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iPhone 'mega-patent' no defense against rivals?

updated 05:10 pm EST, Mon February 2, 2009

iPhone patent questioned

Apple may not have any legal ground to stand on when it comes to waging war against competing multi-touch devices, claims an analyst with Global Crown Capital. Multi-touch has traditionally been a distinguishing feature of the iPhone, as it is based on original technology, and most touchscreen devices can detect only one finger at a time. Apple has vowed to defend itself against illegal imitators, an issue prompted by the announcement of the Palm Pre.

The problem with this, says Global Crown's Pablo Perez-Fernandez, is that if Apple targets Palm it may also have to pursue cases against Garmin, HTC and Research in Motion, all of whom have developed their own multi-touch variants. More critically, he suggests that Apple's comprehensive iPhone patent may have been issued in error, treading on the same ground as the University of Delaware.

The Apple version of multi-touch is generally attributed to Wayne Westerman, whose FingerWorks company was absorbed in laying ground for the iPhone. Some of his patents were awarded while he was still at the University of Delaware however, meaning they may yet belong to the institution. It is thought that even some of these may borrow "prior art" from Bell Labs, which worked on capacitive sensors overlaid onto CRTs. References to Bell efforts can be found in Westerman's PhD thesis, argues Perez-Fernandez.

The analyst further contends that Apple is trying to block Microsoft use of multi-touch in Windows 7, and also apply for a trademark, a tactic thought to be "ridiculous" due to long-standing common usage. Apple would likely harm itself if it actually moved forward on any legal threats, says Perez-Fernandez.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969



    This "analyst'" work seems pretty glib to me. Sure there are other mutli-touch devices out now, but they all use slightly different technology. Surely that factor should at least be considered in a report like this?

    The idea that the University of Delaware will take them to court also seems a bit specious and the fact that this work builds on previous research seems almost meaningless. Patents are issued for implementations not ideas per se. Unless the Bell Labs research is almost identical to the later work, I doubt it matters at all.

  1. Constable Odo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Then, what's the point

    of having a patent if you can't stop anyone from using what's in the patent. This does not make any sense at all and neither does the patent being issued in error. Is Apple the only company that gets issued a patent that can't be defended against? Insanity rules.

  1. dwoodruff

    Joined: Dec 1969



    This guy has no legal expertise.

    Patent holders are allowed to choose any legal battle they wish when it comes to patent infringement. Apple is under no responsibility to stop anyone else from inflicting their patent.

    This is irresponsible journalsm

  1. johnsonua

    Joined: Dec 1969


    research FAIL

    The analyst is seriously wrong.

    The technology WAS developed at the University of Delaware, and the professors who came up with it subsequently started a company to explot the technology.

    Apple BOUGHT the company "and all it's assets" which would include the patents, obviously, and hired the two developers to work for Apple.

    Ergo, Apple owns those patents, as well. There may be shared ownership with UD, but they're certainly not going to sue Apple...

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    inept analyst

    This so-called "analyst" fails to mention an important information readily available through wikipedia, i.e. ""FingerWorks was a gesture recognition company based in the United States, known mainly for its TouchStream multitouch keyboard. Founded by John Elias and Wayne Westerman of the University of Delaware in 1998, it produced a line of multi-touch products including the iGesture Pad and the TouchStream keyboard. Its assets were acquired by Apple Inc. in early 2005, and its product lines were discontinued."
    The obvious fact he failed to include in his "analysis" is the information that APPLE INC. has acquired the company that first produced multi-touch products.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Johnson Doesn't get itq

    If the idea was developed while he was at Delaware, then THEY own it. Even if it was granted to him. Delaware could sue Apple.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Johnson Doesn't get itq

    If the idea was developed while he was at Delaware, then THEY own it. Even if it was granted to him. Delaware could sue Apple.

  1. Spacekatgal

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Delaware's rights?

    Whether or not Delaware owns rights to the patented work depends on facts which are not presented in this article.

    Suppose Employe A works for Company X. If he works on a project of his own devising on his own time with his own equipment in his own basement, then Company X doesn't have any rights to it.

    Similarly, if the Delaware scientists worked on their own project without any help (material or financial) from Delaware, it's their own intellectual property.

    Another possibility depends on the specific arrangement Delaware has with its professors. At some universities, a professor who wants to patent something is obligated to present it first to the university's technology transfer office. That office then determines if they wish to proceed with a patent application. If they do, then the professor gets a cuts. If the tech transfer office declines the opportunity, the professor is allowed to file a patent application on his own nickel, but he keeps all the rights. The article doesn't tell us if that is the situation at Delaware, but it's a reasonable possibility.

    The point is that there are several scenarios wherein professors could have developed the tech which they were working at Delaware, and yet Delaware has no rights on their work.

    We simply don't have enough information here to know for sure.

  1. chadpengar

    Joined: Dec 1969


    patent trademark

    Patents do not have the same rules as trademarks. You do not have to actively defend the patent in order for it to remain valid. So you can pick and choose who you go after. Trademarks you have to actively defend against all possble violators. As mentioned, this analyst has no clue.

  1. jarod

    Joined: Dec 1969



    That clueless peasant should go back to eating doritos and tortillas. No one really cares about his idiotic comments.

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