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Apple Awarded Patent For iPhone Interface 449

Posted by kdawson
from the can't-touch-that dept.
Toe, The writes "Apple's 358-page patent application for their iPhone interface entitled Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics has been approved after more than two years of review by the US Patent Office. Apple's claims include: '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.' As Apple seems eager to defend their intellectual property, what will this mean to other touch developers?"
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Apple Awarded Patent For iPhone Interface

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  • Waiting.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by adonoman (624929) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:12AM (#26618069)

    It means 20 years of waiting for the patent to expire before this kind of interface can be advanced at all.

    • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:20AM (#26618123) Journal

      Sadly, I think you are right. Since I loathe iWTFever, I suppose I'll not be using any touchscreen devices anytime soon. Shame. This will be much like getting a patent on a brake pedal, IMO.

      Sometimes a patent is not such a good thing for the public. I hope that this doesn't turn out to be one of those times.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        the other possibility is that with this type of patent, there will be swifter reform that rejects it

      • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:03AM (#26618691) Journal

        Sometimes a patent is not such a good thing for the public.

        I'm curious if a patent ever is a good thing for the public. it really only ever seems to do exactly this.

        I mean, look at this. It's clearly Apple's IP. It's clearly a new invention.

        It's also clear that Apple has already gained the competitive advantage a patent is supposed to provide, without the patent.

        Which means that all the patent does, in this case, is retard progress for twenty years by preventing anyone else from beginning to compete with the iPhone. It's the difference between building new and exciting interfaces that start with the iPhone and expand beyond it, and instead having everyone else have to build ugly hacks to avoid infringing on that patent even when the iPhone is a horribly obsolete product.

        Patents should last the amount of time it takes to bring a product to market. That's a year, maybe two or three. Not fifteen or twenty.

        • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mysidia (191772) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:17AM (#26618751)

          Truly.

          Where would we be if the creator of the first spider patented the concept of a spider building a searchable index of web sites, and a web form being utilized to query said database?

          Google, Yahoo, etc could have never been born, due to the inevitable litigation that would kill those portals before they got started.

          • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:38AM (#26618853) Journal

            It's worth mentioning that this trend is not only in software. It's easiest to see here, because software moves so much faster, and it's so completely misunderstood by the patent office. But it's not just in software, and it's not recent.

            I'm sure someone less lazy than me will find the appropriate paper -- it discussed the development of the first steam engines, often used as an example of the patent system working -- but it illustrates just how clearly the patent system did not work here. Specifically, two competing steam companies couldn't use each other's improvements, so they had to work out less effective, more wasteful workarounds just to avoid being sued.

            I often sit and wonder about the cases where this truly causes harm -- suppose someone patented an affordable, powerful, stylish 100 mpg car (urban legend, I know). We'd have 20 more years of other car companies selling gas guzzlers because the one company sat on that patent. Or suppose it was medicine -- you'd have people dying because they couldn't afford the prices of the main supplier, and their competitors couldn't use the formula.

            I know I'm talking to myself, but I think I might also be talking myself into releasing my open source projects as public domain.

            • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Mattsson (105422) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @04:06AM (#26618989) Homepage Journal

              Or suppose it was medicine -- you'd have people dying because they couldn't afford the prices of the main supplier, and their competitors couldn't use the formula.

              This is happening all the time.

              • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice&gmail,com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @06:50AM (#26619931)
                Would the research get done if the investment was not protected?
                • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by peragrin (659227) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @07:51AM (#26620317)

                  yes.

                  Wilbur and orville wright waited a couple of years before they announced they could fly so the patents would clear. At that same time dozens of hobbists were working out how to fly repeatably around the world.

                  Most inventions are a product of their time. Necessity drove them to be created. More than one person was trying to figure it out anyways, as they saw money from selling said product.

                  Patents should exist, but should depend on the market. Software patents shouldn't last 3 years as then they are out of date. medications 5-7, and if you actually build something maybe 10.

              • Re:Waiting.. (Score:4, Insightful)

                by m0s3m8n (1335861) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @08:34AM (#26620587)
                Developing new drugs costs LOTS of money. I work for a group of Eye docs (Retina specialists) who take part in a lot of new drug trials. Just on our end alone we employ three full time staff to administer these programs (1 RN, 1 Tech, 1 sec). Beyond that we also have reviewers from the drug companies coming on site to review our charts and records. AND THIS IS JUST FOR THE END STAGE OF THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS at one small doctor's office. I can't fathom how much money gets spent before this.
                • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by DrgnDancer (137700) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @10:43AM (#26621927) Homepage

                  I think the drug companies illustrate two interesting point about the current patent system. Not just what is wrong, but what is right as well.

                  First, drug patents are awarded for the same 20 years as technology patents, but exclusivity is only for 7 years in most cases. This is to improve innovation in a field where we have a pretty clear public interest in keeping things moving. The original point here was not so much that patents were a bad idea per se, but more that they should probably be shorter. The exclusivity stuff for drugs kinda show how that could be a very good this for innovation.

                  Second, drug patents are VERY specific. If company A has a patent to reduce heart irregularities by combining compound XYZ with compound CZF, and company B comes along and tries to patent controlling heart irregularities by combining compound XYZ with compound ABC, no one is going to argue that Company B's patent is infringing on Company A's. Both companies had reason to think that with the right additive XYZ could control heart irregularities, both were right, and since they used different additives it's not a problem. If these same two patents were for software, there'd be all kinds of arguments about how similar or dissimilar they were, whether one was derived from the other, etc.

                  This shows two points in my mind. First, it seems likely that in a world where product cycles can be measured in years or even months, 20 years is too long for a patent. The iPhone will be an obsolete brick in 20 years, why not allow others to benefit from its innovations after it is no longer a commodity itself (and I say this as an iPhone owner and moderate fan of Apple's work). Second, patents should be granted in such a way as to maximize addition innovation in the field. Granting very general "A method for entering data with your fingers" kind of patent hurts innovation more than it helps. Now, Apple's application for this patent is over 250 pages, so it is probably is very specific. I don't know that this point necessarily applies to this particular patent (at over 250 pages I didn't read it), but we HAVE seen some very obvious and VERY general patents granted in this field. That creates situations where companies are afraid to innovate because they can't tell if they're in violation of a patent or not. If software patents looked more like drug patents, it might be a lot better for everyone.

                     

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by cecille (583022)
                  Depends on the drug. If it's just a copy-cat style drug (viagra->cialis), the company will just comb through known chemicals for similar structure etc. and skip the preliminary research stage altogether. Of course, they still need to confirm safety / some efficacy before clinical, but the major cost in such a case would be clinical. Same when using the same drug for different uses (wellbutrin/zyban). The development would START at a stage 2 or 3 or even "stage 4" clinical trial stage when the new app
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by DerekLyons (302214)

              I'm sure someone less lazy than me will find the appropriate paper -- it discussed the development of the first steam engines, often used as an example of the patent system working -- but it illustrates just how clearly the patent system did not work here. Specifically, two competing steam companies couldn't use each other's improvements, so they had to work out less effective, more wasteful workarounds just to avoid being sued.

              Sure, if you look you can find instances like that where the patent system faile

            • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Marcos Eliziario (969923) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @06:56AM (#26619975) Homepage Journal

              Or maybe other companies could license this engine. Conceivable, you could even have small engine motor shops, that would invest on designing innovative engines, only to license them to big manufacturing companies.
              Without patents, such a small company would never had a chance against giants like Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen or Peugeot-Citroen* because they would steal the idea and come to market first.
              This is not the case with this patent. But it's not like all patents should be eliminated, there are clearly cases where a patent is useful for the society as a whole

              • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @10:06AM (#26621409) Homepage

                Conceivable, you could even have small engine motor shops, that would invest on designing innovative engines, only to license them to big manufacturing companies.

                That's... optimistic. When SmallBlock Ltd goes to Zaibatsu Motor Industries and Fish Gutting Mega Concern Incorporated waving their handful of patents, they'll get a hundred waved back at them.

                Which is why patent trolls thrive: you can't be countersued if you don't produce anything. So SmallBlock Ltd live long enough to make a minor "invention", sells it to Trollcorp, and vanishes in a puff of stock options. Trollcorp mugs Zaibatsu, who pay up to settle the suit, and then throw the "invention" on the huge slush pile of ideas that their thousands of in house engineers will ignore anyway because it's Not Invented Here.

                Nobody benefits from that. There may be a very few exceptions where the patent system plays out in the favour of a genuine inventor [guardian.co.uk], but I'd have to see more case studies to believe that's a statistically significant outcome.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by psnyder (1326089)
              Perhaps some investments take 20 years of net profits to make paying for the R & D worthwhile.

              Perhaps if there was no possibility to patent steam engine developments, the producers wouldn't have started selling them until they were sure they could make a product that wouldn't be reverse engineered immediately. If it could, someone else may start producing and push them out of business almost immediately.

              It's like the Wright brothers waiting on the patent (a couple of comments above) before they ann
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Zordak (123132)

            Where would we be if the creator of the first spider patented the concept of a spider

            I'm pretty sure that God had the spider market cornered for more than 20 years, even without a patent.

        • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Mattsson (105422) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @04:00AM (#26618951) Homepage Journal

          I mean, look at this. It's clearly Apple's IP. It's clearly a new invention.

          What is the new invention?
          The interface itself? Hmm. Maybe, but an idea of how to arrange graphical objects on a screen shouldn't be patentable.

          The actual touchscreen? Well... I haven't seen many solid glass touchscreens before, but I have seen them, only bigger. It might be an evolution or adaption of an old invention. If it's a new way of designing touchscreens, that exact design is indeed something that should be patentable.

          The act of registering more than one finger at once on a touchscreen? Might be a new idea, but hardly a new invention and it should definitely not be patentable.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MrCrassic (994046)

          It's clearly a new invention.

          iPhone is not a new invention. In fact, LG had problems with Apple for a while because on their Prada phone, which uses a very similar design. The most inventive element is probably the UI, and I'm sure that this was inspired by some other design as well.

          It's definitely an innovation, and a very good one at that.

        • Re:Waiting.. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Junta (36770) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @09:13AM (#26620861)

          I mean, look at this. It's clearly Apple's IP. It's clearly a new invention.

          Except for those pesky people who did it before dating back to 1984.

          Seriously, Apple's patent is an instance of "something-already-done . . . on a phone!" As ridiculous as the large number of "on the internet" patents.

          I do agree with you that the duration of phases of patents are fubar. For instance, the time between application and granting of a patent is absurdly long. This means a potential small business owner that wants more assurances than "patent pending" may avoid committing to that endeavor. Then after bing granted, there is a conundrum. For a product like the iPhone and generally large companies, the protection is much longer than required to let the originator benefit. On the other hand, for a small business, a three year term may not be enough for them to barely get off the ground.

    • Re:Waiting.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Corpuscavernosa (996139) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:23AM (#26618151)
      Dude it's only EIGHTEEN years (20 years from the filing date). See, doncha feel better now?
    • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sentry21 (8183) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:25AM (#26618169) Journal

      Right, because Apple's been well-known lately to rest on its laurels.

      The whole point of patents is to reward and encourage innovation. I don't recall having seen anything like the iPhone until the iPhone came out; all the companies since are just jumping on the bandwagon, and generally doing so pretty poorly.

      The patent seems like it might be pretty broad, but it seems to basically cover touch 'gestures'. Developers should be able to innovate their way around that specific interface - unless, of course, no one else out there is up to the task of innovating.

      • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by fabs64 (657132) <beaufabry+slashdot,org&gmail,com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:46AM (#26618299)

        Considering the rapid movement of the tech industry, doesn't 18 YEARS seem like a fairly significant time to stop anyone else from using your innovation as a foundation for further innovation?

        Also "innovate their way around" is one of the craziest phrases I've ever read. We're happy to waste creative energy on getting around artificial restrictions now rather than simply creating?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Shikaku (1129753)

          Technology is pretty fast. 18 years in terms of technology, especially computers, is almost like an eternity. If we can't develop new touchscreens or other COMMON things because of patents, then patents are not very helpful. If it were up to me, I would make patents expire in 2 years concerning all things technological, including and especially software.

      • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Fallen Seraph (808728) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:13AM (#26618437)

        Right, because Apple's been well-known lately to rest on its laurels.

        Yeah! Apple's multi-touch tablet notebook is totally the best thing on the market!
        What's that? Oh, I'm sorry, I'm being told that they don't even have so much as a traditional tablet with a digitizer, let alone one with multi-touch.

        Here's what you're not getting: From the looks of it, this patent basically gives them exclusive rights to a multi-touch gesture system. Now I ask you, how exactly are you going to make an alternative UI for a touch screen that does not use gestures? Or even different kinds of gestures for that matter. Gestures work because of innate instincts and preconceptions about the physical world, as well as our own assumptions. The law cannot change what works and what doesn't as a gesture. Do you really want to have, let's say 3 multi-touch devices, each of which are forced to use 3 different gestures for the same damn action just because they're from different companies?

        In theory, patents are great, but in reality, they've never really worked the way they were supposed to. In the beginning, it was almost impossible to enforce a patent (see Evan's Mill, or the Cotton Gin), and now, it's too easy to do so. 20 years is a long damn time, and the end result is either going to be companies completely ignoring the patent, or Apple setting back any significant developments with this particular technology by DECADES. Think about it, decades.

        You might not realize this, but multi-touch has been around since the early 80s, and one of the reasons no one's cared is because of the patent on it. The reality is that the person/group who invents an innovation is not always the person/group that can best bring it to market, or make the most out of it technologically. Hell, Apple's the one that bought out FingerWorks, the original patent holder for lots of other multi-touch tech, but wasn't really getting anywhere in their implementation. Now imagine for a moment that it was the other way around. A small company named Fingerworks wants to build the iPhone in the mid-00's, but can't because a giant company, Apple, holds the patent, but it kind of floundering in its use. Yeah, that's totally spurring innovation right there.


        To be honest, I hope that Apple's just doing this to collect royalties.

      • Prior art. ??? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TapeCutter (624760) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:23AM (#26618483) Journal
        it seems to basically cover touch 'gestures'

        Circa 1991-2 I was developing for an OS called PenPoint [wikipedia.org], it implemented gestures using "hueristics".
        • Re:Prior art. ??? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tyrione (134248) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @04:53AM (#26619255) Homepage

          Then defend it. What? You never filed a patent on this?

          As I recall Leibniz was to Calculus what Newton was to Calculus. Newton got most of the fame for publishing first and Leibniz notation became the most commonly used notation.

          If Apple didn't patent their work, Microsoft would and claim they invented it first [citing the patent] and screw everyone over.

      • I don't recall having seen anything like the iPhone until the iPhone came out

        Well! That's enough for me! If zappepcs has no knowledge of Prior Art, then it can't exist!

        Thanks for clearing that up for us. Everyone debating the merits of this patent can stop commenting & get back to work now.

      • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:19AM (#26618755) Journal

        The whole point of patents is to reward and encourage innovation.

        And they have failed miserably at that.

        Do you suppose Apple would not have built the iPhone if they couldn't patent its multitouch? Of course not. They'd still have first mover, it'd still have that Apple gleam, and everyone would still want one. And they'd still have carved a large chunk out of the smartphone market -- and expanded it into a large number of people who never wanted a smartphone before -- before anyone else even had a shot.

        What this does is prevent other people from building on that work, without Apple's permission.

        all the companies since are just jumping on the bandwagon, and generally doing so pretty poorly.

        Gee, I wonder why? It couldn't have anything to do with Apple patenting so much of the iPhone that no one else can legally compete with it?

        The patent seems like it might be pretty broad, but it seems to basically cover touch 'gestures'. Developers should be able to innovate their way around that specific interface

        Let's pretend, for a moment, that Xerox had been smart, and patented the GUI. So now everyone has to innovate their way around the mouse?

        Let's not forget: This is about promoting the general welfare, not the welfare of specific companies. And when someone locks some new development up for 18 years, consumers are the ones who suffer.

        Just as an example: I'll bet Apple patented the magnetic cord of the MacBook. That means I won't be able to buy any laptop other than a Macbook for the better part of two decades which has that feature. And they also have iPhone-style multitouch in the touchpad -- probably won't be able to get that anywhere else, either.

        Which means I've lost a significant amount of choice. Because I don't want a Macbook -- Linux doesn't run well on them, they have a single-button touchpad instead of two or three, the keyboard is an Apple keyboard -- great for OS X, sucks for anything else...

        I think, we should just drop patents altogether. They cause more harm than good. It's still possible to exercise first mover's advantage, or compete on quality or price -- unless, of course, no one out there is up to the task of innovating in their business model.

        • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Informative)

          by Kalriath (849904) * on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @04:31AM (#26619115)

          Just as an example: I'll bet Apple patented the magnetic cord of the MacBook

          US patent application number 11/876,733 filed October 22 2007.

          • Re:Waiting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by SnowZero (92219) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @05:25AM (#26619467)

            The sad thing is that those have been on water heaters from Asia for many years, including one I had six years ago. Innovation is cool and all, but taking a plug from a water heater and putting it on a computer isn't beyond what someone "skilled in the field" would come up with. An Apple hardware engineer probably just visited Japan and came up with:

            (1) MAGNETIC CONNECTOR FOR WATER HEATER
            (2) s/WATER HEATER/ELECTRONIC DEVICE/
            (3) profit!

            Someday I hope to see a patent system based on the expected time it would take an engineer to develop something (with the current time as an upper bound). That way some revolutionary Fusion powerplant that takes 30 years to develop can get a long 20-year patent, wheras putting 1+1 together for a magnetic plug for electronics can get a year or two (generous), and the one-click Amazon patent can get the 2-3 months it deserves. Instead, we have a system where if you meet a fairly low bar you get the same 20 years and true breakthroughs in the field.

            • Re:Waiting.. (Score:4, Informative)

              by Kalriath (849904) * on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @06:31AM (#26619821)

              If it helps any, Apple has also patented the Amazon Mechanical Turk (11/729,170), Interactive Blu Ray discs (11/940,297), eCommerce shopping carts (11/898,337), anything which happens to be double shot injection molded (11/782,175), AMD PowerNow technology (11/715,092), Greeting cards with gift cards in them (11/601,292), Microsoft PlaysForSure DRM (11/550,701), ALL Heatsinks (with IBM - 11/344,657), USB battery charging (11/216,321), doing stuff in response to events (11/877,618) and Citrix MetaFrame and every other network bootable OS (10/763,581).

              Usually I like to think that patents do serve a useful purpose. Unfortunately I can no longer hold that opinion after seeing that Apple has patented (or applied to patent) at least seven other companies' products.

              I'd hardly call that innovation. (Even if I did have to oversimplify some of those a bit, it can't be argued that Apple is applying for patents on absolutely obvious crap).

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by db32 (862117)
                And they have sued exactly how many companies for the use of all these patents? This is the same problem that came about because of nuclear weapons. You are forced to build more in case your enemies happen to build more than you, then everyone has to keep building until everyone has enough to destroy the world many times over. You say patenting other companies products, but if they really were other companies products wouldn't those companies have the patents first? Unless of course those other companie
      • by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:21AM (#26618771) Homepage Journal

        The patent seems like it might be pretty broad, but it seems to basically cover touch 'gestures'.

        Hey Apple, patent THIS gesture: ,,|,,
             

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by amRadioHed (463061)

        How were they able to patent gestures? Isn't that something that Microsoft Surface, among others, had first? I love the iPhone interface, but is there really anything brand new there?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Miamicanes (730264)

      > It means 20 years of waiting for the patent to expire before this kind of interface can be advanced at all.

      No, it means Google Android will be the only viable alternative to an iPhone -- in America, at least. Apple can stop HTC from cloning their UI, and they can stop American cell companies from distributing Android phones with an infringing UI pre-installed, but they can't do a damn thing to stop American Android users from downloading code to do it anyway from a server in Bulgaria, Vanatu, Russia, o

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by supernova_hq (1014429)
        Actually, they could sue for damages. This could be in the thousands or even millions depending on popularity and what kind of mood Apple's lawyers are in.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        they can't do a damn thing to stop American Android users from downloading code to do it anyway from a server in Bulgaria, Vanatu, Russia, or anywhere else not subject to the long arm of American patent law.

        Except provide the iPhone as an alternative which doesn't force you to do those things.

        And users don't particularly want to know or care about patent law. They'll just assume Apple is better or smarter than these other phones, and that the iPhone is better.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Arethan (223197)

      Nope! Go get a BlackBerry Storm. Touch screen device that is improved via mechanism to detect difference between touching a widget and pushing a widget. I used to have one of those other touch screen phones, and navigation was a complete pain in the ass. My new phone with the clicky screen is much better, and it still uses multi-touch for on-screen text selection purposes. Interface improved, patent improved, life goes on.

      What we really need is some patent reform to keep up with modern engineering and manuf

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by holt (86624)

        Nope! Go get a BlackBerry Storm. Touch screen device that is improved via mechanism to detect difference between touching a widget and pushing a widget. I used to have one of those other touch screen phones, and navigation was a complete pain in the ass. My new phone with the clicky screen is much better, and it still uses multi-touch for on-screen text selection purposes. Interface improved, patent improved, life goes on.

        You know, it's interesting. I have an iPod Touch and find its interface to be vastly

    • If Apple is willing to license the use of the patent for a royalty fee; sure, it can be advanced by other companies.

    • by Morgaine (4316) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:26AM (#26618499)

      And therefore Apple's patent is invalid, as it fails the test of not closing off the only way of doing something.

      Fingers moving about on a point-detection surface are inherently ambiguous in their meaning, and therefore only a heuristic method can handle the problem -- a deterministic algorithm cannot.

      The USPTO will happily allow you to patent breathing, but that doesn't mean that it will stand up in court.

      It will be interesting to see Apple try to defend their Imaginary Property on this issue.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Carewolf (581105)

      More interesting the phone that inspired the iPhone (or that the iPhone ripped off) the Prada phone now has to be taken off market or pay royalties. How ironic.

  • by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:17AM (#26618103) Homepage Journal

    While many people paint Apple as a friendly company, (who wouldn't sue a school [treehugger.com]), the fact is that COO Tim Cook said recently [techcrunch.com] (at a quarterly earnings conference call):

    We approach this business as a software platform business. We are watching the landscape. We like competition as long as they don't rip off our IP. And if they do, we will go after anyone who does.

    and

    I don't want to talk about any specific company. We are ready to suit up and go against anyone. However, we will not stand for having our IP ripped off.

    • by dangitman (862676) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:20AM (#26618121)
      Yes, but not everybody thinks that the concept of Intellectual Property is inherently evil.
      • Yes, but not everybody thinks that the concept of Intellectual Property is inherently evil.

        Sure - hardly anyone thinks all Intellectual Property laws are inherently evil, but threatening that you "are ready to suit up and go against anyone," is not the actions of a company that's as ethical as Apple like to present itself.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by dangitman (862676)

          but threatening that you "are ready to suit up and go against anyone," is not the actions of a company that's as ethical as Apple like to present itself.

          How? If your ethical system agrees with patents and enforcing them in court, then it's perfectly ethical. It's certainly legal.

      • by bit01 (644603) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:22AM (#26618777)

        Yes, but not everybody thinks that the concept of Intellectual Property is inherently evil.

        Which "concept of intellectual property" are you talking about?

        IP as it is currently implemented in the law? IP in the patent office fantasy land? IP scientifically and rigorously justified to advance the state of the art? IP that protects hard work and not just fishing expeditions? IP that represents true innovation, as recognized by peers and not some bureaucrat? IP that is unambiguous and not handwaving?

        The reality is that the entire patent edifice, as currently implemented, is at the bottom based on a very dubious and entirely arbitrary ideas about what it means to say two ideas are the same or different. It's all hand waving.

        The patent office can't even separate new words from new ideas. Let alone something as utterly trivial as (compared to the universe of ideas) e.g. deciding whether two shades of orange are the same or different.

        Unlike physical property where boundaries between property items are very carefully defined and generally recognized.

        ---

        Patents: When all they've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  • by daybot (911557) * on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:18AM (#26618109)

    A computer-implemented method...

    Oh God, is iPhone becoming self-aware?

    • by microbee (682094)

      Sure, otherwise why does it have an "i" in the name. (just to clarify it DOES NOT mean "idiot")

  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:21AM (#26618127) Homepage Journal

    Apple is the new Microsoft.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tyrotyro (723055)

      Apple is the new Microsoft.

      And like Microsoft, Apple also patents ideas with clear prior art. Take a look at Daniel Stenberg's post about two cases where Apple patented ideas that were included in Rockbox years before [daniel.haxx.se].

  • by Microlith (54737)

    It's basically a patent on how Apple handles scrolling on the iPhone. They've patented:

    - Using a touchscreen to scroll in one dimension
    - Using a touchscreen to scrollin two dimensions
    - Using a touchscreen to shift between items in a list

    Basically, scrolling in your address book, in Safari, and coverflow. The "heuristics" are all about analyzing the inputs and motions in the context of the application, and not interaction with any onscreen element.

    Now it's HTC, Google, and Palm's turn to scramble for prior a

  • Can you patent a hand gesture? A little birdie told me one for these guys...
  • by bschoate (129588) <brad&bradchoate,com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:35AM (#26618229) Homepage

    This patent seems pretty bound to fingers, so multi-touch toe interfaces are wide open, folks!

    • Tomorrow's headlines: Doctor's say athletes foot and planters warts have become worryingly common in the pas few months...
  • Prior art? (Score:2, Informative)

    by xlotlu (1395639)

    How about the Palm gestures [wikipedia.org]?

  • Hope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdIII (1114411) * on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:08AM (#26618409)

    I sincerely hope they are willing to be generous with license agreements to competitors since Apple products suck.

    Yeah, I said SUCK. I already have my DragonArmor vest on, the windows are boarded up, and I think I will survive the siege with a few tons of hot pockets. I await the storm...

    Apple has been so disappointing as they have repeated Sony's mistake about obsessively locking down their products. The iPod on its own is a great product. The software support for it is horrible and Apple has made it incredibly difficult to use anything but iTunes to manipulate the music stored on MY FREAKIN DEVICE. iTunes does not offer the features and abilities I want and I have always found it to be unstable on every system I have put it on.

    There are plenty of other examples, but I don't mention this to bash Apple. Truly I don't. I mention this since it would make it nearly impossible for competition to survive the LawyerPult over at Apple HQ.

    If nobody else can use this technology for 20 years (possibly more since we are going nutso over IP protection) then Apple will have far less motivation to make a great product, develop better software for those products, and service them.

    It's the beginning of a monopoly over a human interface. Any company having that makes it bad for the consumer, but Apple has demonstrated to me, that it already does not care about my needs as a consumer.

    • Re:Hope (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Toonol (1057698) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:17AM (#26618749)
      I don't use a Mac, I use Windows primarily. So my exposure to Apple software is iTunes and Quicktime.

      I can therefore say that every bit of Apple software I've used is atrocious, as bad as anything from Microsoft. I'll mitigate that some by saying that the ipod UI is fine; I don't find it particularly better than most other mp3 players, but no worse.

      I guess that you really need to switch completely over to Apple, to really get the benefits; maybe the Windows versions are partially crippled. Still, while I wouldn't go so far as to say Apple products suck, my experience with them sure isn't selling me on them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by indiechild (541156)

      Sounds like you are better off with Linux or some other free OS/platform.

      I don't think Apple ever really did care about the consumer. Apple makes products that it thinks are awesome; it certainly doesn't care whether the consumer thinks it's awesome. As far as I know, Apple has always been like this.

      It's worked for me so far. I love my Apple products -- my iBook, iPhone, MacBook Pro, Apple TV. They've made life easier for me and given me far more enjoyment and entertainment than other products have.

      Sure, I

  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:40AM (#26618587)

    Ok, so the first version of Firefox's "Mouse Gestures" came out on July 26, 2004 https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addons/versions/39#version-0.9.20040725 [mozilla.org]. Which is before this patent was filed. So if we found evidence of someone using mouse gestures with a touch screen monitor, would that constitute prior art?

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Newton [wikipedia.org]

    Oh... wait.

    Well, software patents still suck.

  • Don't you think Jeff Han might just have some prior art on this? This link http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jeff_han_demos_his_breakthrough_touchscreen.html [ted.com] shows his multitouch interface more than a year before Apple came out with their iPhone and before the Apple patent was filed.
    • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @05:44AM (#26619593)

      Jeff Han even practically says in his presentation: "I'm not doing anything new or patentable. I'm just making it cheaper and bigger."

      Apple didn't do anything new or patenatable. They just made it smaller and cheaper. But most importantly they actually did it.

      Apple deserves accolades for actually implementing a sane interface on a phone. Then again what made the iphone possible wasn't someone saying "let's do multi-touch!" it was a screen with an accurate enough touch screen that multi-touch was affordable and usable in a product.

      Apple is really good at getting to market first with cutting edge technology. Their 'innovation' is really in their hardware aquisition and licensing department. The Toshiba microdrive (not developed for the iPod but certainly exploited at its earliest convenience). Intel small form factor CPU (Macbook Air). Inexpensive capacitive touch LCDs. The hardware which enables these notable products is almost always made by someone else and designed for anybody to use but exploited first and well by Apple.

      Does Apple deserve credit for being quick to pick up on opportunities such as Han's amazing presentation? Yes. Do they deserve a patent for putting the finishing touches on a marketable implementation? No.

    • Bill Buxton's multi touch history [billbuxton.com] (in particular, check out 1992 onwards, starting with a system called "Starfire")..

      I don't mind protection of truly novel ideas, but multitouch seems to me like one of those things that would be pretty obvious to any half-decent geek who's been presented with a piece of hardware capable of accurately reading such things.. (witness Jeff Han et. al).. Hell - the movie 'Minority Report' was released before the patent was claimed - doesn't that count as prior presentat

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