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Apple vs. Palm Dispute Over Pre Multi-Touch Interface

Apple Claims Multi-Touch As Its Own & Vows To Defend Its Intellectual Property Against “Imitators” Including (Maybe) the Palm Pre


As you might have read, for the past two weeks Apple and Palm have indirectly been engaged in a heated dispute (using the media as their weapons).  The center of this dispute is the new Palm Pre and what Apple regards as a “rip off” of the intellectual property found on its iPhone – specifically its multi-touch screen interface.

The whole story begins when acting Apple CEO is asked about the Palm Pre multi-touch interface during a recent earnings call – a question that he answered by strongly noting that “we will not stand for having our IP ripped off and we’ll use whatever weapons that we have at our disposal [against companies that infringe this IP]”.

These strong words and the implied threat of legal action immediately led many to believe that Apple was basically preparing a case to sue Palm over the Pre.  In turn, a Palm spokesperson quickly responded that “if faced with legal action we are confident that we have the tools necessary to defend ourselves”.

I have to admit that I have been a bit baffled by this entire dispute.  While some have called the Palm Pre an “iPhone imitator” the fact is nonetheless that I see very few overwhelming similarities between these two smartphones (aside from the fact that they both have a touchscreen) and I find it extremely hard to see how Apple could claim a patent infringement.  Others have gone further by stating that compared to the Pre the iPhone “looks like it’s still in Beta”.

A fascinating and rather complete Microsoft Research document in fact states that “Multi-touch technologies have a long history.  To put it in perspective, the original work undertaken by my [Bill Buxton] team was done in 1984, the same year that the first Macintosh computer was released, and we were not the first.  Furthermore, during the development of the iPhone, Apple was very much aware of the history of multi-touch, dating at least back to 1982, and the use of the pinch gesture, dating back to 1983.”

Just a couple of days ago the fact that Apple was actually awarded an iPhone patent for “Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics” which includes claims for things like “a contact comprising a simultaneous two-thumb twisting gesture corresponds to a 90.degree. screen rotation command” further added fuel to the threat of an Apple lawsuit.

I have no idea if Apple will specifically go after Palm and its new Pre smartphone but if a patent case is brought forward it’s likely to take years of legal wranglings before any outcome is determined.  Additionally, it’s clear that other manufacturers in this space will be equally keen to fight any claims made by Apple as we should expect that sooner or later most smartphone will incorporate multi-touch functionality of one sort or another.

Either way, the fact that the Pre is even making it on Apple’s radar as a threat is a rather good indication of the impressive design turnaround that Palm (a company that many repeatedly claimed was about to go out of business just four weeks ago) has achieved with this stunning next-generation smartphone – one which I believe will set a completely new bar for mobile computing when released in June.

Apple vs. Palm: Geeks with grudges [Fortune]
Apple Awarded iPhone Patent [Fortune]
Multi-Touch Systems that I Have Known and Loved [Bill Buxton]

Treonauts are always ready for battle

Posted by Andrew on January 29, 2009 at 12:36 PM

Palm Pre

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by L'ascolto del venerdì | Jan 29, 2009 3:53:18 PM

Why a claim of a patent infringement only now with Pre at the doors while many others multi-touch devices are around since years?

by serge | Jan 29, 2009 4:00:08 PM

Lots of noise for nothing. Frankly nobody can deny the similarity a gestual teratment of images inovated by Apple in its Iphone and the very same one copied by Palm in its palm pré - with the full help of its Apple engineer transfuge...
Touch screen is common to all recent electronic devices, Nokia and Blackberry are not less innocent... but I believe that what Apple claims is not the originality of the touch screen but the way you touch it, the software behind it to get a specific effect.
It is absolutley clear for me that Palm has adopted Apple innovation ( a great compliemnt...)
As I said 2 weeks ago if Palm had been smart and clever enough to make the Palm pré Mac OS compatible this potential court case would not have meaning...
Everybody greedt !
Palm has innovated on one thing : the multitasking approach based on immediate internet links... and soon many others will follow...
So wars are not over...

by Sam Jackson | Jan 29, 2009 4:05:00 PM

Ridiculous. Who gets to sue for patent infringement for QWERTY keypads on phones? Heck, why doesn't someone come out and say the existence of a camera lens or microphone is patent infringement? Apple is ridiculous.

by q | Jan 29, 2009 5:18:58 PM

You all are just now getting to this! Peep out this article on engadget if you haven't already.


There's a lot to be said in regards to who's infringing on who.

by John22s | Jan 29, 2009 5:44:20 PM

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Who is copying who here? Did apple copy the treo 650 (the best phone of its time), or is Palm now copying the iPhone? Good to have you back in full force, Andrew!

by Alan | Jan 29, 2009 8:56:03 PM

Wow! You can patent a gesture? I've got one in mind.

by Me My Moe | Jan 29, 2009 8:57:13 PM

I agree, Apple IS ridiculous; I would NEVER own an
Next, they will be suing the Washington apple growers association, claiming APPLE is THEIR trademark.
Boycott Apple, Long Live Palm!!!

by Frylock | Jan 29, 2009 10:36:29 PM

Apple is notorious for theses claims. Take graphical user interface (ie o.s. with a mouse): Xerox technically had the first commercially available GUI back then. Someone from Apple saw it, slapped on a 9 inch black and white screen, and that's how the Macintosh was born. The pre at least offers something the iphone does not: physical qwerty keyboard. I also don't get why people like the new version of the iphone. It's so friggin' thin it feels like I'm holding large a double edged razor blade.

by Joseph | Jan 30, 2009 3:03:52 AM

The thing is that if Apple wants to sue Palm.. then Palm will sue apple.. as simple as that since palm has many patents that the iphone violates.. It's a scenario of casualties on both sides but i guess the biggest looser here will be Apple

by Golden Skull | Jan 30, 2009 1:36:15 PM

Palm stopped innovating five years ago.

Apple has innovated for more than thirty years.

R.I.P. Palm.

by TP | Jan 30, 2009 10:08:22 PM

All this saber-rattling is not going to amount to much unless and until Palm successfully launches the Pre & its ilk. Any misstep and there won't be much left of Palm to be worth suing.
The clock is ticking .....

by HTC Touch Pro | Jan 31, 2009 12:34:52 AM

Why is Apple trippin. Apple has made the iphone just for AT&T. Why is it that if they are exclusive another company can't make another phone similar for another carrier. They should have left it as an unlocked phone and not worry about a little competition.

by cat dumas | Jan 31, 2009 7:43:49 AM

um.....i've been using palm devices for, what, over 10 years now and i could swear the screen has been operating with GESTURES of my stylus which is quite a LOT like a really skinny FINGER.......WTF? i'm a big apple computer fan but lately it seems like jobs has turned into an uber-monster since the iphone came out. we medical field people love our palms for the 1000's of medical apps we ALREADY OWN and want to continue to use them on our new and improved PALM devices.

Hello? Steve Jobs? is it ok if somebody else on the planet earns a living besides YOU?????

by Russ | Jan 31, 2009 3:07:57 PM

Go Palm ! ! ! GO BABY GO

by serge | Jan 31, 2009 5:26:48 PM

I will repeatagain and again Palm should return to the old good days when you had the Palm software included with the Mac OS.
Windows might be "universal" for some branches of business but the creative elite of the society (everywhere in the world) works on a Mac machine: designers, architects, photographs, dancers, innovative musicians, visual and performing art artsits, academic and students in biology, geography, ecology, writers, great reporters, press people, ministers and social workers... are on Mac! Palm wake up , you can make money with the quality and not only your limited vision of quantiy...
The very day Palm will understand that competing against Apple creativity is like shooting on your own shoes...and Palm has much more to get and gain from the Mac communty rather any so called "pro" milieu...

by serge | Jan 31, 2009 5:30:27 PM

Palm should go with Mac
Windows might be "universal" for some branches of business but the creative elite of the society (everywhere in the world) works on a Mac machine: designers, architects, photographs, dancers, innovative musicians, visual and performing art artists, academics and students in biology, geography, ecology, writers, great reporters, press people, ministers and social workers... are on Mac! Palm wake up , you can make money with the quality and not only your limited vision of quantity...
The very day Palm will understand that competing against Apple creativity is like shooting on your own shoes... and Palm has much more to get and gain from the Mac community rather than any so called "pro" milieu...

by Roberto | Feb 1, 2009 1:41:59 AM

Er... serge? We are talking pre, not pro. WebOS, not Windows.

by serge ouaknine | Feb 2, 2009 2:44:45 AM

OK Roberto but is the WebOS, Mac compatible or just limited to Windows owners?
When I say "Pro" it is with irony, as Palm claimed few months ago that to be « Pro » is to be Windows... now we have a Pré ... is "Pré" also "Pro" or just for intertainment...
These categories made by Palm as meaningless... and from my point y of view strick vanity... and marketing non sens...

Nokia and Blackberry and Apple are making superb machines, do you consider them as Pro or Pré, professional or mostly consumer entertaining ... they can serve both -- it depends on you, not on Palm dogmatic wishes...

Palm is shooting on its own shoes as the company does with great constancy for the last 5 years and it resulted in a full collapse of leadership...

When something is good it is because it is FULL and EFFICIENT AND SMART and does not FREEZE , it is conceived generously without limits and without OS ostracism like Palm does ...

I am very serious when I say and repeat that long time ago the CEO and its team should have beem fired... despite recent « post mortem » innovations…

Pro or Pré, Palm has not yet understood that the Public mentality has changed thanks to the electronic and internet revolution. Palm is still thinking things in categories ( even immediat multitaskin ) and not as free access for all...regardless telephone companies ( Apple is making the same mistake)…

by blank | Feb 2, 2009 6:13:39 AM


the pro series will be palm mobiles with windows mobile.


by Victor | Feb 2, 2009 9:42:15 AM

Palm never dies... and Apple is getting nervous about de Pre. Anyway, such legal dispute helps to promove the Pre for all audiences.

by PalmNut | Feb 2, 2009 9:03:31 PM

Andrew, Jim Goldman from CNBC.com has an article today that seems to indicate Apple doesn't have much of a shot at pulling off any patent infringement against Palm. Check out his article and my thoughts on it at http://palmnut.blogspot.com...this is great news for PALM!

by RexRay | Feb 3, 2009 4:51:37 PM

Andrew's such a Palm fanboy, and has obviously been peeved about Apple's ascension in the mobile market. I'm a long time Palm user, and have used Apple products even longer. It's obvious to me that the Pré's UI is highly derivative of the iPhone's "look and feel", but it's all about who patented what and what the judges ultimately decide (or more likely what back room deal is struck in a 'cross-licensing' settlement). Ultimately, when these corporations compete by innovating new technologies, the consumer is the winner, so let the battle begin!

by John Whorfin | Feb 4, 2009 12:41:15 AM

Apple has over $25 BILLION in cash and no debt. Palm is still on life support.

Apple can afford to litigate Palm into the dark ages, just for kicks.

The issue here isn't "touchscreens", it's specific implementation of the multi-touch interface Apple developed (and patented) for handheld smartphones.

Oh, and Jim Goldman at CNBC is a certified moron...


by dgarts | Feb 5, 2009 10:42:09 AM

Unfortunately, I think John Whorfin is where it's at.

This isn't a matter of truth or right or anything like that. Apple has the cash to drag it out in court ad infinitum and force Palm to spend money it doesn't have on lawyers it can't afford, or save as much precious cash as it can by settling out of court, which would leave less money available to continue R&D or keep the lights on.

It shows me two things:

1. Palm is very clearly a threat to Apple, of such immediacy and proportion that Apple would stoop to the level of Microsoft and compete by non-competitive behaviour. Rather than put their heads down, roll their sleeves up and get to work on a platform that head on addresses the interests of the prosumer (my goodness, copy and paste is basic, no?) they resort to flanking Palm with legal action that has nothing to do with iPhone's ability to face the competition of the webOS.

2. When Apple was a small alternative, it was cool. Now Apple is the big giant beating up on some other small alternative, and in so doing has sold out and joined the dark side.

Apple fanboys should stop, right now, ever criticizing Microsoft, for Apple has joined them.

As Darth Vader said while attempting to recruit Luke, "You underestimate the POWAH of the darrrrrk siiiiide."

Indeed, indeed.

by Jason | Feb 8, 2009 6:41:41 PM


Unbelievable. Palm has had touchscreen years long long long before iphone even was on paper.

Looks like the case will turn on the scroll function of the iphone. Anything more general palm should win. they should countersue for the use of the touchscreen technology for good measure.

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