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Apple Awarded Important Multi-Touch Patent



multi-touch-iPhone This will certainly be interesting. The US Patent Office has awarded Apple a patent on multi-touch that includes not only the mechanics of how multi-touch works, but also the gestures (such as pinch, swipe, rotate). The patent had been under review for at least two years.

Here’s the abstract from the patent:

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.

A lot of the coverage on this is focused on what this means for Palm’s upcoming multi-touch phone, but as I read the patent (and I’m no patent attorney) it is sufficiently broad enough in its parameters that it could cover much more. Looks like some attorneys will be making some money here.

Via World of Apple



  1. SkateNY

    01/27/2009 at 6:23 am

    Guess what? Palm’s Pre suddenly has a lot more problems than being a failed iPhone killer. And Apple knew it far in advance.

  2. Ben

    01/27/2009 at 6:43 am

    I don’t think finger motions should be patentable, but what do I know…

  3. dave s

    01/27/2009 at 6:57 am

    that sucks for most of us
    but someone had to do it, i guess

  4. Tim

    01/27/2009 at 10:07 am

    Hopefully Apple will actually license this and put it at a reasonable price. Killing competition with something like this sounds to me to be completely unfair.

  5. Empi

    01/27/2009 at 10:46 am

    I can’t believe this can be considered valid. Didn’t Microsoft have its Surface tech before the iPhone? If not, there’s got to be some proof of prior art out there. This only shows, once again, how incompetent the Patent Office has become.

  6. fab

    01/27/2009 at 11:17 am

    apple is dead to me! never lived actually…

  7. Sumocat

    01/27/2009 at 11:52 am

    Empi: Nope, Surface debuted months after the iPhone, and this is an example of what I would consider a valid patent.

    I believe patents should be awarded to technology, not ideas for technology. Patent trolls, which I hate fiercely, file patents for ideas of technology they have no intention of creating, then go after those who actually create it. Apple has done the reverse. They have an actual product, which they brought to market before anyone else, and they filed for the patent after they unveiled it. It is a patent awarded for an invention, not an idea, which I have argued is how it should be.

  8. Andrew Beery

    01/27/2009 at 11:55 am

    Apples patent seems to cover commands based on a single finger… not just multitouch which means HTC’s TouchFlo and really any touch screen device is potetially in violation… seriously tapping the X to close a window is a gesture. I suspect the IP lawyers will be raking in the dough on this one.

  9. Paul Harrigan

    01/27/2009 at 11:58 am


    I agree with your point about patents.

    I believe the key to this one is going to be whether the prior art that Microsoft asserts actually exists.

    As to Palm, I think they will have a problem with the multi-touch, but I haven’t reviewed their patent library, so this is a “wait and see”.

    This is one time — I thought the SCO suits over Linux were another — when I think the adversary system is likely to bring out the facts, provided that it doesn’t get papered over with a license agreement and confidentiality clause.


  10. Paul Harrigan

    01/27/2009 at 12:01 pm


    The patent does seem overbroad — to the point that touching the X with a finger could be a problem, and since one can do that with pre-Iphone windows mobile phones, claims that broad are likely to be thrown out.

    As to IP lawyers “raking it in”, a few may make some money for work well done in uncovering the true prior art history here and presenting it to the courts for decision, which benefits us all.

    I agree with Sumocat that this is a true invention issue, not just an “idea”, and in that sense we will benefit from the outcome of this whichever way it goes.

  11. Empi

    01/27/2009 at 1:33 pm

    Ok, so Microsoft’s Surface wasn’t the best example. But I think my point is that stuff like this shouldn’t qualify for patents. Remember the whole deal with Amazon patenting their one-click purchase system? Same deal. I thought patents were supposed to protect original and innovative ideas and technologies. The multi-touch (and, now that I read it more carefully, single-touch) methods of input hardly qualify. This is my opinion, of course, so disagreement is welcome.

    Anyways, if Apple charges reasonable royalties for this, then great. The more competition, the better, and they make money anyways. But it seems to me that this is a cheap attempt to take the wind out of the sails of both Palm and Microsoft.

  12. David

    01/27/2009 at 2:21 pm

    Apple came out with the iPhone or at least announced it in January 2007. I’m sure they had to create the phone first which took time, but there have been touch enabled devices long before that (look at touch screen voting – pre-1996 when 7% voted with touchscreens)I may know next to nothing about patent law, but I always thought it was whoever came up with it first could claim the patent, and the iPhone definitely wasn’t the first.

  13. Sumocat

    01/27/2009 at 3:53 pm

    Empi: One of the tales that guides my opinion on this is that of Robert Kearns, inventor of intermittent windshield wipers. He patented his idea, built a prototype, and tried to license the patent to automakers. They rebuked him then introduced intermittent wipers on their own. They argued the idea was not sufficiently original. Sure, Kearns did not invent windshield wipers or even a new type of wiper, but the industry did not introduce this “non-original” idea until after he did. So did Kearns deserve his patent? The courts thought so. I think that precedent applies here.

  14. Empi

    01/27/2009 at 5:04 pm

    Sumocat: I see where you’re coming from, but I’d have to disagree, based on some specifics. Although Robert Kearns used existing technology, he applied it in a new and original way, which as I understand is what the automakers copied. The important point here is that he actually built a system in which the use of the individual parts together was new and innovative. Now, to the best of my knowledge Apple did not develop or even design the multi-touch screen for the iPhone. Even if they did design this specific screen, previous designs have been developed. So they’re trying to say that they figured out how to used a multi-touch screen for touch and multi-touch applications. Unlike in Kearns’s case, I don’t see that they’re combining any technology in a way that you could call original or ground-breaking. Cool, yes. Original, no.

  15. Wudang

    01/28/2009 at 2:30 pm

    On a slightly different tack it’s possible (hopeful?) that if the patent does impact on the upcoming Windows 7 release it might act as a prod and a spur to have MS reapply their efforts/attention and further develop the lead they enjoy in pen/tablet based computing.

    It seems of late to have lost focus within MS so for those of us who cannot understand why the rest of humankind (pc wise)are not on board with the most natural way of entering data into a PC this cloud on their release horizon might turn out to have a silver lining.

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