updated 08:00 pm EDT, Mon September 26, 2011
Apple multi-touch may be victim of its own success
Apple was handed a rare loss with the US Patent & Trademark Office in a refusal to grant the company a trademark on the term "Multi-touch" in a decision reached by the Appeals Board on September 23rd, upholding the initial refusal earlier this year, reports MacRumors. Perhaps ironically, both the initial decision and the appeal based their refusal on the widespread adoption of the term throughout the industry -- an adoption Apple itself fostered with its early success.
The decision, which does not affect any of Apple's numerous patents on multi-touch technology, allows others to use the term "Multi-touch" as a generic description of both the name of the collection of technologies used as well as a description of how users interact with such devices. Apple had originally applied for the trademark on January 9th, 2007 -- the day the iPhone was introduced -- and long before the term was in widespread use. The wide adoption of the term since the initial filing, however, appears to have worked against the company, as the USPTO examiner noted that "Multi-touch" has taken on a generic meaning.
Although Apple holds a number of patents on multi-touch technology and was the first to use the term widely in a mainstream, consumer-oriented way, it did not invent the underlying concept. Multi-touch technologies have been around since 1982, when Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto first developed a system where a person could place fingers on a special glass and a camera behind it could register the imprints as input.
Further development of multi-touch technologies continued throughout the 1990s via various companies. Apple's patents cover its own implementations of multi-touch, still considered to be the most sophisticated in mainstream use.
The appeal reiterated the initial grounds for refusal, citing the very descriptive name (being seen as both a name and a method of use) and thus having a higher burden of "proof of acquired distinctiveness" in order to grant a trademark. The board ruled that Apple's evidence did not meet that burden. The full decision is reprinted below. [via MacRumors]