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Is Apple's Multi-Touch Patent Valid? 112

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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  • 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 [] the trademark to it.
  • 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: []

    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.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:19PM (#26766817)

    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.

  • by i.of.the.storm ( 907783 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:27PM (#26766845) Homepage
    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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