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back to article Apple snags blockbuster multi-touch patent

Apple was granted two dozen patents in the US Patent and Trademark Office's weekly patent-palooza, held each Tuesday, providing Cupertino's legal team with a new cache of ammunition to be fired up in future patent wars. Snuggled in amongst Tuesday's hoard is a patent entitled "Multipoint touchscreen" that could potentially be …

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Coat

Corners

It's ok guys, no need to fret. The illustrated device doesn't have rounded corners so it can't possibly be an Apple.

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Boffin

Well the multi-touch patent says

'capacitative' touchscreen, so someone would just need to invent a non-capacitative touchscreen that works better than the current resistive touchscreens to make this go away?

What with this patent s*&^ and the apps stealing customer data c*&^ I'm glad I stuck to my trusty old Nokia 6300. Can text, make calls, check online mail, read El Reg AND deny specific permissions to installed apps. Wow, who'd have thought...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Well the multi-touch patent says

Checkout Stantum - they've had the IP nailed down since before Apple bought FingerWorks and are the reason 'capacitative' comes up so much in Apple's own patents.

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Flame

DISGUSTING how ONLY apple is being AGGRESSIVE..

From Archos to ZTE there HAS to be enough Cerebral "HorsePower" as it were, that apple's ability to create mischief and ( actually brilliant ) patent's would be blunted by the POWER OF THE COLLECTIVE. Android manufactures get it together!!!!! That SHOT you heard, was intended for YOU!

Why not go "Pro Active" and drop the re-active posture..

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Paris Hilton

twitch

While I hate apple with a passion I can't really find fault with the first set of patents...(might have something to do with what I read in the second grouping).

I think my brain shut itself down at the total lack of ignoring prior art in most of the last group.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: twitch

"enabling an interface element to change its appearance while being moved around a display"

Already been done: mouse pointers anyone?

"changing the appearance of an interface element when it is selected or acted upon"

Like when a button is pressed?

These two have considerable prior-art; unless you want to get so specific we're saying that a mouse-pointer or button is not an "interface element"?

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Trollface

Read the patents...

Well not you guys, you don't need to read the patent, but the Patent Office does. It seems lately that if it has Apple Co. written on the front of the document it just gets blindly accepted. Possibly read on the iPads all staff have been provided with...

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Anonymous Coward

Prior art

Wikipedia have references to multitouch products as early as 2001.

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Facepalm

Re: Prior art

Well, the patent itself references articles and research going back to 1970...as well as citing work by IBM, Synaptics, Fingerworks etc etc.

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Never mind multitouch...

""Object transitions" – changing the appearance of an interface element when it is selected or acted upon"

Who the hell granted that??

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Competition

I don't think it's about originality or invention. it's just about having sufficient means to ensure that competition can be killed at birth by the mere threat of action. The patents don't really have to be defensible if you're big enough. Unless the likes of Google want to take them on, of course.

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Re: Competition

and there is the convenient fact that the majority of companies these will be used against are "foreigners" - don't need to bother Google, just go after HTC, Samsung etc.

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Devil

Re: Competition

In some ways can't really blame Apple... it's a bit like when a truck has a spillage of it's transported goods in the street and people flock to grab whatever's going.

Well the USPTO is a bit like that truck at the moment, they're just stamping 'approved' on any old shit that comes across their desk and it's like Apple realised this before everyone else, so they're just basically taking advantage of a bad situation.

The correct terminology, I think, is "trying it on" and as long as there is no penalty or financial disincentive for "trying it on" over and over again, they're going to keep doing it.

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Douglas Adams : Genius

I first read the H2G2 books when I was about 12/13. My first was 'Restaurant'. Then I found H2G2 and was hooked for a life time. In this Zaphod steals the Heart of Gold and is trying to find of himself on a sub-ether channel and Douglas Adams writers the following : For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive { you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope.

Now, I am not saying this is multi-touch, but Douglas was being exceptionally prescient about how technology was going to move, and when the patent says thins like "configured to detect multiple touches or /near touches/" with my emphasis on 'near' you just have to wonder how far prior art goes, at what point the world says 'we've been doing this for years on 'other things, so on a 'phone it is no different' ' and at which point people will get fed up paying massively inflated prices for products because 50% of the cost is paying stupid IP fees to another company just because they managed to write down the bleeding obvious before somebody else…….

And one last thing : most operating systems have used 'used multi-touch' for a very long time. On a windows machine, there is CTR/ALT/DEL. Is that not 'multi-touch' ? Try doing it with one finger and thing about it. What Apple are doing is taking stuff we already know and saying 'hey, lets shove a screen under the fingers and re-patent the world'.

Madness. Utter f#*!ing madness.

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Re: Douglas Adams : Genius

Well one thing he really got is "hope".

Dials and buttons are very precise, while touch screens are far less precise. Gesture control will go even further down that line. So while you can easily type even complex commands without error, it's much harder to "touch" commands of similar complexity, and it will be even harder with gesture control. In the end you'll wave at the general direction and hope that the device does something tolerable.

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Stop

Re: Douglas Adams : Genius

Indeed, if you need an example of prior art then the whole concept of the book in hitchhikers guide to the galaxy is clearly prior art for many devices today.

I think we can also say that the US patent office uses a distinct branch of "bistromath" to come to its conclusions given what they grant.

What appears to be happening with US Patents is people are registering anything and everything, Apple didnt invent multi touch, but they appear to be the ones filing the paperwork for a patent to licence someone elses ideas.

And to be fair they are not the only ones who have done this, all manufacturers appear to be engaging in patenting all and sundry.

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jai
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Re: Re: Douglas Adams : Genius

y'know, I'm not sure the term 'prior art' when related to patents applies to concepts described in a science-fiction novel.

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Thumb Up

Re: Re: Re: Douglas Adams : Genius

You may be right.......

My comments were partly out of despair at the way the IP battles seem to be going right now, but also that ideas are very seldom new. Writing them down and getting a patent for them may be, but ideas very rarely are new.

Maybe here is a business model : grab a bunch of good sci-fi novels, from Douglas Adams, Arthur C Clarke, Asimov Alan Moore and Phillip K Dick, have a trawl for any good ideas and patent them. If sci-fi writing is not prior art, then the next 500 years of consumer stuff could be wrapped up in the next decade with patents for pretty much everything……

But I do take your point.

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Boffin

Re: Douglas Adams : Genius

Maybe, Apple are patenting all this stuff now, so that some time in the future it can fall through a tear in the fabric of space, in to the past, and make someone a lot of money. (or, maybe that has already happened...)

And yes, the man was a genius.

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Re: Re: Douglas Adams : Genius

> US Patents is people are registering anything and everything

If the USPTO rejects an application then it has no income. If it rubber stamp approves it then it keeps the application fee and gets annual fees for each and every patent.

If the patent is challenged and forwarded for re-evaluation it gets another set of fees regardless of whether it upholds or cancels the patent. And then it may get appeals with fees.

If patents are argued over the cost is on the parties and the court system.

Why would USPTO _ever_ reject a patent application ?

They are the modern form of indulgences. Just as corrupt and ultimately just as damaging to society.

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Alien

Re: Re: Re: Douglas Adams : Genius

"y'know, I'm not sure the term 'prior art' when related to patents applies to concepts described in a science-fiction novel."

Maybe it should be. I'm pretty sure we've seen stories here in the hallowed pages of El Reg reporting on patents granted by the USPTO for "inventions" which are simply not possible with current technology, ie speculative patent grabs or "science fiction" in more common parlance.

Maybe it's time someone sued the USPTO for not carrying out "due diligence". Anyone who's managed to have an obviously flawed patent overturned might feel that to be a good idea.

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Re: Douglas Adams : Genius

"On a windows machine, there is CTR/ALT/DEL. Is that not 'multi-touch' ?...Madness. Utter f#*!ing madness."

Oh, it's much worse than that! I mean, think about it--have people not been using fingers for a long time? Have they not touched things with them, even simultaneously? Did not at least some of those touched things react to said touch?

It's absolutely outrageous that Apple could patent "multi-touch"! Have they and the USPTO no shame?

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Mushroom

Obviously the judges don't watch TV

Even adverts have been showing off multi-touch devices for years.

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*sigh*

this is getting boring now.

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Facepalm

Do people *really* not go and read these things?

Go and look at it - it's not a .txt containing the sentance "We're patenting the screen recognizing multiple touches at once.'

Also, patent examiners are not thick - if it's granted, then there's good reason.

Steve

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Thumb Down

Re: Do people *really* not go and read these things?

"Patent examiners are not thick" - I beg to differ. These are the same examiners who signed off the patent for sideways swinging. Your "good reason" for granting a payment comes down to two facts:

- The patent examiners have a bias towards authorising patents and letting the courts sort out the mess later

- The patent office gets a fee for every patent accepted

Whether this is a valid patent or not will end up decided in the courts as ever, not on el Reg.

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Re: Re: Do people *really* not go and read these things?

John: you've hit the nail right on the head there. The patent offices just don't care if what they grant is novel and non-obvious or not. They've got their money, justified their existence and it's someone else's job to figure out if it's valid or not. There's also no comeback on the patent offices if patents are consistently proved to be invalid, and there's no oversight of what is essentially a monopoly business.

I also confidently expect that in the next 10 years we'll see evidence and possibly a conviction or two for bribes taken by USPTO staff from companies such as Google and Apple in order to lubricate the passage of patents.

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Happy

Re: Re: Do people *really* not go and read these things?

Yeah, completely right, the incentives are screwed up for the Patent Office. This is partly due to lobbying from big companies who want to be able to patent everything and anything, and partly from politicians who like to boast about the numbers of patents filed as some sort of measure of how clever the country is. The combination of this is that the PO has an incentive to grant as many patents as possible, even if they are flawed. (Just out of curiosity, I wonder if anyone has any idea of what percentage of patent applications are accepted / rejected).

Now, the way a PO should work to only approve true innovation is to charge a fee per application, not per patent granted, and to charge an additional fee if a rejected application is appealed or updated & resent. Part of the fee is a deposit to be refunded if and only if the patent is granted (This is so that the system is still accessible to small inventors / enterprises). Internal bonuses to PO staff are to be based on numbers of patents processed, NOT on how many were granted.

And any applicant with a high percentage of rejected applications is to be considered to be wasting the PO's time, and be barred from any applications for a month the first time, 2 months the 2nd time etc. That way it becomes self-regulating, since no company would apply for a patent that they know is flawed.

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Mushroom

patent examiners are not thick

Of course they aren't. They are smart enough to know which side their bread is buttered. Given a license to print money who wouldn't run the printing press at full speed ?

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@Arkasha

" a conviction or two for bribes "

Really no need to take money under the table and risk going to jail when there's plenty offered over the table called patent application and examination fees.

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Why is the Reg writing troll articles?

Even the most dimwitted tech journalist should understand that the scope of a patent is not determine by the abstract, but by the claims. References to a broad abstract appear to be aimed at provoking the great unwashed of El-Reg into a frothing rage over something most of them have basically no clue about.

I'm constantly surprised how people who don't understand the first thing about the patent system feel qualified to pass judgement on it.

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Over to you

I don't pretend to know the slightest thing about patent law but it seems odd to me that a company that didn't invent multi-touch can patent it. Could you, who is clearly more knowledgable on the subject than I and indeed the writer, please help explain? I know this sounds like sarcasm but I genuinely want to know so if you could enlighten I would appreciate it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I don't pretend to know the slightest thing about patent law

Yep, you and everybody else here.

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Re: Over to you

What makes you think they have patented multi-touch?

As I said above, the scope of a patent is determined by the claims. What they have a patent for is therefore determined by reading the claims, read with the supporting specificaiton (so terms used within the claim have a meaning as defined by the specification).

In order to get a patent, Apple must have sucessfully argued that what they are claiming is:

- new, in the sense that the claimed subject matter was not made available to the public before the application date (for instance by being common general knowledge, or known or used, published etc)

- inventive, in that the person skilled in the art would not have found it obvious in the light of what was available to the public.

Note that the skilled person does not have inventive skill (since otherwise all inventions would be obvious). They are legal fiction - think of a geek who can follow explicit teaching of the prior art to combine from multiple disclosures, but it not able to bring inventiveness to bear.

Bear in mind that the USPTO does not have an infinite amount of time to go looking for prior art, and that third parties are free to submit observations to the USPTO during prosecution of the patent.

Hope that helps a little.

It's really about time the Register wrote an article to explain patents and patent prosecution, and made all of its writers read it.

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FAIL

"the USPTO does not have an infinite amount of time to go looking for prior art"

So you're saying that nobody at the USPTO owns a smartphone? It should not be possible to get a patent for a technology that has already been in widespread use for a number of years.

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Re: "the USPTO does not have an infinite amount of time to go looking for prior art"

"So you're saying that nobody at the USPTO owns a smartphone?"

Since the patent dates from 2004, my wild guess is that not many examiners at the USPTO own a pre-2004 smartphone having a capacitive touchscreen.

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Re: Re: Over to you

I read the claims. They are patenting a multi-touch capacitive overlay for a display device along with the DSP algorithms, methods and computing hardware to process the raw data from said overlay. In short: a multi-touch screen as found on hundreds of different devices.

It makes me laugh: one of the claims is an Analogue to Digital Converter. Another relates to DSP techniques that I was taught in university 20 years ago.

Oh, and here's some prior art for you:

http://www.billbuxton.com/multitouchOverview.html

http://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1266588/files/StumpeMar77.pdf

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8lCetZ_57g

http://www.informatik.uni-trier.de/~ley/db/indices/a-tree/w/Wellner:Pierre.html

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This post has been deleted by its author

Re: Re: Re: Over to you

I had a quick look (at the file wrapper at the USPTO), and the scope of protection appears to very much hinge on the meaning of the word "gradient". I'm not convinced they would have got away with the arguments they used before the EPO, but I can't be bothered to look to see what happened (or may be happening) there.

Anyway, Apple have argued that this it's the "gradient" that is the inventive feature, despite the fact it seems very unclear what this is, particularly in view of the repercussive effect of dependant claims.

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Re: Over to you

I'm fairly certain that a lot of patents make use of the wheel, even though the applicant didn't invent the wheel. Should they therefore be rejected?

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Nothing new

It's sad when a company with mountains of cash instead of inventing is trying to suffocate all competition this way.

Here's an idea - why don't all other mobile manufacturers boycott the US patent office and the stinking fruity company and withhold their products from the US market (even for a limited time)?

Put the whole country on an apple diet for a month and watch... :-)

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Bronze badge

The Empire Strikes Back...

After Apple have been fighting and struggling in the courts of Europe and China of late, this is kind of like the Empire's new Death Star. I wonder if this will work out as well for Apple as it did for the Emperor...

Still, lawyers across the world are cracking open the champagne as we speak - let the good times roll!

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Stop

Prior art

The first referenced patent has the same abstract as this one and was granted in 2004. Just goes to show how much weight to give to the abstract of a patent. Can't be bothered to look to see if there's a long chain of these.

The key points of a patent are in the claims, which try to do the same thing as the abstract, but get more and more specific as they go on and on (and on and on).

Saying that, the claims do seem to be trying to say the same thing as the abstract - basically the derivation of the "touch point" as the centroid of a "touch area" calculated using a watershed algorithm (simple edge detection) and some denoising.

I have to say, it all seems rather obvious really. Software tools make pretty much anything that relies on software as "blindingly obvious" to another softie - which is a good argument for not having software patents. The key patent should be the touchscreen which is capable of registering multiple touches - not the software techniques that process the signals.

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WTF?

Re: Prior art

Surely Synaptics have been doing the centroid thing for years. They have to know how far your finger has travelled on a touchpad to be able to interpret relative distance which means at some point you have to make some calculation as to the start & endpoints, the obvious way being to work out the rectangle of touched area and calculate its centre.

Plus, if I can explain how to do that in one sentence in an El Reg comment then I'm fairly sure it's *obvious* ...

A bit like touching a touchscreen... USPTO needs a rocket up it. Or a bomb under it. Damn. Now I'm on a child-murdering ricin-peddling AK47-firing gubberment watchlist for being facetious.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re: Prior art

Worse than that: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/22/twitter_bomb_threat_joke_guilty/

Expect a knock on the door from the plod any time soon

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Anonymous Coward

Give me strength...

I'll save you all the rant I feel like going on, and simply say this:

When Samuel Johnson wrote that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". I think the only reason he didn't substitute "software patents" for "patriotism", was because they hadn't been invented in 1775.

Software patents are to true innovation and competition, what a pride of lions is to a herd of wildebeeste.

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Re: Give me strength...

I believe Apple tried to patent "patriotism"

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Joke

Re: Give me strength...

I doubt Smauel Johnson would have conconcted a sentence beginning "Software patents is the"

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Coat

Re: Give me strength...

Anyone else read that as Samuel L Jackson? ... no-one? :/

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Anonymous Coward

Quote: "...your Reg reporter doesn't claim to be a patent lawyer ("Thank you, Jesus!")"

Brilliant - made my morning!

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