According to PC Mag, Apple was just awarded a major patent that could affect the entire smartphone market. More than three years after filing for it, Apple now has the patent on
capacitive touchscreen technology certain touchscreen behaviors. Good for them. Potentially bad for everybody else. Updated.
The patent was worded in this way:
[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.
It refers to capacitive touchscreen, which you'll remember are the glass screens that use your fingers as conductors to create a response on your device. Now, the wording can be interpreted in a few ways. First, it could be interpreted to cover literally any device that makes use of a multitouch interface. Smartphones, tablets, etc. Apple could then very well use this to start pushing competitors out of the market, giving them a monopoly.
Or it could be viewed as only dealing with Apple's own tech, which is still problematic as manufacturers could still potentially have to prove they weren't mimicking Apple with their device.
Update: However, Nilay Patel of This Is My Next contends that the claims of the patent are far narrower than were previously indicated. The patent refers to a specific kind of multitouch behavior with respect to webpage content and frames within the webpage. This is only one kind of touchscreen interaction, and companies like Google and Microsoft could reasonably engineer around it.
Or the patent could be scrapped altogether so as to avoid the mess that involves antitrust violations and sheer touchscreen hegemony. The most likely scenario: Companies paying Apple a lot of money to keep making their phones. [PC Mag, This Is My Next]