This can't be good for anyone but Apple—a patent app filed in 2004 has been granted for their capacitive multitouch display. UPDATE
The patent is not necessarily all-encompassing, but it appears to be quite encompassing. The abstract explains the patent generally addresses:
"A touch panel having a transparent capacitive sensing medium configured to detect multiple touches or near touches that occur at the same time..."
Apple's touchscreen is still the best in the entire smartphone market, and while the implications of this patent are still unclear, it's certainly hard to imagine it helping any other companies close that gap. [freepatentsonline via Engadget]
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UPDATE: This analysis, from a reader/patentee:
"In this case, they claim specifically a touch panel with a particular configuration of fine conductive lines in one layer combined with fine conductive lines running transverse to the first layer.
The most obvious way to avoid infringement of this technology would be to arrange your lines in a grid which was not perpendicular – less convenient from the standpoint of manufacturing and perhaps firmware (because the device now has to calculate the x/y location of your touches, rather than getting it directly from the active grid traces) – but feasible nonetheless.
All you have to do to avoid infringement is eliminate just one of the elements of the claim.
Another possibility might be to design an array which is not "transparent", given that this term is imprecise, and may offer some leeway for non-transparent alternatives which might still be effectively invisible to the user."