Touchscreen Patents have a Fundamental Flaw!

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They DO NOT talk of technology, but of features. This could well lead to a technology war with Apple bullying ‘the rest of them’. Is this fair?

“A two-dimensional screen translation heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to the two-dimensional screen translation command rather than the one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command based on the angle of initial movement of the finger contact with respect to the touch screen display; and a next item 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”

The first claim of patent 949 titled ‘touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics’ — This patent was awarded to Apple Inc,
and is regarded as the definitive patent for touch technologies. But it comes with a fundamental flaw.

The claims encompass all the possible ways in which touch features are enabled, but with absolutely no reference to the back-end technology.  So Apple can sue any manufacturer who incorporates touch elements on smart-phones (or any other hand-held device) –even if they are nowhere close to infringing on Apple’s technology that powers touch capabilities.

And that’s precisely what Apple did. It bullied Google into keeping multi-touch capabilities out of the HTC G1 (Google Phone) and Google complied with Apple’s demands to avert a legal mess. End result – Google Phone is very well capable of handling multi-touch functionalities but does not feature them in the end product.

Interestingly, multi-touch technologies date back to 1984 when Bell Labs engineered a touch screen using optical techniques to understand user inputs. Bell patented this technology, and kick-started multi-touch research
worldwide. The recent surge, as we all know, has HTC, Apple, Nokia, RIM, HP, Microsoft, Samsung and others jumping on the touch screen bandwagon all at once.

When Apple says ‘The first 30 years were just the beginning’, they are of course talking about the iPhone. But if Apple aggressively decides to ‘enforce’ patent 949, it could well ignite the biggest technology war of recent times. It is just the beginning indeed.

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