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At least, not according to this history of multitouch from Bill Buxton. Yes, he does work at Microsoft Research - which means he knows what Microsoft has done and what a lot of researchers have done over the years. To quote the site:

Multi-touch technologies have a long history.  To put it in perspective, my group at the University of Toronto was working on multi-touch in 1984 (Lee, Buxton & Smith, 1985), the same year that the first Macintosh computer was released, and we were not the first.  Furthermore, during the development of the iPhone, Apple was very much aware of the history of multi-touch, dating at least back to 1982, and the use of the pinch gesture, dating back to 1983.  This is clearly demonstrated by the bibliography of the PhD thesis of Wayne Westerman, co-founder of FingerWorks, a company that Apple acquired early in 2005, and now an Apple employee:

Westerman, Wayne (1999). Hand Tracking,Finger Identification, and Chordic Manipulation on a Multi-Touch Surface. U of Delaware PhD Dissertation:  http://www.ee.udel.edu/~westerma/main.pdf

In making this statement about their awareness of past work, I am not criticizing Westerman, the iPhone, or Apple.  It is simply good practice and good scholarship to know the literature and do one's homework when embarking on a new product.  What I am pointing out, however, is that "new" technologies - like multi-touch - do not grow out of a vacuum.  While marketing tends to like the "great invention" story, real innovation rarely works that way.  In short, the evolution of multi-touch is a text-book example of what I call "the long-nose of innovation." 


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
6th Mar, 2010 21:50 (UTC)
Have Apple been trying to patent some of this stuff then?
7th Mar, 2010 00:19 (UTC)
oh yes ;-) when the iPhone launched Steve said 'we've invented lots of neat stuff' and specifically "boy, did we patent it". there's at least one multitouch patent in the suit against Apple, plus, I believe, pinch zoom

•The '949 Patent, entitled "Touch Screen Device, Method, And Graphical User Interface For Determining Commands By Applying Heuristics," was duly and legally issued on January 20, 2009 by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A copy of the '949 Patent is attached hereto as Exhibit B.
and possibly
•The '381 Patent, entitled "List Scrolling And Document Translation, Scaling, And Rotation On A Touch-Screen Display," was duly and legally issued on December 23, 2008 by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A copy of the '381 Patent is attached hereto as Exhibit D

given that the guy they hired has papers on that list from his academic career, this reflects poorly on Apple, the patent system or both.
7th Mar, 2010 09:59 (UTC)
Actually, neither '381 '949 cover pinch-zoom - Engadget did a (surprisingly thorough) breakdown of those two patents back when Apple was sabre-rattling over Palm:


Neither are really "patents on multi-touch". Instead, they're "patents on techniques which make use of multi-touch".
7th Mar, 2010 12:32 (UTC)
patents on techniques using multi-touch that seems remarkably similar to techniques developed by previous multi-touch researchers?
7th Mar, 2010 13:21 (UTC)
No. Those patents don't cover pinch-and-zoom. In fact, they don't cover specific gestures. One covers the "stretching the screen down bounce" behaviour when you scroll to the bottom of a screen. The other covers the method for "scroll locking" when you move around the screen.

There is no Apple patent on pinch and zoom. In fact, as far as I can tell, that's no patented by anyone. The only patent that Apple holds related to a pinch behaviour is one which uses pinch to cut something on screen, something that the iPhone doesn't even do.

Of course, Steve Jobs might want to *imply* that pinch and zoom belongs to Apple, and he certainly seems to have suckered lots of people into believing it. But, as you must know from your experience of Apple, what Jobs says doesn't always tally with reality... :)
7th Mar, 2010 13:30 (UTC)
I've been trying to get people on the record about whether gestures will be patented or common for a few years; everybody comes out with the sensible 'they should be common, it's in everyone's interests' but there are plenty of twitches around.

is that really the physics-based inertia bounce? like Windows 7 does, like Skyfire does, like Zune does? I'm sure I've seen that on a device before 2007; maybe the personal media players Toshiba and Samsung used to make for Microsoft.

my real problem with this - pace the advantages of having Apple do network innovation or long nose innovation or whatever one wants to call it - is for anyone, Apple included, to patent things that build on a body of academic work and then use them in tit for tat legal battles by proxy; it's a long way from the original purpose of patents. Between Kodak, Apple and Nokia it's going to be a good year for lawyers and the east texas hospitality industry.
7th Mar, 2010 15:13 (UTC)
Not the bounce bit - specifically, the bit where you can drag up further than the bottom of the screen, and the behaviour that happens then. It's quite a specific patent, which most of the ones based on iPhone technology are. It's actually interesting looking at the spread of patents Apple is using, as the earlier they are the more general they are, whereas recent ones tend to be very specific.

I understand what you're saying, although I disagree a bit in that I think you have to allow companies to patent things which builds upon academic work (not work that simply copies it, of course). I think of it as a "commons" analogy. Academic work is the common. And just because a company grazes their sheep on the common, it doesn't give anyone else the right to take them to market. :)
25th Jun, 2011 00:40 (UTC)
25th Jun, 2011 00:52 (UTC)
it's interesting ;-) patents can be on a combination of things - so that pinch gesture implemented on a particular technology in a particular restrictive environment, that would not invalidate a use on another technology in another environment - because there is so much prior art here.

also from Buxton's list

1991: Digital Desk (Pierre Wellner, Rank Xerox EuroPARC, Cambridge)
• Wellner, P. (1991).  The Digital Desk Calculator:  Tactile manipulation on a desktop display.  Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST '91), 27-33.

Clearly demonstrated multi-touch concepts such as two finger scaling and translation of graphical objects, using either a pinching gesture or a finger from each hand, among other things.

1983: Video Place / Video Desk (Myron Krueger)
His use of many of the hand gestures that are now starting to emerge can be clearly seen in the following 1988 video, including using the pinch gesture to scale and translate objects:  http://youtube.com/watch?v=dmmxVA5xhuo

OTOH a lot of patents are going back to the patent office for re-examination during lawsuits.

on the gripping hand, that page you link to is clearly written by an Apple bigot who hasn't used other technology - the comment about the HP slate is clearly written by someone who has never used touch on a Windows system (like say the ones I've been using for several years ;-) so the patent info and the commentary may not both have the same informational value.
27th Aug, 2012 23:12 (UTC)
I think Apple now believes they own pinch to zoom, correct? After the Apple win against Samsung last week all the speculation is now that pinch to zoom will have to be removed from Android....
28th Aug, 2012 16:02 (UTC)
Re: Hummmm....
there is plenty of prior art on pinch zoom in Bill Buxton's survey, so the patent Apple have must have a claims construction that protects some specific combination and implementation rather than the entire concept
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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