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Mystery firm's hold on motion patent may threaten iPhone

updated 09:20 am EDT, Wed March 24, 2010

Company gets broad handheld motion patent

A particularly broad patent for motion control could pose trouble for Apple's iPhone and most any modern smartphone. An almost entirely unknown company known as Durham Holdings LLC has been granted the rights to a "method and apparatus for controlling a computer system" that would use motion sensors to steer the interface on a handheld, such as a PDA or smartphone. Among the techniques would be picking icons by tilting left or right, or moving the device up and down to scroll.

The description could theoretically cover not just the iPhone but also some Android-based and Nokia smartphones. Many have accelerometers that at least rotate the view when the user tilts the phone but also use much finer-grained motion for interfaces, such as the relative angle and movement to control a game. Apple has motion patents of its own but didn't file them until October 2007, more than a year before the July 2006 filing for the Durham Holdings patent.

Little is known about Durham Holdings, as it has no real public presence, including either online or in government records. An original patent holder, Ygomi, also said it knows nothing about the company that obtained rights to the patent. Such deliberately low-key firms can sometimes be "patent trolls," or particular varieties of intellectual property holding companies that exist solely to find overly broad patents and then sue others, making a living off of royalties without actually producing goods based on those patents.

It remains to be seen whether the patent will be enough to trigger lawsuits or whether Durham Holdings will sue at all, as it hasn't publicized any of its intentions. [via AllThingsD]


By Electronista Staff
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  1. cmdahler

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2005


    A little obvious...

    "Such deliberately low-key firms can sometimes be "patent trolls," or particular varieties of intellectual property holding companies that exist solely to find overly broad patents and then sue others, making a living off of royalties without actually producing goods based on those patents."

    Gee, ya think?

  1. JeffHarris

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Oct 1999



    Yep, they're at it again.
    Only the lawyers will benefit from this.

  1. jdonahoe

    Junior Member

    Joined: Jul 2006


    Die patent trolls...

    Wasn't it originally required to have a working model to get a patent. The images are obviously a Palm Pilot derivative and unless he was specific about putting an accelerometer into a Palm Pilot, how could he get a patent? What the heck is the patent office doing issuing patents to Apple if a motion patent already existed? Aren't they supposed to kick out duplication?

    I'm thinking about a patent covering space travel by wormhole. If all I need is a couple pictures showing somebody entering from one side of the universe and then exiting at the other side of the universe, I'm all set. Of course the exit picture showing the person exiting the wormhole as a crushed can might slow the approval process.

  1. RoosterJuice

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Mar 2010


    Re: A little obvious...

    I agree. Next they are going to explain cybersquatting to us.

  1. WiseWeasel

    Junior Member

    Joined: Apr 1999



    Where does the iPhone violate this patent? The interface doesn't use the accelerometer to navigate. In fact, that sounds like a terribly impractical idea.

  1. Eldernorm

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Sep 2007


    Argee with Uh, I do....

    This patent seems to use motion to control navigation input vs a touch screen. Its different and I would say major. Now some Apple apps use motion to change things but that is an app, not Apple.

    Just a thought,

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Jan 2007


    Tilting the iPhone works

    for gaming or RC device control certainly, but would seem largely unintuitive for remotely controlling a server or other workstation.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001


    Re: Uh...

    As the article states, rotating the device changes the view (thus changing the interface). And many games use it, although the ones I've tried I find impossible to play. And Apple uses silliness like "Shake the iPod to undo".

    I'm still waiting to find out that someone has patented software that makes gastric sounds when certain actions or events take place. Then they'll sue all those farting-app makers and we'll have a real stink-up in court.

  1. WiseWeasel

    Junior Member

    Joined: Apr 1999



    OK, I think I understand what's going on now. The patent is so broad that *any* use of an accelerometer to control any software on a phone is covered. The patent was applied for in July '06, three months after Nintendo introduced the Wii at E3, and basically patents what the Wii remote does, but for phones. That this patent was actually awarded only serves to highlight the idiocy of our software patent system, where such a broad and non-specific patent might actually be given. Another black eye for the USPTO.

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