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Apple sued for every touchscreen device by Flatworld prof

Finger-based tech man makes massive money grab

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A Pennsylvania professor is gunning for a slice of all of Apple's touch-based product revenues, after claiming they infringe a patent for a museum screen technology he developed 15 years ago.

Slavoljub Milekic, a professor in cognitive sciences and digital design at the Univeristy of Arts in Pennsylvania, said he developed a touchscreen testing tool for children to manipulate screen images in 1997 for the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and was issued with patent #6,920,619 eight years later.

"Manipulations include selecting an image by touching it, "dragging" the selected image by moving the finger touching the image across the screen and "dropping" the image by lifting a finger from it, moving a selected image by touching another location on the screen and thereby causing the selected image to move to the touched location, removing an image from the screen by "throwing" it, i.e., moving it above a threshold speed, and modifying the image by tapping it twice and then moving the finger in a horizontal or vertical direction on the screen," the patent reads.

Flatworld Interactives, a company he set up in 2007 to monetize the invention, has built two such touch systems. It has now filed a claim in the Northern District California court to get some additional cashflow from Apple for its iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Air ranges, as well as any Mac using Magic Mouse or Trackpad running on OSX Snow Leopard ort later.

What makes Professor Milekic's patent special, he believes, is that previous systems used touch solely as a way of activating buttons on the screen. By including gestures, and using the speed of a finger's response to activate further action, Milekic thinks he was the first to something new and wants paying for it.

“Reading Flatworld’s patent is like reading the description of gesture recognition features of any of the accused products on Apple’s website,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Flatworld's lawyers at Hagens Berman in a statement. “It is clear that Flatworld owns technology that Apple has used to drive billions of dollars in infringing sales.”

Flatworld said that it notified Apple of the patent in 2007, shortly after the iPhone launch, but that Cupertino has not deigned to reply. A number of alterations were made to the patent recently and Flatworld filed its case shortly afterwards, citing willful disregard on the part of Apple as part of its case and asking for a sales injunction and a jury trial to determine its case.

As patent claims goes Milekic and his lawyers are aiming for the top. If Apple chooses to settle this one then every other touchscreen vendor is going to have to pay up as well, and maybe it's about time to take the advice of Fark founder Drew Curtis' recent TED talk and stop feeding the patent trolls. ®

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