A key patent that Apple successfully used against Samsung in its multibillion-dollar courtroom brawl earlier this year has been invalidated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All 20 claims of U.S. patent No. 7,844,915 -- also known as the "pinch to zoom" patent -- were invalidated by the USPTO today, following a re-examination.
I continue to believe this is a mistake. The 915 patent doesn't cover pinch-to-zoom and Apple has never asserted that it does. But I might be wrong about that. It's certainly me vs. the entire rest of the world on this issue.
But forget that for a moment. This is actually way better news than it seems. Here is part of Claim 8 of the 915 patent (this is the claim that was at issue in the Apple-Samsung suit):
determining whether the event object invokes a scroll or gesture operation by distinguishing between a single input point applied to the touch-sensitive display that is interpreted as the scroll operation and two or more input points applied to the touch-sensitive display that are interpreted as the gesture operation;
That's Apple's claim: that it has a patent to a programming method that can distinguish between one finger on the touchscreen (scrolling) and two fingers on the touchscreen (gesturing). This is far worse than patenting pinch-to zoom. It broadly suggests that Apple has exclusive rights to the entire concept of one finger vs. two. The fact that the patent office has invalidated it—along with every other claim in the 915 patent—is great news. Something this broad should never have been granted a patent in the first place, and it's gratifying that the patent office has finally come to its senses and figured this out.
POSTSCRIPT: By the way, I'm still mystified by the media's insistence that the 915 patent covers pinch-to-zoom. But like I said, I might well be the one mistaken here. What I'd like to see is one direct quote from either Apple, Samsung, or Google that explicitly mentions "pinch-to-zoom." So far, the only place I've ever seen that phrase (or anything similar) is in summaries by reporters. None of the lawyers or PR folks for any of these companies ever seem to mention it.
POSTSCRIPT 2: If you're interested, here's my complete set of posts about this from last August:
I remain confused about this, but read the posts if you want to get up to speed on the whole issue. Remember: in a patent, the only things that matter are the claims. All the rest is just window dressing.