The iPhone Patent: Apple Awarded Multi-Touch Patent

During the first-quarter earnings call, Apple’s No. 2 and acting CEO, Tim Cook had warned competitors of legal battle if they try to rip off their intellectual property.

Though Cook had not named any company, it was widely speculated that he was referring to Palm’s Pre as it had features like multi-touch which were similar to the iPhone.

Palm had even gone on the defensive by commenting on that statement: “Apple was not the first to do multi-touch, If faced with legal action, we are confident that we have the tools necessary to defend ourselves.”

If there is indeed a legal battle then things are set to get a lot more difficult as the U.S. Patent Office has just awarded Apple the multi-touch patent.

When the news was first reported it was not entirely clear what specific intellectual property Apple thought Palm was infringing. However, it was speculated that it was something to do with iPhone’s multi-touch feature as Palm’s Pre has features like multi-touch which was later confirmed by Palm’s comment.

The patent application which consists of 371 pages was described as “The iPhone Patent” by Engadget is titled as follows:

Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics

The patent has Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall listed in the list of inventors. The patent application had implementation details of the revolutionary multi-touch feature of the iPhone. The initial patent abstract is as follows:

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.

Palm had earlier commented to Tim Cook’s statement:

“Palm has a long history of innovation that’s reflected in our products
and robust patent portfolio, and we have long been recognized for our
fundamental patents in the mobile space,”

With the multi-touch patent awarded to Apple by the U.S. Patent Office, it puts Palm on a sticky wicket.

It was actually good to see Palm
Pre get positive reviews when it was announced at CES 2009 earlier in the month. It appeared to be a serious contender to
the iPhone which would have ultimately forced Apple to take a more
aggressive path to innovation though I must admit they have showed time and again with their iMac, Macbook and iPod product lines that they
don’t need an external push to innovate. Palm Pre would have at least kept them

It will be interesting to see Apple’s next move. We will keep you posted if there are any further updates on this developing story.

[World of Apple via MacRumors]