Updated. It’s not just a threat: Apple (AAPL) really does have a patent on multi-touch. And that could potentially be bad news for Palm (PALM), which is trying to reinvent itself with a multi-touch smartphone platform.
Specifically, the U.S. Patent Office approved Apple’s patent number 7,479,949 on Jan. 20, which seems to include many of the multi-touch controls present in Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch. (More details at Apple Insider.)
This explains Apple COO Tim Cook’s comments on the company’s earnings call the next night: “…We will not stand for having our IP ripped off. And we will use whatever weapons that we have at our disposal. I don’t know that I can be any more clear than that.”
The potential problem for Palm: Some of the text in Apple’s patent sounds a lot like what Palm is building into its new WebOS platform and Palm Pre smartphone. Especially, as a commenter notes, a clause about a “touch-sensitive area of the device that, unlike the touch screen, does not display visual output” — sort of like the Palm Pre’s “gesture area.”
But Palm is not necessarily screwed. Apple would have to be the aggressor in any lawsuit. And Apple would then be subject to potential holes in the iPhone’s intellectual property. Palm, for instance, boasts a “robust patent portfolio.” (See below.) And others like Microsoft are working on multi-touch touchscreen software.
Palm, reached for comment by email, says it has “every reason to believe” that WebOS and the Pre will “come to full fruition.”
“Palm has a long history of innovation that is reflected in our products and robust patent portfolio, and we have long been recognised for our fundamental patents in the mobile space. If faced with legal action, we are confident that we have the tools necessary to defend ourselves.”