Look out, cell phone makers trying to cash in on the touch-screen craze. As AppleInsider reports, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has awarded Apple a patent for multi-touch technology. The patent covers a "touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics," and its abstract description reads:
A computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a computing device with a touch screen display comprises: detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display, applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device, and processing the command. The one or more heuristics comprise: a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command, a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a two-dimensional screen translation command, and a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a command to transition from displaying a respective item in a set of items to displaying a next item in the set of items.
Apple filed the patent in April last year, but the USPTO only awarded it last week—right before Apple COO (and temporary Steve Jobs stand-in) Tim Cook said in no small words that Apple will pursue competitors who "rip off" its intellectual property. He explained in Apple's latest earnings conference call, "We think competition is good, it makes us better. But we will not stand to have our IP ripped off. We'll use whatever weapons we have at our disposal."
Some have also tied the comment to the recent unveiling of Palm's Pre, an iPhone-like device that includes some multi-touch functionality. Palm retorted in a statement to Reuters, "Apple was not the first to do multi-touch. . . Palm has been building its own intellectual property portfolio for 15 years, and we will defend it vigorously, if necessary."
Microsoft, too, thinks multi-touch was around well before Apple came up with the iPhone. NewsFactor quotes Microsoft researcher Bill Buxton as saying, "[the original work in multi-touch technologies] undertaken by my team was done in 1984, the same year that the first Macintosh computer was released, and we were not the first." Microsoft uses multi-touch in its Surface interactive table, and Windows 7 should also support similar technology.