How Patents May Make Multitouch Interfaces All Different

from the standards?-we-don't-need-no-steenkin'-standards... dept

When Steve Jobs first announced the iPhone a little over a year ago, he played up the fact that Apple had filed approximately 200 patents on some of the technologies included in the phone. This seemed a bit surprising because so many of the technologies found in the iPhone were already found elsewhere — just not in as pretty a package. Also, despite all those patent claims, it hasn’t stopped a whole bunch of companies from filing patent infringement lawsuits against Apple for technologies found in the iPhone. As we’ve pointed out, playing up the patents seemed rather pointless. Apple was going to sell a ton of iPhones no matter what, and even if others copied the basic technology, it’s unlikely they would be able to get anywhere near the attention the iPhone would get (nor the sales). We’ve already seen that with the iPod. Despite competitors coming up with technology that some consider to be better, the marketing and positioning of the iPod keeps it on top of the market (by a large margin).

Wired is now pointing out another potential downside to Apple’s patent claims. Despite there being a ton of work by others done on the concept of the “multi-touch interface,” Apple’s patents on the concept may force everyone else who uses multi-touch to come up with different multi-touch commands. In other words, rather than there being a common set of multi-touch commands, which would help widen the overall market, the patents may fragment the market, forcing everyone to learn a different set of multi-touch commands based on which device they’re using. That’s progress?

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Companies: apple

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Comments on “How Patents May Make Multitouch Interfaces All Different”

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Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Business isn’t about making progress as much as it is about making money. The iphone wasn’t about making an open form of advanced technology, it was about cornering a niche market, and then milking it for all it is worth.

But if you look at any business based on an open standard, you find that it tends to open up *more* opportunities for milking. The more standardized the interface, the more Apple can do *above* the interface to make it worth buying, and the more people willing to buy Apple’s system since there are lower switching costs for them — assuming the rest of what they’re selling is better.

JuarezTraveller says:

Without a standard, a monopoly is inevitable

The windowed user interface, described in part by the CWUA standard, gave the world a common “language” for interacting with computers. This greatly facilitated the spread of computers — and their attendant applications — throughout every facet of our lives. An operating system that used that common user interface could easily be learned by new users who already were familiar with a different proprietary but similar windows user interface.

In addition, a platform that makes it easy for third-party developers to make money will find itself spreading far and wide, dominating platforms which restrict development. The battles between Apple and Microsoft, and between IBM and the rest of the PC industry already have demonstrated that fact of life.

Without a standard user interface and an open development platform, multitouch devices will be relegated to a minor niche in computerdom, with the different approaches facing each other in an endless and debilitating war, while development in the area is stifled by fear of patent infringement lawsuits. One company will win, but if they don’t open the platform up to third-party developers, the multitouch platform will suffer the same fate as all restricted platforms do, and we’ll all wait for a different, more open platform.

We can only hope that the next President cleans house in the Patent Office and reforms patent law to encourage, rather than stifle, innovation.

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