gorilla with the money and lawyers to back it up), we will either see an end to [b]all[/b] non Apple touchscreen devices or this an end to this patent. I know all the Apple apologists are just salivating at the possibility that Apple will be left as the [b]only[/b] touch screen device maker in the world. How sad for the rest of us though. How sad for competition. :(
    NonZealot
    • No, it's more specific than that

      You left out the part where the the main heuristic consists of being "based on an angle of initial movement of a finger contact".

      Few, if any, other programmers would use the angle of initial movement. There are other methods more commonly in use.

      Why doesn't ZDNet have patent experts around, so wild assumptions won't make false headlines?
      kdarling
      • The patent covers all heuristics

        [i]based on an angle of initial movement of a finger contact[/i]

        First, I don't see that in the blog. Is that taken from the whole patent application?

        Second, it is very clear that Apple is patenting the use of one or more of the heuristics it mentioned.

        [i]applying [b]one[/b] or more heuristics[/i]

        Finally, can you tell us what other methods are commonly in use? If you are looking for a vertical scrolling gesture, the direction of the initial movement would be [b]extremely[/b] important.
        NonZealot
        • Read the patent, not sensationalistic blogs

          Yes, of course I'm discussing the actual patent.

          Personally I use the ratio of vertical to horizontal movement vectors. Could be complicated by making it an angle, but why? Oh yeah, to get a patent specific to a certain Apple device. :)

          You can't patent touch or multi-touch, they've been around for decades. You can only patent very specific methods.
          kdarling
          • Thanks for the info

            [i]Personally I use the ratio of vertical to horizontal movement vectors.[/i]

            With mouse gestures, yes, I've seen that too. However with the scrolling gesture, the behavior I've witnessed in applications that predated the iPhone was that the initial movement decided whether this was going to be a scroll or not. Your method would work well when the gesture begins, ends, and [b]then[/b] the command executes but scrolling is typically started before the gesture ends. The only way to make that work is to detect the scrolling by measuring the initial movement.

            [i]You can't patent touch or multi-touch, they've been around for decades. You can only patent very specific methods.[/i]

            I respectfully disagree. You can patent [b]anything[/b] it seems and Apple has just patented both single touch and multi-touch. The question now is two-fold:
            1. Will it stand up in court?
            2. And, more importantly, does anyone have the money to make it fall in court? I suspect Apple has built up its $25 billion bank account to crush the attempts from competitors to have this patent overturned.

            Like I said above, this is a very sad day in the world of touch screens because Apple has just destroyed [b]every single touch screen device out there[/b]. :(
            NonZealot
          • Someone call NonZ a WA bulance!!!!!

            Look even "IF" what you fear so very much comes true all it will mean
            is that other companies pay Apple a fee like every other settlement
            like this has ever produced in the past. It won't stop anything but
            rather just make Apple more money for something a court decides
            Apple has ownership of. That is the very worst that will happen. The
            Palm Pre will still come out and all the others will continue to be sold
            or developed.

            Now I'm not saying you're worst case is going to even come close to
            happening. However I do remember Apple placing the patent on this
            and if I was aware of this why were others like MS and Palm not too
            mention BB aware of this happening? Why did they not say "HEY!!!"
            put some sort of legal complaint when apple applied? If what you say
            is true did they not have a good argument.

            Also did not MS try or at least apply for the mouse double click
            patent?

            Pagan jim
            James Quinn
          • In all seriousness though...

            You just knew with all the phone companies trying to make the perfect "iPhone killer" that eventually somebody was going to get slapped with a lawsuit like this. What's new here? There is nothing new. This is how business works. If it's defensible let them prove it, if it's not then they'll be out some bucks in royalties to Apple and make sure that v2 avoids the patent.
            oncall
          • @Pagan jim

            Not only did they apply for the mouse double click, they were awarded it.

            http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=8&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=6,727,830&OS=6,727,830&RS=6,727,830

            and they also was awarded a patent for a scroll mouse as well.

            http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=10&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=6,700,564&OS=6,700,564&RS=6,700,564
            Axsimulate
          • Double Click

            Although it seems a bit silly to give a patent on the double click, as I recall, nobody else did a double click before MS (but the earliest non-windows/apple gui that I used was Sun's Open Win, and that was (after Win 3.0 came out).

            I'm unclear what exactly Apple is patenting. If it's the pinch, for example, that they use for pictures, an almost identical (if not identical) gesture was demoed almost a year before the iPhone came out
            LinkL: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jeff_han_demos_his_breakthrough_touchscreen.html

            And to be clear, I'm not defending the double click patent...but at least it might actually have been an original item.

            notsofast
          • Re: @pagan jim

            Axsimilate, the scroll wheel, seems more reasonable, since that was, as I recall, a hardware patent and was an original idea.

            I'm not sure about the double click, but it may have been an MS original....I know that Apple always bashed MS for using the [i]unintuitive[/i] double click.

            notsofast
          • @James Quinn

            Since the launch of the Mac, you had to double click to launch an app or open a doc, at least a year before Microsoft released Windows 1.0. I'm sure the double click theory existed before the Xerox Alto or Star but have no proof as it is rudimentary.
            Axsimulate
          • Much ado about nothing. READ THE PATENT !!

            If you take the time to actually read and understand the CLAIMS in the patent...

            NOT the Abstract or other 300 pages of examples

            ...then you'll see that it's about a specific way of determining if you want to scroll or do something else.

            It doesn't patent multitouch or anything else that's in the text body.

            The more important piece of information is the list of cited references, which detail what Apple used from other inventors.
            kdarling
          • No it doesn't patent touch or multi-touch

            I've done touch programming for almost two decades. Believe me, the x and y vectors are just fine for figuring out what you want to do in realtime.

            And please read the patent claims instead of the stuff all the naive reporters are posting. It doesn't cover touch or multitouch, just deciphering a specific subset of movements in a certain way.

            So much hysteria over very little.
            kdarling
      • Re: No, it's more specific than that

        I'll be the first to admit I don't know what I'm talking about, but...

        The shorthand you used for writing with the original palm (can't remember what you call that style of writing) detected letters not only based on the shape of the character you wrote, but the actual movement used to draw the character. A clockwise circle meant something different than a counter-clockwise circle, even though the two characters looked exactly the same. In other words, they used the angle of initial movement as part of the interpretation of the gesture.

        Also, when they say things like "apply a heuristic to interpret the contact/movement of one or more fingers", it includes one finger. Devices have been interpreting a single contact for ages. Since that part of Apple's assertion is clearly invalid, it could be extended to mean that the multiple-contact portion of the assertion is also invalid. I have a hard time believing "one or more" really means "two or more".
        zeblonite
    • Apple Can No Sue....

      Actually, this Apple apologist is not [i]salivating at the possibility that Apple will be left as the [b]only[/b] touch screen device maker....[/i] Competition is good for Apple and for Apple users.
      AllenKenya
    • I noticed that to (nt)

      nt
      storm14k
  • Iphone and Pre do not use the same multi-touch screen

    Reading the article one would think Palm really is using the
    same multi-touch touch screen as the iphone. Actually Palm
    is not, the Pre's touch screen was designed by Cypress
    Semiconductor, they have been making touch screens for
    years. Apple was given a patent for a SPECIFIC (iphones) type of multi-
    touch screen, again, which the Pre does not use. Here is a
    link which describes the type of screen the Pre uses:

    http://download.cypress.com/truetouch/CY8CTMG110.pdf

    scorpeo
  • It is very important that Apple loses this battle

    They cannot monopolize touch technology. Either way, with the MS "surface" technology I don't think this will fly, MS will not be locked out of touch by Apple.
    T1Oracle
    • They likely will...

      There's just too much in the realm of prior art. Too many others have worked on multi-touch interfaces and most of the ones I've seen demonstrated use the pinch thing to grow or shrink an object on the screen.
      Wolfie2K3