Apple has been awarded a US patent for multitouch functionality on devices.
Multitouch is used on Apple devices including the iPhone, and allows users to perform actions such as pinch-to-zoom and swipe-to-scroll. Multitouch functionality is also due to be used on Palm and Windows 7 devices.
US Patent 7,479,949 was awarded to Steve Jobs and 24 others on 20 January. The patent covers technology that detects one or more finger touches on a screen and then uses heuristics to translate those touches into screen scrolling and movement.
Jeremy Phillips, an intellectual property consultant at Olswang solicitors, told ZDNet UK that Apple being awarded the patent would not necessarily result in legal action against firms using multitouch techniques in devices.
"Obviously Palm's shareholders must be sweating blood, and may put out a bold statement of challenge," Phillips said. "It's a ritual, it always happens. However [in the event of a disagreement] Apple would probably look for an easier market-led solution rather than a court solution."
Apple would most likely use the patent to license the technology, and not resort to litigation, as patent litigation is more unpredictable and therefore riskier than other forms of intellectual-property assertion, said the expert.
"Apple is at its best when developing things unique to them, and would defend a stray trademark vigorously," said Phillips. "[But] the realities of the market are that, with profit margins shrinking, money spent on patent litigation could be better spent [elsewhere]."