Feeds

New Apple keyboard patent may spell trouble for Android

Threat level hinges on lawyers' cunning

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

The US Patent and Trademark Office has handed Apple's legal team what may turn out to be a powerful weapon in their ongoing battles against anyone with the temerity to launch products competitive with the iPhone and iPad: a patent on soft keyboards that modify their keys with the tap of an on-screen button.

Granted on Tuesday, US Patent 8,179,731, "Method, system, and graphical user interface for selecting a soft keyboard", describes the soft keyboard familiar to any iOS or Android tablet or smartphone user, in which letter keys are replaced by number keys or symbol keys when the appropriate layout-changing button is tapped.

There is, however, a subtle but important distinction between this newly granted patent and the tablet or smartphone keyboards that users have come to love or loathe: Apple's patent describes a system in which a user chooses his or her desired keyboard by tapping either buttons with such identifiers as "A B C" or "1 2 3", or buttons in the form of what the patent describes as "demagnified" images of the various soft keyboards from which the user can choose.

The buttons described in the patent, however, are separate from the keyboards themselves, and can even "float" above the keyboard or text area being displayed. As anyone who has used current iOS or Android soft keyboards knows, their soft keyboards are accessed by tapping keys with letter number or symbol identifiers that are part of the displayed keyboard.

Apple soft-keyboard selection patent illustration

One example provided in Apple's patent shows 'demagnified' keyboard images floating above the display

From our wrestling with the 5,600 words of convoluted patentese that comprises US Patent 8,179,731, it would appear to our layman's eye that the "embodiments" described therein are sufficiently different from current soft-keyboard designs and layouts, and that there should be little for Cupertino's competitors to worry about.

We hasten to admit, however, that we are not patent lawyers.

After all, Apple's legal team found it perfectly reasonable to go after Samsung in a look-and-feel lawsuit based on an Apple design patent that included, among other assertions, the complaint that Samsung's Galaxy S smart phone used icons that had "rounded corners". Head-of-pin choreography is a highly prized specialty in the intellectual property professions.

There may not be enough in Monday's patent for Apple to claim full ownership of the concept of "making operational ... the plurality of soft keyboards", but we're willing to bet that there are sufficient inferences of implied ownership to keep legal teams busy far into the future, should Apple find that doing so might be in its interest. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
YOU are the threat: True confessions of real-life sysadmins
Who will save the systems from the men and women who save the systems from you?
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
Broadband sellers in the UK are UP TO no good, says Which?
Speedy network claims only apply to 10% of customers
Virgin Media struck dumb by NATIONWIDE packet loss balls-up
Turning it off and on again fixes glitch 12 HOURS LATER
Ofcom snatches 700MHz off digital telly, hands it to mobile data providers
Hungry mobe'n'slab-waving Blighty swallows spectrum
Fujitsu CTO: We'll be 3D-printing tech execs in 15 years
Fleshy techie disses network neutrality, helmet-less motorcyclists
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Managing SSL certificates with ease
The lack of operational efficiencies and compliance pitfalls associated with poor SSL certificate management, and how the right SSL certificate management tool can help.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.