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Is Apple's Multi-Touch Patent Valid? 112

Posted by timothy
from the what-the-judge-says-it-is dept.
An anonymous reader writes "There is evidence that Apple's multi-touch patent application may have failed to list some prior art that showed gestures in multi-touch interfaces as early as the mid 1980s. Some of these examples even appear in the bibliography of Wayne Westerman's doctoral dissertation, and he's one of the inventors on the application's list. If true, that could leave them wide open for legal attack, should they try suing someone like Palm for patent infringement. Also, Apple may be infringing some key multi-touch patents owned by the University of Delaware — and co-developed by Westerman while getting his doctorate."
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Is Apple's Multi-Touch Patent Valid?

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  • Backtrace (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:40PM (#26766563)
    Before posting, read the ~450 comments on the previous article. [slashdot.org]
  • by Steve1952 (651150) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:43PM (#26766581)
    It will be interesting to see if Apple's patent survives the next few days of Slashdot analysis, or even the next few hours! If the Westerman thesis is relevant, than not citing it is unfortunate for them. My guess is that Apple will follow this discussion, and then file for continuations and re-examinations based upon what shows up here.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:07PM (#26766733)

      Interestingly, the G1 android phone has built-in support for multitouch, as demonstrated here [wordpress.com]. However, there are some issues which make it more useful for pinch-gestures than other types. (See here [wordpress.com] for a description of why this is.)

      Multitouch "proof of concept" pinch-zoom support has already been incorporated [xda-developers.com] into unofficial Android firmware for the G1 (which incidentally is an AMAZING phone). If Apple's patent claims are busted-- and I'm still not clear on what types of multitouch it supposedly prohibits competitors from using-- it probably won't be long before we see multitouch show up on hardware that "officially" hadn't supported it previously.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:20PM (#26767213) Homepage Journal

      My guess is that Apple will follow this discussion

      Considering the large number of unpaid sales and public relations staff Apple has here at Slashdot, I wouldn't be surprised.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Re-examinations, and not continuations ... because if they get hammered on inequitable conduct, it could take down the entire family of cases.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dan541 (1032000)

      Of course it is invalid we have had touch screens for years before the iPhone was introduced.

  • I sincerely hope (Score:5, Informative)

    by Archimonde (668883) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:45PM (#26766593) Homepage

    NOT!

    Or we'll have 20 years of touch screen stagnation. Great. Just as we are trying to get out of classic mobile phone layout stagnation.

    • by es0vyr4fVY9LD8ub (1471907) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:35PM (#26767327)
      I'm sorry, but are you somehow implying that patent law can be used to hinder competition in a so called 'free market'? Shame on you, sir.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ArsonSmith (13997)

        "Patent Law" and "Free Market" are mutually exclusive terms.

        • by jamesh (87723)

          I hate the internet. I can't tell if you missed the sarcasm of the parent post, or if I'm missing the sarcasm in your post.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:47PM (#26766603)

    Apple will end up paying the University of Delaware a few million, and then happily proceed unencumbered - which is what happened when the University of Washington's Electrical Engineering department took on Matsushita et. al.

    • by Toe, The (545098) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:50PM (#26766633)
      Not unlike the word "iPhone" itself... which Apple announced they would use even though clearly Cisco already held [apple.com] the trademark to it.
      • by initialE (758110)

        What would be interesting is if Cisco starts aggressively selling and marketing an "internet communications device" under the iPhone name.

    • by Nursie (632944)

      Which is a good thing, because it means that one tech giant can't control/restrict/ransom this sort of tech, and that the Delaware patents will run out earlier than the apple one would.

      Hooray!

    • Apple got their multi-touch tech thru acquisition of Fingerworks, which had had it's own multitouch patents and sold products for 5 years before iPhone. And they still employ the original patent holder as far as I have read.

      While there may be conflicting patents, like the patent office would not check what they've already given out, they bought recognized patents several years in advance.

    • Was the University of Delaware responsible for the technology behind that TED talk on multitouch interfaces? I recall seeing that long before Apple used it. In fact, wasn't the Surface project announced before Apple did it?

  • Does this guy even know what patents Apple is licensing? Doubtful considering most are not made public. FUD?
    • by DustyShadow (691635) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:54PM (#26766653) Homepage
      Another thing...This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. FTA:

      But a patent infringement case can only proceed once the Pre hits the market â" widespread expectations call for a May launch â" and Apple has analyzed the deviceâ(TM)s software for possible infringement.

      Totally not true! You are liable for patent infringement once you make the patented invention. You don't have to sell it to become liable.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by binarylarry (1338699)

        Actually, you're wrong.

        The sales of the patented technology deprive the original inventor of income that they are legally owed.

        So you are not liable until you use the technology in commerce/public.

        • by DustyShadow (691635) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:14PM (#26766795) Homepage
          No, you are only talking about damages. A patent is a right to exclude others from making, selling, etc.
          35 U.S.C. 271(a):

          Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.

          • No, you are only talking about damages.

            Bingo. You are only liable if you are depriving the IP owned from profit.

            You may still be in violation but they cannot do anything until they can show damages, i.e. you can't be liable for something there are no damages for.

            Where do damages come from? Commercial or public use (whether its educational or not)

            • by DustyShadow (691635) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:36PM (#26767341) Homepage
              You are still incorrect. Liability does not turn on commercial activity. The patent holder could seek an injunction, which is often just as bad as financial damages. Apple could easily file an infringement suit against Palm to stop them from releasing the phone. Read the case Madey v. Duke [ladas.com]. What you are claiming is common and incorrect belief.
              • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

                by binarylarry (1338699)

                That's why I specifically said "Commercial or public use (whether its educational or not)."

                The IP owner has to be able to specifically show how the infringer did X which caused the IP owner to lose the ability to do Y.

                Good luck telling a judge that you THINK someone is infringing on your patent in their basement for their own use and you want in on the action because you're legally entitled.

                What are you, an RIAA lawyer?

                • by DustyShadow (691635) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:50PM (#26767433) Homepage

                  The IP owner has to be able to specifically show how the infringer did X which caused the IP owner to lose the ability to do Y.

                  I don't know where you are getting this requirement that the patent holder has to suffer some type of damage. That is completely untrue. Read the statute that I showed you. There is nothing in it that says damages are required before bringing a lawsuit. Then read that case like I told you to.

                  Good luck telling a judge that you THINK someone is infringing on your patent in their basement for their own use and you want in on the action because you're legally entitled.

                  Suing someone who you think is infringing is a different issue. That has to do with discovery. But once again I will point out, a DIY inventor in his basement cannot use a patented invention for his own use/research without a license or the risk of an infringement suit. The argument here is that the DIY inventor should be forced to buy the invention from the patent holder before he is able to use/research it. Sure, no one would probably find out about a DIY inventor but that again is a totally different issue.

                  And since you asked, I am a law student. And as far as I know, the RIAA deals with copyrights, not patents.

                  • Please stay in school longer.

                    From your link:

                    The Federal Circuit disagreed and pointed out that in Roche v. Bolar[3] and other cases it had held that although an experimental use exception as crafted in the nineteenth century continued to exist, it was a very narrow one for example âoeto satisfy idle curiosity or for strictly philosophical enquiryâ.

                    and then

                    the act does not qualify for the very narrow and strictly limited experimental use defense.

                    So, as you can see, you were arguing for me the whole time, you just didn't know it. :)

                    • by DustyShadow (691635) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @07:34PM (#26767763) Homepage
                      No. The court said that the exemption is extremely narrow and that Duke's activities did not allow it to use the defense (which the court defined as solely for amusement, to satisfy idle curiosity, or for strictly philosophical inquiry). Prior to this case it was believed that universities could experiment with patented inventions with no threat of an infringement suit.

                      The court noted that even projects undertaken without direct commercial application often âoeunmistakably further the institutes legitimate business interests ... These projects also serve for example to increase the status of the institution and lure lucrative research grants, students and faculty.

                      You don't actually believe that Palm could argue that their phone development is solely for its amusement, to satisfy its idle curiosity, or for strictly philosophical inquiry do you?

                    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

                      by Anonymous Coward

                      No, you are still incorrect. Experimental use as a defense is, as you quote, very narrow and extremely strict. An individual infringing a patent for his own benefit, i.e. to use the patented process or manufacture, does not qualify for an experimental use defense and is liable for damages.

                      There are only two lines of defense for the builder, and both are pragmatic and not legal in nature: (1) the patent holder must become aware of the infringement in order to file suit and (2) the patent holder must see i

                • Good luck telling a judge that you THINK someone is infringing on your patent in their basement for their own use and you want in on the action because you're legally entitled.

                  What are you, an RIAA lawyer?

                  Actually under patent law you have to demonstrate that a profit was made that you should have been entilted to. Patents are more designed to promote the sharing of ideas by protecting the idea so its owner can cover his expenses for discovering/inventing it.

              • many patents are process patents... equipment used to make something. That's what many of the electronics patents we see in the news really are... you can't make product A without overcoming problem B that needs tool C... prove you DIDN'T use that tool or pay up for the patent. You can infringe on patents you USE to make things that you don't directly sell.

        • by Miseph (979059) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:55PM (#26767027) Journal

          He is correct, patents do not require sale or commercial implementation by ANY party to be enforceable. Most patent holders won't go after DIY types who violate for personal use, but that's not because they have no legal ability to do so... rather it is because there is generally very little to gain by doing so other than bad publicity.

          • Thank you. This is also why universities are liable for infringement when they simply use a patented invention in research. Example [ladas.com]
          • Most patent holders won't go after DIY types who violate for personal use, but that's not because they have no legal ability to do so.

            Actually, it IS because they have no legal recourse against DIY use of patented inventions. Patents only grant monopolies over commercial exploitation of an invention. You are explicitly allowed to employ the disclosed inventions for your personal use, or for educational purposes. You're just not allowed to sell or give it to others.

            • No. You are wrong. Read the link I posted above you. Universities cannot use a patented invention without a license. Nor can a DIY inventor. Read the statute as well. There is no exception for non-commercial use. The statute prevents anyone other than the patent holder from making, using, offering to sell, selling or importing the patented invention.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by k_187 (61692)

              35 U.S.C. 271(a):

              Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.

              That make or use part pretty much says you're wrong. One can argue those as defenses, and you certainly aren't going to get much in terms of damages from a hobbist, but the rights granted in a patent is the right to EXCLUDE others as you wish. There is no requirement that any infringement be commercial.

              • Assuming the patented invention was a device, one would assume that purchasing it would grant you authority to use it. If it was an idea, well...that's a whole nother can of worms that isn't popular around here.
                • by k_187 (61692)
                  Yes, there is a purchasing exception. If I sell you something that I have a patent on, or from someone that I have given a license to my patent, I am implicitly granting you a license to use it, resell it, etc.

                  Technically, you're not allowed to patent ideas, unless they are part of a process (which is the current requirement, see In Re Bilski for the full requirements, at least until SCOTUS picks it up), then you would be allowed to use, resell the total process. If you ripped out the "idea" from the re
            • No, its not limited to commercial use. Any public display of the invention could be used to claim damages in court.

              It's important to remember there is no criminal law being broken when you use a patent without a license. It's all civil.

              So you have to be able to show damages to claim them from an infringer.

              • Any public display of the invention could be used to claim damages in court.

                Public display? You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. Public display is a copyright law thing, not a patent law thing.

            • Actually, it IS because they have no legal recourse against DIY use of patented inventions. Patents only grant monopolies over commercial exploitation of an invention. You are explicitly allowed to employ the disclosed inventions for your personal use, or for educational purposes. You're just not allowed to sell or give it to others.

              And you are encouraged to do this, improve the patented method, and get a patent on your improvement.

              • Making an improvement does not cure infringement. Generally, you must still license the original patent in order to have clean hands in filing the improvement claim. The experimental use exception will not carry most patents through to the end. You can prepare a proof of concept under the extremely narrow and limited experimental use exception if you meet a variety of judicially-mandated standards, but you cannot prepare for introduction by beginning production, distributing prototypes to third parties f

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:01PM (#26766697)
    The problem with patenting multi-touch gestures is it can lead to a huge learning curve challenge. For example the Linux/Windows/BSD/etc multi-touch is going to be totally different than OS X's methods because of these patents, making it not only hard for people going to OS X but from people who primarily use OS X but can't use the gestures they are used to when on a different computer. This is similar to patenting QWERTY so every other keyboard manufacturer has to pick different keyboard layouts to typing becomes unbearable on different systems.
    • by Zackbass (457384) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:25PM (#26767245)

      On the other hand, the problems that patents present to progress along a line of design can actually work in our favor. I've run up against patents in the past and in working on an alternate way of solving the problem I run into a better solution. There's no reason that what was patented is the best solution, it's most likely just the most obvious. It's actually a cool little trick for forcing development out of local minima (assuming a cost function on optimality like all sane people do).

      Random rant: I've found 90% of the patents I run into are stuff someone patented to sit on and aren't actively developing. Apparently actually making the thing and marketing it are too hard, it's much more efficient to patent a swath of bad ideas and try to force licenses upon those who actually want to make progress.

      • But Apple seems actively marketing and developing the idea of multi touch (just look at newer MacBooks, and the iPhone/iPod Touch). The problem isn't that there won't be other ways to do it, it is that there will be too many ways to do something. For example, the qwerty keyboard isn't the most effective layout, but if it got (somehow) patented and everyone who wasn't using an Apple based system had to switch to Devorak or other alternative layouts, I imagine that typing speed would be hindered for a few yea
        • by Zackbass (457384)

          I think my point applies to what you're talking about very well. If qwerty had been patented we might be using a better keyboard layout today rather than dealing with the momentum that qwerty has developed. I agree that the pickup will definitely be slower, but after the initial ramp up we'd have a better system for ourselves because of the forced diversity. Would the loss because of waiting a few years for multitouch schemes to fight it in smaller user groups outweigh the benefits of the eventual standardi

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bit01 (644603)

      The problem with patenting multi-touch gestures is it can lead to a huge learning curve challenge.

      To put it another way user interfaces are simply the language that computers and people use to talk to each other.

      By allowing patenting language elements the patent office are promoting language splintering and all the problems that entails. Progressing the state of the art my foot.

      Of course, the patent office claims that they don't allow the patenting of language elements but that's only their arbitrary de

    • by ascari (1400977)
      And how is this a problem? After all Apple's gestures will necessarily be much cooler than Linux/Windows/BSDs gestures. Those will be lame by comparison, and people will shy away, kind of like cool people look funny at people like me when I try to do a high five or something like that.
  • Interesting Analysis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rm999 (775449) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:11PM (#26766765)

    Engadget wrote a surprisingly well thought out analysis of the patent situation between Apple and Palm:
    http://www.engadget.com/2009/01/28/apple-vs-palm-the-in-depth-analysis/ [engadget.com]

    It's interesting that the motivations behind their patents aren't as obvious as they may seem. For example, Apple has several patents in the pipeline simply so they can tweak them later to specifically target Palm's Pre.

    • The most useful idea of all, pinch to zoom, is not in the Apple patent - that seems the most useful thing, but probably has a lot of prior art around it.

      I think the Apple patent will stand but I don't think it will have much effect on the industry and other devices.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      That's pretty interesting, and probably the first and only Engadget article actually worth reading on its own merits. I think it's safe to say that if Apple sues Palm, both sides will suffer a protracted legal battle, but I think Apple has more money unfortunately, so it can use that to stifle innovation. But I guess it goes without saying that the patent system needs a huge overhaul in the digital age.
      • by crmarvin42 (652893) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:46PM (#26766977)
        Apple is most likely not going to pursue Palm unless their hand is forced. I don't see anyone having a problem developing non-infringing multi-touch UI guidelines, or baring that lisencing them from Apple.

        Legal battles cost money and risk having patents invalidated. They are the Big Stick in the line "Walk softly, but carry a big stick." By having the patent they can intimidate their competitors into using only obviously non-infringing multi-touch features. Thus maintaining the novelty of their device.

        Besides, I fail to see how their patent can stifle innovation. They were awarded the pantent for doing something innovative in the first place. If Palm wants to stay competetive they'll just have to do some more innovating to keep up.
        • by i.of.the.storm (907783) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:00PM (#26767073) Homepage

          According to the engadget article their patents are fairly specific and not overly broad, but if they were to sue Palm just for using multi-touch that would definitely be stifling innovation, and I don't see how that could be construed otherwise. If the patents prevent other companies from building on Apple's groundwork, that is also stifling innovation. It's not protecting their device's novelty so much as being lazy; why innovate when no one else can do anything similar to what you can do?

          But the big stick analogy is good, as is the nuclear option analogy. I don't think either company really wants to enter a long and costly legal fight. I don't see why Palm would force their hand, but Apple has been threatening that they will "protect" their IP so if anyone would start the fight, it would have to be Apple.

          • If Apples patent is fairly specific and not overly broad, it can only stop Palm from using the same implementation as Apple. If Palm, or anyone else for that matter, wants to implement similar functionality they'll be forced to develop a Novel, non-infringing implementation. This is innovation by it's very definition.

            I agree that if Apple were to start suing anyone that attempted to develop multi-touch implementations that do not violate their patent, then they could be accused of stifling innovation. H
        • Apple is most likely not going to pursue Palm unless their hand is forced.

          Forced as in... Palm releases a phone with multi-touch? Steve Jobs said in reference to multi-touch at the initial iPhone unveiling "And boy have we patented it! [engadget.com]", which sounds a lot like, "Don't expect to see this on anyone else's phone" to me.

          Besides, I fail to see how their patent can stifle innovation.

          No one else can create a multi-touch phone, so Apple doesn't have to keep up its pace of innovation. The Palm P

          • It sounds a lot more like "Create your own, you can't have ours!" Historically, Apple believes that MS ripped off much of their IP for windows. They were just reinforcing the point that they weren't going to let it happen again.

            Anyone else can develop a multi-touch phone, they are just going to have to come up with a unique implementation that is innovative enough to be non-infringing. Or in short, Innovate.

            The Palm Pre has received so much press because the press likes to pit Davids against the curren
        • by hkmwbz (531650)

          Besides, I fail to see how their patent can stifle innovation.

          Software patents do. With them, you stop other people from doing obvious things and build on that to innovate further, slowing the innovation process down. Furthermore, big players with huge patent portfolios can always find something to use against smaller competitors to prevent them from gaining a foothold.

          They were awarded the pantent for doing something innovative in the first place.

          That's just your assumption.

          • That's not an assumption, which is normally based purely on personal conjecture. It's based on them receiving a patent, which is supposed to require the creation and description of a novel or innovative process/technique/device/etc.

            The patent system may be overworked, and prone to approve overly broad patents despite the existence of prior art, but I've not seen any commentary that this is the case for Apple's Multi-Touch patent. FingerWorks developed a lot of Multi-Touch technology from scratch and th
    • by garote (682822)

      Oh my god! They actually spoke with a PATENT LAWYER about patent law?? Isn't that, like, cheating?

  • I only skimmed through the text of the patent. Now, what I dont get is how can they claim infringement if the patent includes a speciffic set of heuristics, without proving that webOSs (this sounds so funny in spanish: means eggs) is using precisely those?

  • No (Score:3, Funny)

    by hackstraw (262471) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:29PM (#26766865)

    Next question.

    But seriously, what difference does it make if apple patents this or not? I mean, no other GUI comes close to Apple's.

    An example of this, was that I was not going to finish this post because this stuff is dumb, and people would come back saying that Apples UI is not that great, so I closed the tab. Safari asked if I wanted to close the tab because I was in the middle of filling in this form, with the default being Close (not OK, Cancel, or whatever).

    I love multi-touch. I used to like having a mouse on a laptop, but now that multi-touch is here, its simply better than a mouse. Much more intuitive and less of an issue with RSI with a scroll-wheel.

    I hate to sound too much like an Apple geek, but their software is so nice, that I'm always finding new things in it. Its almost like being with a person that you like. You are always learning something new about them. And I guess the inverse is true, that when you get bored with them, you find someone else.

    I'm done hugging my MacBook :)

    Back to multi-touch, I think that it should be allowed to be used by anyone. Its simply nice.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by icebike (68054)

      > I love multi-touch. I used to like having a mouse on a laptop, but now that multi-touch is here, its simply better than a mouse.

      Perhaps for small notebooks, (or tablets), but realistically its simply too slow and disruptive with larger screens to be waving your entire arm around just to click a button. It also requires a very sparse interface to allow for imprecision of touch.

      Much as a mouse can be compared to poking at machine together with a stick, multitouch can be like trying to assemble small par

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by neuromanc3r (1119631)

        > I love multi-touch. I used to like having a mouse on a laptop, but now that multi-touch is here, its simply better than a mouse.

        Perhaps for small notebooks, (or tablets), but realistically its simply too slow and disruptive with larger screens to be waving your entire arm around just to click a button. It also requires a very sparse interface to allow for imprecision of touch.

        I'm pretty sure the gp was talking about multi-touch on his notebook's touchpad or multi-touch in general, not about touchscreens.

    • by forkazoo (138186)

      An example of this, was that I was not going to finish this post because this stuff is dumb, and people would come back saying that Apples UI is not that great, so I closed the tab. Safari asked if I wanted to close the tab because I was in the middle of filling in this form, with the default being Close (not OK, Cancel, or whatever).

      I just want to jump in and say "me too." Seriously, using verbs on buttons instead okay OK/Cancel is such an obvious interface improvement, and yet probably 90% of dialog boxe

      • by essinger (781940)

        An example of this, was that I was not going to finish this post because this stuff is dumb, and people would come back saying that Apples UI is not that great, so I closed the tab. Safari asked if I wanted to close the tab because I was in the middle of filling in this form, with the default being Close (not OK, Cancel, or whatever).

        I just want to jump in and say "me too." Seriously, using verbs on buttons instead okay OK/Cancel is such an obvious interface improvement, and yet probably 90% of dialog boxes I see are OK/Cancel or Yes/No. I say death to whoever thought of the dialog box UI paradigm of "throw a paragraph of meandering text which mentions several different actions at the user, and then OK and Cancel." I think some of the philosophy of OO programming leaked out and rotted the brains of UI designers and convinced them computers should be built of objects instead of actions. The bastards.

        Probably would have been a more powerful example if IE's tab dialog didn't also default to the verb "close."

  • is it me or... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Does this, once again, show that patents on software ideas provide no benefit, what so ever, to the public?

    I hope this gets overturned, or else, as another poster pointed out, we will see fighting among vendors and stagnation in an otherwise cool technology, which will leave us, the end user, not buying new stuff, because there is nothing to buy. Or not buying because you can only get incompatible versions from two or three big companies.

    And for those who think that patent law exist to benefit the inventors

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by floodo1 (246910)
      To put it simply as "publications on technical methods" misses what I think is a key point about patent theory.

      In protecting the inventor from having his idea "stolen" (so to speak) the patent system gives the inventor incentive to disclose his idea, thus establishing "publications on technical methods". Imagine someone who invents something, but never tells anyone because if he tells someone they (or someone down the grapevine) can take his idea and effectively prevent him from profiting from it.
      In eff
    • by ErikZ (55491) *

      And don't give me the "without patents vendors won't invest in research"-crap that i hear all the time... Yes they will! Because merchants are merchants who are merchants. As long as everyone competes under the same terms, there wont be much of a change: Companies still need to come up with something new and exciting to sell. The gizzmowiz of the day has to be smarter and faster and slicker than what the other company sells. That wont change, regardless of the approach to patents.

      Show me where this has happ

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So we're supposed to argue not-even-filed patent defenses ... a bunch of non-lawyers. Ridiculous post.

    BTW, there are lots of patents with "prior art," including Amazon's one-touch. I am a patent attorney. I have no idea how this patent will fare but this discussion is a waste of time.

  • Apple did a ATG Human Interface Group project that publicly demonstrated a mac tablet (not newton) gesture interfaces at WWDC, early 90's. The tablet was a pen and one finger, both could be used at same time but only one finger (single layer of ITO). Not long after AT&T gave Apple a multi-touch (five fingers) transparent panel using a XY matrix ITO, it was integrated into tablet. At about the same time, Apple discussed with a display manufacturer about developing a mixed mode display, modify the XY
  • by Grond (15515) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:53PM (#26767013) Homepage

    Here are the University of Delaware-owned patents: 6,323,846 [google.com] and 6,888,536 [google.com]. Two other early Westerman patents (6,570,557 and 6,677,932) were assigned to FingerWorks, which was bought by Apple a few years ago.

    Anyway, all of the Westerman patents are for the capacitive touchscreen itself and the accompanying software, not the multi-touch gestures covered by the recently granted Apple patent. It could very well be that the company that designed the screens (Balda [balda.de]) or the company that manufactured them (TPK Solutions [tpk-solutions.com]) has licensed the U of Delaware patents. Even if the screens are unlicensed, it could be that they do not infringe or that the Delaware patents are invalid. Given the amount of money that Balda, TPK, and Apple have riding on the iPhone, it is very likely that lots of due diligence was done on these issues, especially with Westerman working for Apple now.

    Even if the Delaware patents are valid and infringed, it is quite likely that Apple's contract with Balda/TPK Solutions includes an indemnity clause that puts Balda/TPK on the hook rather than Apple. In the post-eBay v Mercexchange world, it is likely that the University of Delaware would be unable to enjoin Balda, TPK, or Apple, leaving it only able to collect damages and future royalties. Even if an injunction were to issue, I'm sure the University would be happy to negotiate a licensing agreement since it does not practice the patent itself. Finally, even if the University were to stonewall Apple, there are lots of other companies that make capacitive touchscreens that could fit the bill for the iPhone.

    Now, let's turn to the issue of the prior art references omitted from Apple's patent application. Contrary to a popular misconception, there is no affirmative duty to submit every last possible prior art reference to the PTO, only those that are known to the applicant and material to patentability (that is, that could have made a difference in the PTO's decision). It could be that the submitted references covered everything that the Pierre Wellner reference disclosed, in which case the Wellner reference would be immaterial. Or it could be that the Apple patent only claims subject matter that is patentably distinct from the Wellner reference, in which case, again, it would be immaterial.

    Yes, these are all potential issues, but determining the outcome will depend on a lot of information that is not publicly known (such as any Balda/TPK Solutions/Apple licensing deals with the University of Delaware) or that ultimately has to be determined by the PTO or a court (e.g., whether the University of Delaware patents are valid or whether Apple's patent is unenforceable for inequitable conduct). As a result, both of the linked articles are rife with speculation and conjecture. For now, this is pretty much a non-story. Come back if some of these patents are found invalid during reexamination or if Apple gets sued.

    • by tyrione (134248)
      Nah! Not in the land of Slashdot, when it's clear by the myopic rants that Apple couldn't have possibly done background work and we should expect this corporation to collapse by such lack of effort in T minus 20 years and counting.
  • Oh, look. The 'innocent' little Apple Corp is just like every other trendy do-gooder - appeals to the mass that dislike wealthy companies, and they themselves end up being no different. I won't say I told you so (or will I?).
  • by FranTaylor (164577) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @04:51AM (#26770799)

    Look into Dave Sturman's research in the mid 80's. He was using a Dataglove for gestural research. The Media Lab made a demo tape of him using gestures to pick menu items. I probably still have a copy of it kicking around somewhere.

  • The whole question of the validity of the current patent system should be the topic here, not whether Apple is likely to abuse it... so far as I know Apple's only used their patents defensively (have I missed something?).

  • Some company patented a chapter out of PhD thesis adding one innovative claim to 12 existing steps. Neither I or my university had the resources to battle it - it wasnt a big money maker. Happens a lot.

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