In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

Summary: Apple snags a U.S. patent related to user interactions with touchscreen displays on mobile devices. It's the latest win in an epic volley of wireless tech lawsuits.

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Score one for Cupertino.

As computer maker Apple battles several patent-related lawsuits with Nokia, Samsung and other competitors related to the wireless functionality of its popular iPhone, iPod and iPad products, the company was awarded a patent on Tuesday involving how a user interacts with a mobile device's touchscreen display.

The abstract reads:

A computer-implemented method, for use in conjunction with a portable multifunction device with a touch screen display, comprises displaying a portion of page content, including a frame displaying a portion of frame content and also including other content of the page, on the touch screen display. An N-finger translation gesture is detected on or near the touch screen display. In response, the page content, including the displayed portion of the frame content and the other content of the page, is translated to display a new portion of page content on the touch screen display. An M-finger translation gesture is detected on or near the touch screen display, where M is a different number than N. In response, the frame content is translated to display a new portion of frame content on the touch screen display, without translating the other content of the page.

In a nutshell: it's a broad patent that covers any time a device's software responds to a user's gesture on a touchscreen, be it its operating system or a web browser. It's actually much narrower than I originally thought. As reader ralanburnett and Nilay Patel both point out, the detail is in the claims.

The company filed for it way back in 2007.

It's hard to say what the future legal implications of this patent will be, but it's clear that there is tremendous shakeout underway in the wireless device space as the tech industry's biggest giants spar over broad patents that cover nearly every operational aspect of this decade's most popular electronic devices.

Previously, Nokia accused Apple in October 2009 of infringing on its patents that cover a mobile device's ability to operate on GSM, Wi-Fi and 3G broadband networks, as well as the encryption methods used to do so.

In December 2009, Apple filed a countersuit accusing Nokia of violating 13 of its own patents. (The companies agreed last week to a patent-licensing deal; estimates for the payout run to $600 million.)

That's not all. Samsung filed a patent-infringement case against Apple in April accusing Apple of violating 10 of its patents, among them one that allows smartphone users to browse the Web during a voice call.

As you may have guessed, Apple filed its own lawsuit the same month accusing Samsung of violating patents regarding its user interface and product design.

Meanwhile, more legal briefs are flying elsewhere in the industry: Oracle and Google are beating each other up over the latter's use of Java in its Android mobile operating system; what's more, the same companies licking their legal wounds from one fight will bid next week over Nortel's wireless communications patent portfolio to perhaps pick more fights down the road.

All of these companies are sitting on enough cash to settle these patent cases. The question is whether they're spending just as much in R&D to innovate and move on.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Legal, Mobility, Networking, Nokia, Samsung, Wi-Fi

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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117 comments
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  • So the older touchscreens that responded

    to a users touch, like placing an "N" in a document or field when the user writes an "N" on the screen (handwriting recognition) would be covered under this patent?

    Just wondering.
    Will Pharaoh
    • Reading is a wonderful talent, you should learn it.

      N and M refer to the number of fingers used in the gesture. In other words, Apple was finally granted its patent on multi-touch. It will be interesting to see when the lawsuit on Google will be served, now that multi-touch on Android officially violates Apple's patent.
      fr_gough
      • YES!!!!!

        @fr_gough <br>It will be AWESOME to finally see Google bankrupted! One less competitor for Apple to have dragging it down.
        woulddie4apple
      • If the patent holds up under appeal

        @fr_gough

        It's not like there isn't a ton of bogus patents out there - you've even pointed that alot of these lawsuits aimed at Apple for patent infringements are based on "broad" patents that shouldn't have been granted.

        It's possible the same thing will happen heere, that the patent comes under review and is invalidated.
        Will Pharaoh
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        Further proof that the patent system is broken beyond repair.
        Yea, just what we want Apple trying to kill all multi touch screens and then doubling the price of the iPhone. What part on obvious wasn't met that multi touch screens on mobile devices was not an obvious path from multi touch screen non-moble?

        Will someone please save us from the lawyers!!!
        Iamjl
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        @fr_gough
        this will just go to a higher court...
        how much that patent covers is just silly...
        Lone Goat
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        @fr_gough

        Ugh! This is sick! The entire industry is full of bad actors! Apple did not invent multi-touch! They did not make it first! They didn't even do it first on a mobile device. They did not design any hardware. This is totally conceptual! This is like patenting "STEERING" on an automobile. Not even the concept of "Rack and Pinion" or "Drive by wire", STEERING. SUGGESTING THE CAR REQUIRES GUIDANCE! I did not believe the patent office could become more of an abyssmal counter-productive shithole. I was WRONG!
        tkejlboom
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        @fr_gough

        The USPTO grants patents all the time, but the quality of the patents is not always that high, so nobody knows if this latest patent will withstand scrutiny. The USPTO isn't concerned about post-patent litigation.
        DonRupertBitByte
      • Apple ***did*** invent multi-touch for capacitive mobile screens and UI --

        @tkejlboom: <b>there is no other way around</b>.

        Competitors are welcome to use capacitive screens, but no, not multi-touch (Apple's TM, by the way) gestures and UI.
        DDERSSS
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        @woulddie4apple too bad the fabled iPhone design (phone layout as well as much of the look and feel of the OS) was owned by nokia first
        Feds Against Guns
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        @woulddie4apple Yeah because the consumer (namely you) are better served by a lack of competition. Keep in mind that without Android's competition Apple would never have copied the better notification system, or service based multitasking.
        snoop0x7b
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        @tkejlboom: You've given me a brilliant Idea. I'll follow the Apple business method and start trying to get patents on stuff thats already been invented by going for broad patents.

        Wonder how much we could sue GM or Ford out of for violation of a broad patent for steering :P
        (Sarcasm was intended. Apple and its lawyers are just hipsters who want to claim they invented just about everything when infact most of their products were out long before apple even put an i infront of them. Wish Jobs would just roll over and die already so Apple could go back to being insignificant and worthless)
        Relorian@...
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        @DeRSSS
        Multi-touch technology began in 1982, when the University of Toronto's Input Research Group developed the first human-input multi-touch system. Not Apple. Try again. In fact Most of not ALL advancements are truly made by university research groups and/or semiconductor manufacturing co's and quite often high-jacked by greedy corporations who just can't help themselves in taking credit.
        incalizondo
      • If the patent holds up under appeal

        @Will Pharaoh

        [i]It's not like there isn't a ton of bogus patents out there [/i]
        You mean like the one Microsoft was granted on the page up and page down keys?
        914four
      • Did you really read what was written? Prior advancements in the technology

        @incalizondo: ... <b>have nothing to do with</b>:
        1) capacitive screens,
        2) and mobile-size scale.

        Apple was the first to not only demonstrate this technology, but also implement it in production.

        So there is no prior art, and there is no prior production. <b>Apple filed more than two hundred patents back in 2004-2007 for iPhone technology</b>, and they were awarded with ever major related patent since 2009 -- what allowed them to sue HTC, Samsung, et cetera. The patent from this article is by far not the first for multi-touch, and arguable maybe not even most important (some were awarded earlier already).
        DDERSSS
    • Patent deals with geographic content translation in a window

      @Will Pharaoh

      N represents the number 1 and M the number 2.

      Patent# is: 7,966,578 named <i>"Portable multifunction device, method, and graphical user interface for translating displayed content"</i>

      It seems pretty specific on how to move content within a stationary window with a finger (or 2 fingers) moving on the screen.

      Basically, it is a patent that says: "Scroll bars, we don't need no stinking scroll bars."
      Bruizer
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        @Bruizer
        A million dollar idea for other companies (actually good news for lawyers).... patent with naming the actual finger.... from me that is the middle one for this BS.... and they actually say that these laws are in place to protect and innovate.... I can understand about the protection (mainly from other fat-purse predators and from creativity) ... but to innovate..... far from it...
        ashwinipn
      • RE: In wireless lawsuit fray, Apple snags mobile touchscreen patent

        @Bruizer I've seen desktop touch screen systems that do this before though... How does the "On a mobile device" make it unique or patentable.
        snoop0x7b
      • The desktop systems I saw alway dealt with scroll bars.

        @snoop0x7b

        Not the content on the display window (browser in this case) specifically. Even the HP TouchSmart machines allowed you to drag scroll bars around in most applications.

        So agin, the patent is more about the abolition of scroll bars more than anything else.
        Bruizer
    • WTF

      @Will Pharaoh Why is the USPTO granting a BS patent on touch screen features I had on my desktop monitor in the 90s??

      Yet another attempt by Apple to lay claim to pre-existing tech.
      archangel9999