I guess this is what some people would call “karma”. Apple may shout off the rooftops that it invented multitouch, and that anyone else using it is clearly stealing it from them – but another company has taken offence to that, and has slapped the Cupertino giant with a patent infringement suit over multitouch.
The company in question is Taiwanese chipmaker Elan Microelectronics, and they are suing Apple over patent no. 5,825,352, filed in February 1996, and granted in October 1998. The patent calls for a “method and apparatus for detecting an operative coupling between one or more fingers or other appropriate objects and a touch pad includes processes for detection of multiple maxima with intermediate minima in appropriate sequences to emulate the operations of cursor control and button actuations in a pointing and control device”.
In other words, multitouch. In 1996. More than ten years before Apple released the iPhone.
“Multi-finger applications are becoming popular in smartphone and computer applications, particularly with support for multi-finger gestures integrated into the new Microsoft Windows 7 operating system,” the company states, “The 352 patent is a fundamental patent to the detection of multi-fingers that allows for any subsequent multi-finger applications to be implemented.”
This is not some obscure patent that surfaced only recently. In 2008, Elan Microelectronics sued Synaptics over this very same patent, and the courts found that indeed, Synaptics and its products were in violation of this patent. In the end, the two companies settled the matter.
Elan Microelectronics has filed a complaint with the US International Trade Commission, seeking a ban on imports of several Apple products (MacBook, iPhone, iPod Touch, Magic Mouse), including the iPad once it’s released.
“We have taken the step of filing the ITC complaint as a continuation of our efforts to enforce our patent rights against Apple’s ongoing infringement. A proceeding in the ITC offers a quick and effective way for Elan to enforce its patent,” the company said in a statement.
Seeing Apple’s and its followers’ arrogance over multitouch, it’s hard not to snicker a bit over this one. Wie kaatst kan de bal verwachten.