Feeds

New Apple keyboard patent may spell trouble for Android

Threat level hinges on lawyers' cunning

Top three mobile application threats

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. ®

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
Virgin Media so, so SORRY for turning spam fire-hose on its punters
Hundreds of emails flood inboxes thanks to gaffe
A black box for your SUITCASE: Now your lost luggage can phone home – quite literally
Breakfast in London, lunch in NYC, and your clothes in Peru
AT&T threatens to pull out of FCC wireless auctions over purchase limits
Company wants ability to buy more spectrum space in auction
Turnbull leaves Australia's broadband blackspots in the dark
New Statement of Expectations to NBN Co offers get-out clauses for blackspot builds
Facebook claims 100 MEEELLION active users in India
Who needs China when you've got the next billion in your sights?
Facebook splats in-app chat, whacks brats into crack yakety-yak app
Jibber-jabbering addicts turfed out just as Zuck warned
Google looks to LTE and Wi-Fi to help it lube YouTube tubes
Bandwidth hogger needs tube embiggenment if it's to succeed
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.