Elan Gives Apple the Multi-Finger
Earlier this year Apple COO Tim Cook said the company would use “whatever weapons we have at our disposal” to pursue anyone who “rips off” Apple’s iPhone intellectual property. He’d better hope those weapons are as effective a defense as offense because the company may soon need them. Elan Microelectronics has slapped Apple (AAPL) with a lawsuit claiming the MacBook, iPhone and iPod touch infringe on touchscreen patents it holds. “We couldn’t find a common viewpoint with Apple, so we decided we had to take action,” a company spokesperson told the New York Times.
At issue here are two Elan patents. The first–the company’s so called ’352 or “multi-finger” patent–describes a “multiple fingers contact sensing method for emulating mouse buttons and mouse operations on a touch sensor pad.” The second, or ’353 patent, describes a a “capacitive touchpad integrated with key and handwriting functions.”
“The ’352 patent is a fundamental patent to the detection of multiple fingers on a touchpad or touch-sensitive input device to enable the detection and use of a multi-finger gestures in various applications,” Elan claims in its suit. “Apple has been on notice of its infringement of the ’352 patent since early 2007 and has continued to utilize the ’352 patent invention without authorization. In addition, the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch also permit users to switch the capacitive touchscreen between keyboard and handwriting modes, and thus falls under the scope of the ’353 patent.”
Interesting claims. Especially since Elan issued a statement back in February dismissing the idea that there might be some overlap between its multi-finger patent and Apple’s 949 “multi-touch” patent. From that statement:
Some market experts have expressed that the issue of Apple’s multi-touch patent might adversely affect ELAN’s competitiveness in the multi-touch market in some way. ELAN … feels that the market has over estimated Apple’s 949 patent. The content of the 949 patent is quite broad and widespread as it might seem like an iPhone user’s manual. However, the final scope of claim granted is mainly based on an angle of initial movement of a finger contact with respect to the touch screen display to determined one or two dimensional command. Although the patent comprises of 20 items covering software, firmware, and memory storage, its scope is actually limited within the establishment of the one and two-dimensional commands mechanism. Simply speaking, it emphasizes more on one or two-dimensional commands finger gesture recognition rather than about multi-touch technology. Hence, to make things unmistakably clear, having a multi-touch feature can not be interpreted as an infringement of the 949 patent.
As to the ongoing reports that Apple’s 949 patent will have an unfavorable blow to ELAN’s competitiveness, ELAN explains that there is actually no conflict between the multi-touch technologies used by ELAN and Apple. None of ELAN’s current customers are using or plan to adopt the patent claim in the future. Therefore, the approval of the 949 patent will have no adverse effect on ELAN’s expanding Multi-Finger™ market. As to the 949 patent’s market value, ELAN feels that the general consumers, as viewed by the major players in the handset industry, are not enthusiastic or feel the need of operating their mobile phones with the “one and two-dimensional” commands.
An odd thing to say two months before filing suit against the company with which you purportedly have no conflict, don’t you think? I wonder what changed…