Hardware

Latest shot fired in Apple patent wars

Apple has won a broad patent for its touch screen functionality on portable devices. Naturally, not everyone is happy about it.

Apple is already embroiled in patent lawsuits with Nokia and Samsung, and now they've scored a win by receiving a patent on touch screen functionality for portable devices from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Apple filed the application in 2007, and if you're up for all the technical details, you can view it here.

As CNET's Don Reisinger puts it:

Exactly how Apple's touch-screen patent will play into its current litigation remains to be seen. But as noted, it's a far-reaching patent, and many portable-device makers have products that allow for multitouch gestures that control software on the display.

The rather heated discussion regarding this development involves the key issues of whether Apple should have been given such a broad patent in the first place, who really innovated touch screen functionality first, and whether even more lawsuits and challenges will pile up as the competitors fight it out. Do you think Apple has won this one fair and square, or do you think others will be able to mount a strong enough challenge to have the patent invalidated?

Related reading:

Apple's next big innovation: The iMac Touch?

About

Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

48 comments
HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Democracy for the Greeks and then charge the rest of the Western World for using it? Seems perfectly reasonable to me in light of the Greeks Money Problems. ;) After all if it was possible to Patent Penicillin in the US when it's real developers made it freely available to the Medical profession of the world and then we had the situation of the Place who developed it and the process to refine it to a workable solution had to pay a Patent fee to the crowd who Patented it. It seems perfectly reasonable that as the Greek Nation gave us Democracy we should pay them for the privilege. ;) Col

gjm123
gjm123

Typical contemporary major IT company thinking. Look around for something that has been used by large company XYZ, patent or license it, and then sue for patent infringement. Counter sue against any counter suits. And the winner is...? The lawyers. In the meantime billions of dollars/pounds/euros get 'lost', and that money has to come from somewhere. Somewhere being you and me, the customer.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Well, some of the time ! And when it does, the clone makers will pay & pay & pay :)

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I'm off to the Patent Office to patent a Rectangular Device that fits into your Pocket/Purse so you can stay in touch with your E Mail, Internet and Phone when you are away from your Desk or Home. I'll be nice and include Short Message Communication as well. What a brilliant idea. :0 When it is fully deployed you'll be able to talk on it while driving a car without the need to use hands. I'm a Multimillionaire's when I sue so many companies for using my Patent. :^0 Sure beats the hell out of working IT for a living. ;) Col

MacNewton
MacNewton

IF its windows IT , then yes inventing something new is going to be very easy. :0

wwfilms
wwfilms like.author.displayName 1 Like

The question is simple - was this a turning point in the use of an existing technology - touch screens - by implementing new rules/standards on how to use that technology. The Patent officer says it looks like it - and yes the courts will decide. Apple has merely locked in that they had these ideas on how to take the technology on a new route and pegged their claim just like a gold prospector. That pegging stops someone else from holding them to ransom by counter claiming the idea (common in IT circles) and it safeguards the huge development dollars that companies plough into new products. Apple was recently sued over alleged infringement of some things that iPhone uses - no one is immune from claim jumping. Apple as an inventor? I think it is more Apple as an innovator. iPhone and iPad are not new ideas - phones and tablets existed - it is the 'how' and logic that goes with it that changed the landscape and built huge new industries. Others could have done this but in this case Apple did. Now everywhere I go there are iPads and iPhones and the queue to get one is miles long. And lots of look-alikes are out there making other folks money and creating utility and jobs. The amount of stuff out there that looks like an Apple Clone is enormous and if Apple were really that litigious and stifling, those clones wouldn't exist. No, a stylus is nothing like using one or more fingers in twirling and other motions to define an agreed end result. We need agreed standards or Ctrl C would be all sorts of different things on different applications. Come to think of it MS wandered off from quite a lot of those primordial standards some time back when they were already well established - like the Shift Ctrl C for para center they made Shift Ctrl E .... Oh well... Incidentally to the rant on "Little Apple versus the mighty Microsoft = lost battle" first it wasn't a war, and as Apple now has a market capitalization bigger than MS and Google combined, doesn't look to me like little Apple lost anything. The winners are all of us when the creatives in all companies come up with great ideas and build new markets with them.

mrAverage
mrAverage like.author.displayName 1 Like

Let me reflect a moment: God created heaven and earth. Al Gore invented the internet. Now it seems APPLE has invented touch. Ok over simplified, BUT, like many things in life throughout history there is a time and place for the ability to protect oneself or ideas that are truly an improvement. Over time many of these things become lesser in value .... A castle to save the king and people, guns to fight off savages or ferocious animals, unions to insure fair workplace treatment, and patents have been entering this zone for a number of years. Why? Because given enough financial backing or unscrupulous behavior by a larger organization an idea can be stolen, implemented, sold, controlled and the inventor who created the patentable entity will not live to win the battle nor will many of his successive generations. Many good and patentable (by today???s standards) ideas become 2nd rate in a short period of time in the fields involving computers and electronics. Finally, remember back to the early days of APPLE when they created a commercial of the athlete throwing the hammer breaking the big screen broadcasting big brother freeing the souls who were chained by the evil monster. CONGRATULATIONS APPLE YOU HAVE SEEN THE ENEMY AND NOW THEY IS YOU....sorry POGO.

gtatransam
gtatransam like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Steve Jobs should die and burn in Hell.

MacNewton
MacNewton

I think that statements is a little over the top! Did you pick up some "free" iPads from London drugs after your buddies stated the fires?

Wilmot McCutchen
Wilmot McCutchen like.author.displayName 1 Like

Here is a link to a pdf of Apple's patent: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/7966578.pdf The prior art references are surprisingly few. Maybe there is some prior art that was not considered, as some have vaguely alleged here. It is important to understand that this is not a software patent or a process unrelated to a physical device (e.g. business method). Such disembodied ideas have been excluded from patentable subject matter by the Bilski case. Those who allege that the US Patent Office "gave up on examining patents for validity" or that "patents destroy innovation and competition" are probably complaining based on the bad history of software and business method patents. Now that Apple has shown the solution to the problem it seems obvious in retrospect, like all great inventions. If a stylus works, why isn't a combination of non-intuitive finger gestures just the same function done in an obvious new way? I suppose that the patent examiner considered such arguments before allowing Apple's claims. Let those who would disparage Apple's achievement actually read the patent and cite some directly relevant prior art other than the general idea of a GUI that uses finger gestures on a touch screen. I think the US Patent Office and Apple deserve more respect than is evident so far in the comments. Griping tweets add nothing to the discussion.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I don't see any rocket science here. From what I get out of it is it's all about using two different inputs at the same time to affect the device display. You could say that a joy stick and pedals have done the exact same thing years before the iPhone was even though of. The only difference between these two devices is that you use your fingers instead of dedicated hardware devices, and that really boils down to the physical display rather than the idea that using more than one finger to make a "gesture" is an invention. I would give Apple the wheel they use on the iPod as a patent, but squeezing your fingers together to make something smaller is just too logical of a progression from clicking on a corner to make it smaller (click drag in, squeeze both sides in. Bill

nighthawke
nighthawke like.author.displayName 1 Like

i was using touch screens when i worked at a cabinet factory in early 2000. it has now become base tech just like toilets or stoves. they may look different but they all work the same way

jeffpk
jeffpk like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Quite some time ago the Patent office gave up on examining patents for validity. They just grant anything thats written in the proper form and le the courts sort it out. That Apple has registered this patent is in no way any indication it would hold up in a suit.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Good going Jobs, now you can start charing the clone makers for ripping you off. Most iHaters will now be very upset with you, so we have to be careful that they don't stat a riot like they did in Vancouver. They hate to lose. (This blog post will be pulled, Tech P will find a way! )

brafford.chris
brafford.chris like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Should they pull it for blatant flaunting of the truth, or the fact that you just claimed the riots in Vancouver were caused by people that dislike Apple... Is Apple paying Bell Labs for allowing their consumers to even touch a device with more than one finger (or IBM for even having a touch screen at all)? Is Apple paying Pierre Wellner for multi-touch and pinching motions? And what about Microsoft or Mitsubishi that used many of these same "patents" in 2001 when they started their respective table top multi touch projects? Apple simply doesn't seem to have any claim on the patent rights for this. That isn't to say they don't make a fantastic product, but claiming everyone is "ripping off" Apple is a little naive and far-fetched.

Hazydave
Hazydave

... the concepts in Apple's iOS UI, and Microsoft's Surface, were all nicely shown back in 2002's "Minority Report". And not so curiously, both companies statred showing off their gesture-based stuff in 2007... just enough time to have seen the film, gathered their forces, got approval and engineed a subset of what you saw in the film, for real. This is why patents can't universally apply to concepts, only very specific implementations. Sounds like the Apple patent is way too broad, and of course, once granted, a company's opinion is that it now applies to everyone. Expect to see Apple suing Steven Speilberg real soon now.

FAST!!!
FAST!!! like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Wouldn't it be nice to have a patent on blog commenting and received a royalty for every comment made?

Robiisan
Robiisan

I just filed the patent application at the USPTO website! :-)

nwallette
nwallette

Sorry ... But this really should be rejected. Nice try though.

tbrown
tbrown like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 6 Like

And Ford should have patented tires. This is absurd. How is patenting a technology that's one of the new standard input norms anything but blatant monopolism?

acmp
acmp like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

Why is the entire background a link to an advert? I click the page to get focus so I can scroll it and another web page opens. Not good TR, think about your users please.

nwallette
nwallette

I still can't read comments in Condensed form. The subjects aren't clickable. This happened shortly after the whole site redesign. This doesn't happen with Firefox, just Chrome. Anyone else see this, or is there something wrong with my installation? (Doesn't seem to cause trouble anywhere else...)

Robiisan
Robiisan like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I remember another reader's comments about "stealth advertising" links, "hidden" where you don't realize they exist and suddenly find yourself looking at marketing bilge and wondering what happened to the article you were trying to read. It's a real good way to lose dedicated, long-term subscribers and advocates. Recommend TR to other professionals and peers? Not while this is going on ar at least not without warning them strenuously about the covert marketing tactics. :-(

naviathan
naviathan like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 5 Like

that companies can make such broad patents. You want to patent your idea, fine, patent your idea, but don't make the patents so broad that they could cover your product and everyone else's that's remotely similar. Patents destroy innovation and competition. If you want to make it big, build something new, then continually improve upon it to stay ahead of the pack.

cybershooters
cybershooters

I'm no fan of Apple but I think they have a point - they definitely had the multi-touch screen first and if they got a patent on it, that patent should be enforced. This isn't a patent on touchscreens, it's a patent on multi-touch touchscreens. I can't honestly believe some of the comments in this thread, if this patent win is upsetting you, I have a feeling you're going to be very upset indeed when HP gets memristors into PCs.

brafford.chris
brafford.chris like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-touch Check the history section. I have yet to come across an example of a technology that Apple "invented". Apple takes young or overlooked technologies and expands them then files for patent rights to stifle competition. There is huge value in this technique, as can be seen by the sales and revenue generated by the iPhone and iPad, I hardly see how granting this patent does anything other than hurt consumers; not having it certainly hasn't hurt Apple as it skyrocketed to the 2nd highest capitalized company in the world. All apple did is expand the market of multi-touch and give it wider exposure, that hardly deserves a patent. I agree with others here, this is an example of patent abuse, and a 20th century patent office that pays it's officers by the number of patents they push through not on the merits of the patent itself.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Did Microsoft gains market share by innovation? The sad truth is that Microsoft gains some of its market share by shady back-room deals and by threatening and intimidating its own customers. Is Windows 95 is innovative? The alleged innovations in Windows'95 were "borrowed" from other operating systems. Microsoft invented DOS? There were many Disk Operating Systems before Microsoft. IBM had DOS for its then-small System/360 mainframes as far back as 1964. The DOS that we know and hate today was not even written by Microsoft. Seattle Computer's SC-DOS becomes MS-DOS

ASPBotha
ASPBotha like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 7 Like

I wonder who patented the car's steering wheel ??? Just wondering if we would have had more lawsuits than cars if that was the case... I do not believe that basic human gestures and the ability to use natural functionality, which enables the consumer to better communicate and use these devices, should be impaired by stupid laws and patents... and the only winner will be..... The legal buzzards ofcourse!!!

Loggies
Loggies like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 8 Like

This patent is very much like claiming that drawing a line in the sand with your finger i.s.o using a stick is a new invention. Pressure sensitive screens have been invented ages ago and people have been using their fingers as pointing/touching/scrolling devices since the beginning. The old iPaq and palm pda's just provided a stylus as one of the input options. In what essential characteristic is Apples "invention" a new and unique extension of technology ? The problem with patents at the moment is that , in stead of "stimulating and protecting innovation" as its protagonists claim, it has become a method of stifling innovation. One can't avoid doubting the level of technical competence in the patent office....

helpdeskloser
helpdeskloser like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 6 Like

There absolutely no reason to have software patents, it is undermining technological development. What people don't understand is patents are very different than copyright. They allow companies to monopolize and "idea", not just specific code. If patents had been around in DaVinci's era, airplane manufacturers would still be paying his family for the production in airplanes.

MacNewton
MacNewton

A software programer has a new idea for software that will be a game changer, lets say he lives in a little town next to Steve Jobs. He goes over to Steve one day and sells his "patented"new program. Steve buys the program for 10 Million US. Now Apple incorporates this new program into the next iPhone. So far this is all done in the USA, making money for all American people. Now lets go into the future of the year 2015, and in some low life back room programer in Moscow reverse engineered that same bit of programing and sold it on the black market for 10,000.00 Chinese Yuans. Then a year later, that same little program shows up in that new smartphone android based smarphone from china.. Now Apple sues the pants off them and wins a ton of cash. Without that software patent, Apple would lose. And you say "There absolutely no reason to have software patents" think again, you just cost your country millions of revenue.

tbostwick
tbostwick like.author.displayName 1 Like

Apple invented, created, developed & manufactured the device - closed book, end of story, and they will win the lawsuits (great news too)> We've lived in a copy-cat world for too long, and it's nice to see (for a change) something as simple as a patent, get put to good use. It's the reason why companies and inventors still submit to this organization - not just to waste time and "hope" that it'll pass, but to get paid and put their stamp on their creations. Bravo -

redts
redts like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Surprises me that Jobs ain't patented the patent process! Losers sue for patent rights, winners pay the losers a pittance. God knows he has little else to offer except copying other technologies, then using his money to grab the patent before they do - lmao. Little Apple versus the mighty Microsoft = lost battle. Little Apple versus the world-taking Android = lost battle. Common denominator = 'little' (and always will be). Jobs - dream on boy - dream on and keep being a little loser. ;-)

MacNewton
MacNewton

Apple has in its bank an estimated $70billion in cash, which can buy Nokia ($22.6b), RIM ($13.8b), HTC ($25.4b), Motorola ($4.2b) and Sony Ericsson ($3b) and still have change of $1billion to spare.

Jayton
Jayton like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 5 Like

All non-US based companies (Samsung, Nokia, HTC etc ) should drop support for sales over there and concentrate their efforts in the rest of the world, leaving the US with inferior products and less choice. Quite simple.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Samsung, Nokia, HTC needs the sales to stay alive Jayton. Quite simple.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

"portable devices that translate displayed content in response to detected finger gestures" Seriously? This is a patent on moving the screen contents as a response to touching a display? How is this even possible to patent? This is not a technology. This is like putting a patent on "drag and drop". Next we'll see a patent on scroll bars and buttons.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Everything we do on our computers, has a patent, Even the power on button has a patent.

Robiisan
Robiisan

I know one finger gesture the iPhone can't respond to... :-( Personally I think almost anything Apple is a hemorrhoid! Everytime I view a stupid QuickTime video clip, it automatically reloads my registry with the little, what do they call them - applet?, that continually checks for updates to the QT program, sucking up resources unnecessarily. I agree with gtatransam@... about Apple creating negative atmospheric pressure and Mr. Jobs becoming the marshmallow in Satan's S'mores!

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

You can keep Quicktime from auto-updating by going through the user interface to disable the auto-update. Edit -> preferences -> quicktime pref -> update. Bill

joseph.r.piazza
joseph.r.piazza

I believe you ruin your own argument. Example, finger gestures, I do not consider the "spreading of thumb and forefinger" for zooming in to be a normal human gesture nor do I consider swiping, rapidly downward to be a normal human gesture for paging down or flipping a book. Finally your comment on drag and drop which I believe Apple sued Microsoft over for Windows 3.1 and Scroll bar and buttons completely kills everything you stated. Scroll bar and buttons is how computers have been doing in for past 15 years..so anything different is a new approach or idea. The problem with patents whenever one is shown in the press for a "milestone" invention is that they apply to ideas, and are submitted with badly, ill conceived diagrams. Well if the patent applies to something manufactured, than a working prototype with more detailed diagram should be submiited within a few years. Otherwise you patent could apply to a non-feasible, non-manufacturable design that you conceived

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

That is half of the marketing strategy for Apple. It's natural intuitive gestures. Pulling the sides of something to stretch it into a bigger object is natural. Putting your finger on something and expecting it to slide in the direction your finger moves is natural. Just because someone was sued for something doesn't mean that it is a valid argument. I believe that Apple lost the suit against Microsoft so that would lead me to believe that the court system also found this to be an invalid patent. Bill

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