Apple's New Multitouch Patent

Apple picked up a patent that could come in very handy in this thicket of smartphone-related intellectual property litigation. The patent gets to the heart of what it means to be a smartphone these days: a user interface with a multitouch display. Patent No. 7,966,578 bears the title "Portable multifunction device, method, and graphical user interface for translating displayed content."

What does that patent cover?

The patent involves some of the most basic things you can do with a smartphone: touch the screen to move elements shown on it. That could be a touch with one finger, two fingers, or more, and the meat of the patent concerns just how many. Specifically, it has a lot to say about whether a sliding gesture moves a whole page of content or just some elements within a frame.

"Depending on the number of fingers used in the gesture, a user may easily translate page content or just translate frame content within the page content," the patent said.

The abstract of the patent reads as follows:

A computer-implemented method, for use in conjunction with a portable multifunction device with a touch screen display, comprises displaying a portion of page content, including a frame displaying a portion of frame content and also including other content of the page, on the touch screen display. An N-finger translation gesture is detected on or near the touch screen display. In response, the page content, including the displayed portion of the frame content and the other content of the page, is translated to display a new portion of page content on the touch screen display. An M-finger translation gesture is detected on or near the touch screen display, where M is a different number than N. In response, the frame content is translated to display a new portion of frame content on the touch screen display, without translating the other content of the page. 

Who got the patent?

The inventors are Francisco Ryan Tolmasky, Richard Williamson, Chris Blumenberg, and Patrick Lee Coffman, who applied for the claim in 2007. Apple is the assignee.

All four are on a longer list of inventors awarded Apple's multitouch patent in 2009--although this time around, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs isn't on the list.

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