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Does Apple Multi touch patent spell trouble for competition?

Apple received another patent grant a few days and people are unsure of how this will affect the competition. The media are wondering it they will they be able to start demanding money from other companies who use similar technology?

Patent #7,966,578 which was granted on the 21st details the following demands:

  • The product should be a : “portable multifunction device with one or more processors, memory, and a touch screen display.”
  • The product has to “detect a translation gesture by a single finger,” and in response translate both the main content and the frame content. When scrolling with a single finger, everything has to move.
  • That device needs to display “a portion of a web page in a stationary application window,” and that has to include both the regular page content and a “frame displaying a portion of frame content.” This is similar to Google Maps embed —  a frame within a webpage which displays other content.
  • The device has to be able to detect “a translation gesture by two fingers” and in response translate only the frame content without translating the main content.

Does this cause problems for Apple’s competitors? Stephen Shankland at ZDNet says:

“The patent governs how content on the screen moves when you touch the screen. A one-finger touch might move an entire page around, for example, but a two-finger touch might move just content within a particular region that the patent calls a frame. The smaller frame could be any number of things — a scrollable list of items, a portion of a map.”

“The patent begins with a claim involving web pages shown in a stationary window, but other claims specify other tasks: word processing, spreadsheet, email or presentation documents; maps; and scrollable lists of items,” Shankland said. “The patent covers this technology on a ‘portable multifunction device,’ described broadly enough to include not just smartphones, but also tablets and potentially other touchscreen devices, as well.”

“Apple’s patent starts out with a claim involving web pages, but later extends to word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software and maps. ‘It covers the basic user interface concept of moving touchscreen content with multi-touch gestures — not just one particular way to programmatically recognise one particular gesture for this purpose, but any or all ways to do so,’ [says FOSS Patent’s Florian Mueller]. ‘This patent describes the solution at such a high level that it effectively lays an exclusive claim to the problem itself, and any solutions to it.”

He concludes with “Moving objects on a touchscreen with multi-touch gestures is a very essential function. I can hardly imagine that smartphones and tablets would be competitive in the future without multi-touch object-moving.”

Thisismynext have a slightly different view on the patent with author Nilay Patel saying “It is a pretty narrow patent, and I don’t think the big brains at Google or Microsoft (or Motorola or Samsung or HTC or whoever) will have a hard time engineering around it — it’s really just one specific type of multitouch interaction. I certainly wouldn’t call it an “iPhone patent” or anything nearly so broad or sensational. That said, it’s certainly yet another arrow in Apple’s quiver of patents on the things that make the iPhone work the way it does, and Cupertino may well assert it against another OEM sometime down the line.”

Kitguru says: Another patent in the closet for Apple, protecting certain aspects of the new multi touch functionality.

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