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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 R. Miller | Feb 13, 2009 10:19:10 AM

The Apple addicts are in a panic that their cherished device will become second-rate chic and their cult will falter.

Those of us who consider a phone a tool and not a religious symbol are laughing at this ridiculous breast-beating. By their logic, Palm should sue Apple for creating a smartphone!

The Apple Flavor Aid guzzlers are pathetic! I wouldn't use an iPhone if someone gave it to me for free.

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