Mark Bridge writes:
Imagine a mobile phone that can’t be built without the permission of Apple. Impossible? Unrealistic? Not necessarily.
This week, Apple was awarded US patent 7,966,578. It’s an application that was originally filed at the end of 2007, almost a year after the iPhone was first revealed. The patent covers the way in which a mobile phone’s touch-sensitive screen responds when touched.
Although the patent doesn’t cover the invention of the touchscreen itself, it does cover the way a touchscreen works when you use it - and some people are concerned this could give Apple control over the way many current smartphones are designed.
In effect, it covers ‘multi-touch’: for example, using two or more fingers to zoom into an on-screen image.
It seems the big questions now are:
Will it hold up in court? A judge could rule against Apple in the event of any legal action.
Is there any way round it? It looks as though the patent covers the theory rather than the technology of multitouch, but I’m no patent expert.
What will Apple do next? Patents are increasingly used as bargaining chips by technology companies - “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” - which could give Apple enormous power over longer-established mobile businesses.
And perhaps most importantly...
How will Apple’s competitors respond? Will we see a rush of legal cases as mobile companies aim for a ‘first strike’ against Apple - or will we see new innovation that bypasses the multi-touch screen. Speech recognition. Virtual reality. Projected keyboards. Video glasses.
Some mobile phone manufacturers could soon be facing a battle for their existence - but we could also be on the verge of a golden age of technology development. Litigation or innovation? We’ll just have to wait and see. I can’t imagine we’ll be waiting long.
[United States Patent; Macworld.com]