Apple was recently awarded a patent they filed for the original iPhone back in 2007. PC Mag’s Damon Poeter says the patent is both broad and far-reaching, and may be able to keep others out of the smartphone market.
The abstract for U.S. patent number 7,966,578 outlines: “[a] computer-implemented method, for use in conjunction with a portable multifunction device with a touch screen display, [that] comprises displaying a portion of page content, including a frame displaying a portion of frame content and also including other content of the page, on the touch screen display.”
Specifically, the first claim requires a potentially infringing device to have a browser to have both the regular page content as well as a “frame displaying a portion of frame content,” with the frame moveable by a single finger. It also requires the device to detect a “translation gesture by two fingers,” aka pinch-to-zoom.
The patent covers any mobile device that uses the specific gestures in question; the qualifier “portable” is key here, as evidence of this type of interface on stationary devices is not difficult to find.
These gestures are already ubiquitous on devices from most of Apple’s competitors, specifically, Google and HTC. Apple has already filed suit against Samsung for IP infringement; though it doesn’t seem like this patent approval will affect the legal proceedings. But it would seem to strengthen their claims that the Samsung devices infringe upon their intellectual property, as elements of Google’s Android—the software backbone of the Samsung products at the heart of the suit—clearly use the technology Apple has now patented.
Florian Mueller of Foss Patents told PC Mag: “The way to read a patent claim is that it’s only infringed if the accused technology is implemented in its entirety—all of the characteristics must be matched.” Which means Apple can’t just go after anyone who has hints of the technology in their products; they have to prove that they copied all elements of the technology that was patented.
The most obvious implementations of this technology are in Web browsers and maps programs. Since these types of gestures have become the new standard, the patent could give Apple legal standing to claim infringement by any device that uses these design elements. Which is a lot of them.
This Is My Next’s Nilay Patel doesn’t see this newfound approval as being so broad, however, since all that is necessary is the adjustment of just one of any of the sections of the claims made in the patent. And Google, HTC and Microsoft will likely be able to use their significant legal brainpower to maneuver around the obstacles this patent presents.
However, if the patent remains valid, it is possible that Apple could attempt to license the technology to those that are already using it, which could have industry-shaping ramifications.
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