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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.

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:25AM (#26618171)
    Sounds like an old Tektronix X Terminal we were workig with at least a decade ago. It was equipped with a touch screen and I know we had various gestures mapped to scrolling functions.
  • Prior art? (Score:2, Informative)

    by xlotlu (1395639) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:46AM (#26618301)

    How about the Palm gestures [wikipedia.org]?

  • by atraintocry (1183485) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @01:51AM (#26618323)

    It's a patent on the iPhone interface as a whole, not touch screens.

  • 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.

  • Re:Prior art? (Score:4, Informative)

    by StreetStealth (980200) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:16AM (#26618453) Journal

    This could get really ugly really quick.

    Palm has essentially been wielding the nuclear stick of patent-MAD [precommunity.com] with its most recent response to Apple patent saber rattling.

    Of course, perhaps a patent armageddon is just about due right now.

  • 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?

  • by citizenr (871508) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:54AM (#26618649) Homepage

    Ok, so the first version of Firefox's "Mouse Gestures" came out on July 26, 2004

    you mean Opera Mouse Gestures ... Opera 5.11 April 2000.

  • 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.
  • Re:Waiting.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Shikaku (1129753) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:18AM (#26618753)

    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.

  • by TheNetAvenger (624455) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:59AM (#26618941)

    If you are wanting to cite gestures as prior art, sure there is Firefox, but you could go back to the 80s or even pen-windows of the early 90s or even the TabletPC of 2002.

    If you want to find where Apple got the specific 'gestures' they implemented on the iPhone, here:
    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jeff_han_demos_his_breakthrough_touchscreen.html [ted.com]

    Apple literally ran from the TED conference to throw the multi-touch ideas from this presentation into a UI product.

    If you notice, even the 'gesture' ideas the presenter 'made up on the fly' are exactly what Apple uses on the iPhone.

    There are tons of prior art on the gesturing aspects of this patent, and Apple has some big b*lls to try think it will hold up. Especially, since the one of the main companies that will be forced to challenge the patent is MS, and Apple can't win against MS prior art, patents, and especially money...

    So in a sick way, I hope Apple does what they will do and sue companies using a multi-touch interface, and wait until MS or equivalent steps in to take what is theirs out of defense alone or to protect another company, as MS has done before.

    And after Apple loses the patent rights, watch as Apple pays royalties for every iPhone or iPodTouch, if not completely lose the rights to use the interface on the devices completely.

    (Apple's ego could actually end up killing them.)

  • 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:2, Informative)

    by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @04:41AM (#26619187)
    In this instance, Apple certainly didn't need the patent rights to get the phone out the door. They were given a large sum up-front by ATT to develop the phone in return for an exclusive (5-year???) contract. But that's only because they already had an established, nearly spotless reputation in the consumer electronics industry (iPod).

    So in this case, the patent wasn't helpful, but when smaller companies bring new technologies to market, they can leverage a patent to get venture capitol or loans. So it is more useful in that case. And you can't grant patents to some and not to others.

    I'd say that if we want to do away with patents (and I think we should), we're going to need to learn to be more open to risk investing in new technologies.
  • Re:Waiting.. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @04:57AM (#26619269)

    I've worked for a company that does nothing but research into engines, and their sole motivation for doing that research is that they can sell their findings to engine manufacturers using the patent system as protection.

    In this instance, it's doing some good - discoveries are found, the findings are licensed at reasonable rates, and because the research is done in one place it's theoretically more efficient than engine manufacturers doing the relevant research separately.

    So while I do tend to agree that the patent system is crap, it does still come up with the occasional beneficial case.

  • Must-Read Prior Art (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @05:41AM (#26619575)
    for anyone gullible enough to think that Apple invented any of this stuff, rather than wait 20 years for the technology to catch up to the theory:
    Multi-Touch Systems that I Have Known and Loved [billbuxton.com].
  • 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:Semi-off-topic (Score:3, Informative)

    by dtmos (447842) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @06:35AM (#26619841)

    If an interface concept is used in a movie and it is eventually turned into a real product and patented, does the implementation in the movie count as prior art?

    Yes, it does, at least in the US.

    The US statute reads, in relevant part, "A person shall be entitled to a patent unless--
    (a) the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent ..." (35 USC 102 [bitlaw.com])

    Since finding printed art is a much stronger argument than, say, having sworn depositions from individuals in this country stating that they "knew" of the invention before the applicant claims to have invented it -- it's hard to cross-examine a scientific journal article -- that's usually the way these things go. The courts have a very broad interpretation of "printed," so don't worry, it doesn't have to be on paper. The emphasis is on "publication," i.e., available to the public.

    [IANAL, but I've been down this road a few times.]

  • by onecheapgeek (964280) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @09:04AM (#26620789) Journal
    That certainly does seem to cover exactly what Apple has patented here, especially the heuristics used in zooming. Nice catch.
  • by gundersd (787946) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @09:50AM (#26621227)

    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 presentation of the idea?

    It seems to me that iPhone-esque multitouch is the sort of thing that has probably been discussed over beer & pizza by literally thousands of wannabe dreamers who lack only the [ materials science background / electrical engineering knowledge / financial backing / time / etc / etc ] to pull it off...

    *sigh*

  • Re:Prior art. ??? (Score:3, Informative)

    by NatasRevol (731260) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @10:13AM (#26621489) Journal

    And is owned by Apple.

    http://www.engadget.com/2007/01/22/some-iphone-touchscreen-roots-splained-by-fingerworks-inventors/ [engadget.com]

    Yes, Apple bought the actual prior art, then patented it.

    I don't agree with the patent system, but Apple did play within the rules.

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