Apple multi-touch patent is not legal

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I don’t understand how there can even be any validity to the “heuristic multi-touch” patent that Apple was just granted. Why? Here are the facts as I see it:

  1. In order to obtain a patent you need to prove that you are the original inventor. To quote Wikipedia:

    Section 101 of Title 35 U.S.C. sets out the subject matter that can be patented:

    Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.

    This means that someone has to prove that they are the person who invented the technology. So for instance someone delivering a presentation on that technology to thousands of people means that there is no way that someone else can apply for the patent afterward.



  2. The Apple patent states the following:

    A computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a computing device with a touch screen display comprises: detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display, applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device, and processing the command. The one or more heuristics comprise: a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command, a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a two-dimensional screen translation command, and a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a command to transition from displaying a respective item in a set of items to displaying a next item in the set of items.



  3. The Apple patent was filed on April 11th 2008
  4. Jeff Han gave this presentation (in front of thousands) at the TED Conference in February 2006:



  5. Jeff Han’s presentation clearly shows all the things listed in Apple’s patent and was produced before the patent application. Therefore the patent is clearly invalid.
  6. Patents have to be non-obvious.
  7. Multi-touch heuristics are obvious. Here is a list posted by Craig Musselman on this post. As you can see multi-touch heuristics are very obvious and have been for a long time (well at least to Hollywood anyway):

    1. gene roddenberry Star trek

    2. Independence day docking tracking screen

    3. jetsons menu system

    4. AI (artificial intelligence) movie

    5. minority report

    6. children of men

    7. Predator



Am I wrong? This seems to be so patently obvious to me. Have I missed something? If I am not wrong, then I hope that Microsoft, Palm and even maybe Jeff’s lawyers are able to prove this and get the patent taken away.

Watching Jeff’s video about a year ago was a turning point in my life. It opened my eyes to the world of possibility that research into human-computer interaction can provide. My life’s goal is now to be a part of that, to be someone who helps to discovers new and intuitive ways to interact with computers. It is such a shame to see his inventions stolen by Apple. I agree that patents are necessary, but   really only for non-obvious things and only when you really, truly invented something yourself. Advances in any field are hampered if people and corporations do not play fair and I really feel that Apple is playing this one really dirty.

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7 thoughts on “Apple multi-touch patent is not legal

  1. The first Multi-touch system was made as far back as 1982 by Nimish Mehta. This is certainly not an original concept.

    Even the different gestures used are old; Pierre Welner designed the Digital Desk in 1990 and used “pinch to shrink”.

    It’s got a very impressive demo over at google video:

    And even the very popular Jazzmutant Lemur was from 2003… Well before the iPhone or Han.

    Check this pdf for more info:

  2. @Wout Wow, I had no idea that it went that far back. Thanks so much for the extra links, they are very interesting.

  3. Just watched the video that Wout linked to above and find it funny how similar the action for selecting something is to that of the iPhone. It took them so long to come up with a good system when they had this as an example all along.

  4. The patent you refer to does not cover all possible implementations of multi-touch interfaces. It is pretty specific to Apple’s implementation.

    I suggest you learn more about how patents are written and read the actual patent rather than relying on press coverage, which often gets it wrong. Patents can be tough to decipher, but I think if you compare the specific claims to what you see elsehwere (for instance, the Han video), you’ll understand the difference.

    Also important: The title of your post is a lie. Apple’s patent is legal. No law has been broken. You may not regard it as valid, but that does not mean it is illegal.

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