Apple granted major iPhone Multi-Touch patent; rival smartphone makers could face big trouble

“Apple has been awarded its long sought-after patent on the iPhone,” Damon Poeter reports for PC Magazine. “Intellectual property experts say it’s so broad and far-reaching that the iPhone maker may be able to bully other smart phone manufacturers out of the U.S. market entirely.”

MacDailyNews Take: Since when is protecting what’s yours considered “bullying?”

Poeter reports, “Some three-and-a-half years after filing for a patent on the iPhone, Apple on Tuesday was awarded U.S. patent number 7,966,578 for ‘[a] computer-implemented method, for use in conjunction with a portable multifunction device with a touch screen display, [that] 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.'”

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“It gets quite a bit more technical in its full form, but there’s one thing patent experts consulted by PCMag agree on—Apple has been awarded an incredibly broad patent that could prove to be hugely problematic for other makers of capacitive touch-screen smartphones,” Poeter reports. “Apple’s patent essentially gives it ownership of the capacitive multitouch interface the company pioneered with its iPhone, said one source who has been involved in intellectual property litigation on similar matters. That’s likely to produce a new round of lawsuits over the now-ubiquitous multitouch interfaces used in smartphones made by the likes of HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Research in Motion, Nokia, and others that run operating systems similar in nature to Apple’s iOS, like Google’s Android, said the source, who asked not to be named.”

Poeter reports, “What’s more, the patent seems broad enough in scope to cover virtually any mobile device with an interface that incorporates the finger movements used to operate Apple’s touchscreen devices, the source said. That means tablets that are similar to Apple’s iPad, and media players with iPod Touch-like interfaces could also be targets for Apple’s legal team.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: MacDailyNews Take: This time around, there’s no poorly-written contract signed by an unprepared sugared water salesbozo.” Wherever Google and any other iPhone wannabe infringes on their patented intellectual property, Apple should make them pay dearly.

Google’s going to rue the day they got greedy by deciding to try to work against Apple instead of with them.

We’ve been pushing the state-of-the-art in every facet of design… We’ve been innovating like crazy for the last few years on this and we’ve filed for over 200 patents for all of the inventions in iPhone. And we intend to protect them.Apple CEO Steve Jobs when unveiling iPhone, January 9, 2007

We like competition as long as they don’t rip off our IP, in which case we will go after them. We will not stand for having our IP ripped-off and we will use any weapons at our disposal [to stop it].Apple COO Tim Cook, January 21, 2009

The amount of time patents and patent infringement litigation takes is criminal. How useful is the patent system patent if companies can copy at will, amass market share, and operate businesses based on theft for years and years unabated?

Related articles:
Apple awarded huge ‘multi-touch’ patent covering iPhone, iPod touch – January 26, 2009
Apple COO Tim Cook puts Palm, others on notice: ‘We will not stand for having our IP ripped off’ – January 21, 2009
Apple patent application details Multi-Touch™ swipe gestures for iPhone touch screen keyboard – December 26, 2008
Apple’s advantage: iPhone multi-touch patent – June 20, 2007
Apple’s iPhone well protected by patents – May 25, 2007

73 Comments

    1. re “1. Apple invented it.”

      Did they? I’m all for Apple (or anyone) being able to defend “REAL” IP — but the US patent scene is so full of fluff, generalities, tiny variations and nonsense.

      How did pre-existing touch-screens work? Is the iPhone so totally different? Or is it more like Apple being the first transfer an already existing technology to phones, refining and improving it in the process? I’m not suggesting it is. I don’t know. This is simply a question.

      1. Look at phones before the iPhone.

        Look at phones after the iPhone.

        That’s what innovation looks like. It was a complete re-invention. That’s exactly what the patent system was designed to protect.

      2. No they did not invent Capacitive touch.

        They were however the first to bring it to market in an awesome product and ‘put it on the map’ so to speak.

        If not for the iPhone we’d all still be kludging along with the Black Berry and a round plastic ball in the middle of our phones!

        1. Apple didn’t invent the touch screen technology. They didn’t “invent” sticking that technology on a phone. They invented — in the very real sense of the word — the ways in which we interact with the device. This is not an “obvious” invention (in hindsight it seems so, just like the light bulb or telephone seem obvious to us). The only thing preventing Nokia, RIM or Microsoft from making a similar phone back in 2006, was that this model for interaction had not yet been invented. And they didn’t invent it themselves. They all copied the inventor.

          1. I pretty much agree with you.

            Gestures had already been invented and demonstrated on computers in the early 80s. Pinch to zoom to demonstrated in the same time frame.

            Really the technology has been sitting there for years in various research papers, hardware demos, patents and existing products to some degree. MS , Nokia or anyone else could have been the one had they been visionary enough to see it.

            It was Apple who took the time to collect up all these pieces, refresh and update some of them and bring it all together in a complete package.

            I agree they invented the modern smartphone interface as we know and use it.

            It does seem trivial now, funny how inventions are like that.

      3. I had a pocketpc prior to the iPhone being invented.
        There was NO such thing as multi gesture, everything was taps. dragging swiping two points of control… None of that.

      4. Take a touchscreen device that was available prior to the original iPhone (not that there were very many that didn’t require a stylus to be remotely usable) and touch two places on the screen at once and see what happens.

        MultiTouch on a phone was first done by Apple. All of these phones that have come later with their (often weak) implementations multitouch and gestures are COPIES of what Apple did first with the iPhone.

        Anyone disagreeing with that is simply a delusional fan of another company or a delusional hater of Apple.

  1. Good news, but patent litigation can take decades to sort out. I was just reading about the Polaroid suit against Kodak. Polaroid invented instant photography. Kodak came out with their clone. Polaroid sued them just three days later… And despite overwhelming evidence (and an utter win in court), it was decades before Kodak had to pay. Meanwhile, google and all the other fake iPhone sell their crap to unsuspecting buyers while Apple did all the hard work to make such devices possible. It’s really not fair.

      1. Yep. They had to shut down manufacturing. Pull them off the shelves.

        They offered their customers Instamatics so they weren’t stuck with dead-end hardware.

        It cost them something like $1 billion (early 1980s dollars!).

    1. While it is true that it took forever in Polaroid v Kodak for the penalties to be assessed, Kodak was forced to cease production and sales of the offending cameras and film long before the penalties were decided. (They gave away the unsaleable cameras with a bunch of film to employees, with employees understanding the condition that once the film was gone, it was gone, and that the camera was a useless antique.)

      Sure, Apple deserves damages (money) from the infringers. However, forcing the competition to completely redesign their product to use some other screen technology (resistive screen with stylus, anyone?) will cripple them in the marketplace.

      P.S. I was a contract employee at Kodak back in those days.

  2. So does this mean that if you invent something- nobody can copy it unless they seek permission from the inventor? I bet the inventor can even license the technology if they choose… or they can tell you to pound sand.

    All sarcasm aside- this is great news for Apple. If it wasn’t for iPhone- these clone “things” would even exist. They’d all still be using little trackballs & that wonderful stylus.

    1. However, the patent holder licenses one company, it has to offer licenses to the patented technology at comparable prices to all who ask.

      That was the heart of the case Apple lost to Nokia within the past week. Nokia wanted more from Apple than they were charging other companies. Apple went ahead an infringed on the Nokia patents, knowing they would be sued. When Nokia did sue, Apple counter sued about the higher license rates. Nokia won, but was forced to offer Apple licenses at rates similar to other companies.

      Patent law and the games it fosters are very complex and convoluted to us mere mortals.

      1. “has to offer licenses to the patented technology at comparable prices to all who ask”

        Wrong. Normally the patent-holder can license to only people/companies they choose.

        Nokia was the special case where they had allowed the patents to be included in certain communications standards. Part of that process involved them having to agree to offer licenses to all companies attempting to use the standard under RAND (Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory) terms. Nokia voluntarily chose to agree to this to increase the number of companies that would use the patents because they were part of a standard. That was a contractual obligation, not an obligation created by patent law.

    2. And this is what the smart companies will do with Apple – simply license the patent and carry on with their products.

      Now Google just isn’t that smart, so it may end up being an all-out battle between Apple and Google. And since Google has a very small patent portfolio, . . . .

      1. Apple isn’t a technology licensing company, and has said as much. Their business in developing and selling integrated solutions.

        My guess is they will want to keep these innovations as their own. Just like they had wanted to keep the GUI /window approach to desktop computing to themselves, but failed to protect it properly.

  3. This is going to be fascinating to watch play out. Does Apple crush competition, or do they decide to license for added income. Unfortunately, there would be an ugly backlash in public perception of Apple if they tried to crush Android at this point. Google will be quick to point out how Android is “OPEN” and Android is “FREE”, and now big bad Apple wants to take it away from you.

    1. +1
      There are already so many fools who will never buy an Apple product for some nebulous reason they can’t seem to explain aside from “I hate Apple.” If they’re seen as bullies, it will come around to bite them.

    2. I know nothing about licensing but, if licensing means sharing Apple’s own implementation details with those paying for the license then I believe Apple will go for the “crush competition” choice.

    3. If I were apple, I’d do two things.

      Make google come out and publicly state they violated apples patents, making all android devices prior to today’s date perform a forced update that disables all the patent violating stuff.
      Then all android devices sold after this date, pay a licensing fee. And all new manuals and such state that all gestures etc are all licensed from apple.

      And charge android $100 per phone to license it.

      Make google decide if they want to take all the old devices back, and pay out of pocket to upgrade users to newer licensed phones… Or tell them they now have to pay for a new phone of they want touch stuff.

      If they just accept a licensing fee, google kinda wins. Cheat first, agree to pay a small fee later…

    4. I doubt Apple can simply sue everyone and force them to stop production of their devices without inviting an anti-trust investigation. Nor does Apple care – it can simply force other device manufacturers to pay a hefty licensing fee per device, effectively making it impossible for them to compete with Apple in terms of price anyway.

      More and more, Google’s “free” Android software is not looking like such a good deal (but not that companies like Motorola had much choice).

    1. I mar be wrong but I thought RIM’s Storm used resistive touch screen technology, that’s why they can offer haptic feedback. You can’t do that with a capacitive touch screen. So RIM should be ok.

  4. what is amazing is that all these companies just thought they could use/copy Apple’s technology without any sort of compensation to Apple. Apple has a huge legal staff……….they are going to need it.

    1. “The amount of time patents and patent infringement litigation takes is criminal. How useful is the patent system patent if companies can copy at will, amass market share, and operate businesses based on theft for years and years unabated?”

      Government sponsored theft really sucks.

      1. The problem is society and technology is moving at a rapid pace and the legal system can’t keep up. Look at performance enhancing and recreational designer drugs. If the legal medical and educational systems would come inho the 21st century a lot of problems would evaporate.

    2. I suspect that without the Patent in hand. Companies such as Google, Palm, RIM, MS saw a window of opportunity to copy and get a foothold in the market. Maybe Apple’s patent would be rejected. The ball is now in Apple’s court. It’s going to be interesting to see what Apple does with this.

  5. Before Apple phones looked and worked in a completely different way. The industry leaders, spending billions on R&D didn’t figure this stuff out. Apple made the investment, putting smart people and a lot of money into the development of hundreds of design and technology innovations to completely re-invent the phone as we know it. The new approach Apple developed for the iPhone is as innovative and novel as Polaroid’s SX-70 model for instant photography was in it’s day.

    This us exactly what the patent system was created for. To incentivize the development of new inventions. To protect, for a limited time, the inventor’s ability to profit from that invention.

  6. Android has pays licensing to Microsoft, may need to pay Nokia, may need to pay Oracle (for Java license) and now may need to pay Apple, if Apple sues and prevails.

    Android may become too expensive for manufacturers with low margins.

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