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Apple threatens Palm chomp

Patents drawn at 20 paces

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Gesture Capture

Equally important could well be application number 20080036743, which broadly claims to cover recognising gestures on a multi-touch surface. The patent application covers the process of capturing a gesture, which is then compared to a stored database of gestures to decide what action should be triggered. Also covered is the inclusion of a "gesture editor" to enable users to create their own gestures, and a hierarchical system for rating gestures by complexity.

But to most people the key capability of the iPhone's interface is the two-fingered zoom. Though it turns telephone use into a two-handed operation, the two-fingered zoom is the function that iPhone fans most enjoy showing off. The Fingerworks keyboard has the same function, only using five fingers, and Apple's patent clearly differentiates from such prior art by specifying a "portable electronic device" and the use of icons.

The patent application is number 20070152984, and it specifies that a graphical object greater than a specific size can be interacted with through the use of multi-touch, including "wherein the operation to be performed is changing a magnification level of the object by an amount corresponding to a change in distance between two or more contacts with the display surface." That would seem to cover the act of zooming in by drawing two fingers together, a demonstrated as a feature of the Palm Pre.

But before giving up on Palm, or accusing Apple of being unreasonable, there are three very important things to remember. Firstly, all except the first example quoted are patent applications - and Apple isn't going to sue anyone until those patents have been awarded, assuming that they are. Secondly, the Pre is still at the prototype stage, and nothing is going to happen until the device launches and Apple gets a chance to see if Palm is worth suing.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly: We are not patent lawyers. Apple probably has patents we've missed during this trawl, and Palm could well have workarounds to avoid the infringements we've suggested. But given the amount of money both companies are most likely going to be spending on litigation over the next couple of years, perhaps patent lawyer would be a sensible career move. ®

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