Apple Gets a Limited Pinch-to-Zoom Patent

Patents are a company's greatest weapon in the mobile industry melee, and Apple just picked up a dangerous one: the coveted pinch-to-zoom patent. It could potentially cover a good deal, though probably not all, of your smartphone screen squeezing.

Among 17 or so other mulittouch patents awarded to Apple yesterday was patent #7,812,826, one which was filed way back in December 2006 and outlines a "Portable electronic device with multi-touch input."

Engadget points to the relevant passage:

1. A multitouch display detects at least two contacts.
2. Those contacts perform a first gesture.
3. That gesture adjusts an image in some way: magnification, orientation and rotation are specifically claimed, but the patent is broad enough to cover virtually any adjustment.
4. The first set of contacts is broken.
5. A second set of contacts is detected.
6. The second contacts perform another gesture within a pre-determined period of time.
7. The gesture continues to adjust the image in the same way.

Step five, specifically the bit about the second gesture coming "within a pre-determined period of time" is where things get a bit murky. It's unclear what that time period is, and it could well be the difference between the patent applying to a pinch-to-zoom action, say, in a web browser, where it's done once in a while, and a maps application, where it's presumably done more quick fast, one pinch after another.

The new patent doesn't give Apple total dominion over pinch-to-zoom by any means, but it could definitely prove to be an asset in mobile patent Cold War going forward. [Patently Apple via Engadget]