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.