Apple now able to 'bully' US competitors after iPhone patent victory

News Ben Griffin 09:13, 24 Jun 2011

A patent battle over capacitive multitouch interfaces which Apple has now won could be a problem for rivals in the US

Apple finally secured a patent in the US that deals with capacitive multitouch interfaces, which experts believe could allow the firm to 'bully' its competitors.

The worry is the broadness of the patent could be a major problem for other smartphone manufacturers who also use touch screen displays controlled by finger movement.

Patent number 7,966,578, which Apple filed for back in December of 2007, is for:

'[A] computer-implemented method, for use in conjunction with a portable multifunction device with a touch screen display, [that] comprises displaying a portion of page content, including a frame displaying a portion of frame content and also including other content of the page, on the touch screen display.'

Although more technical in practice, the crux of the patent means Apple essentially owns capacitive the touch screen interfaces popularised by the iPhone. 

Obviously this opens the legal-gates for more lawsuit action against rivals HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Android, Nokia, RIM and other smartphones with the technology.

Florian Mueller, an award-winning IP activist, told PC Mag, 'This patent covers a kind of functionality without which it will be hard to build a competitive smartphone.'

'Unless this patent becomes invalidated, it would allow Apple to stifle innovation and bully competitors.'

Although it sounds pretty watertight, Mueller did say the courts are unlikely to side with the Cuppertino giant because of similiarities.

'The way to read a patent claim is that it's only infringed if the accused technology is implemented in its entirety - all of the characteristics must be matched.

'In this case, large parts of the independent claims 1 and 2 describe a smartphone, but there are also specific references to the 'translation' (in terms of relocation) of touchscreen contents with a touch gesture. Only a smartphone providing that functionality could be accused of infringement.'

Worst case scenario is Apple could force other manufacturers to cease the sales of certain rival smartphones in the US.

However, we would assume licensing is going to be the more likely outcome.

If the patent is upheld, it's yet another example of a system that's meant to encourage innovation not doing its job. Smaller companies may not be able to afford to pay Apple for the use of its technology, potentially stifling the competition.

Although on the winning side this time, Apple's had to step down on more than one ocassion. Recently Nokia won its lawsuit against Apple, resulting in an undisclosed one-off lump sum paid to the Finnish phone manufacturer and royalties from every iPhone sold.

Nokia’s CEO, Stephen Elop, said of the legal victory, ‘We are very pleased to have Apple join the growing number of Nokia licensees.'

Expect lots of lawsuit ping-pong over the coming months.

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