Apple was just awarded its iPhone patent three-and-a-half years after filing. Patent number 7,966,578 was awarded for “[a] computer-implemented method, for use in conjunction with a portable multifunction device with a touch screen display, [that] 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.” Depending on how loosely you interpret that excerpt and others from within the filing documents, the patent could grant Apple control over nearly any device using a capacitive screen and multitouch interface. This could potentially give Apple all the ammunition it would need to bully nearly every competitor out of the market. This includes Android handset makers.
Even more, the patent seems to cover the same technology in tablets and personal media players. Do we see the problem developing here? One patent expert told PCMag that “unless the patent is invalidated, it would allow Apple to stifle innovation.” However, this is an extreme case. There is the chance that the patent is only deemed valid when applied directly to Apple’s iPhone, only covering its interface and web interactions. It would still create legal problems for competitors making touchscreen smartphones, but Apple’s case wouldn’t be nearly as strong. The most likely result of this patent won’t be an Apple monopoly of the touchscreen device market, but rather a series of settlements that see manufacturers such as HTC and Samsung licensing the technology from Apple for a hefty fee.