The U.S. Patent and Trademark office granted Apple several patents in a move that could add ammunition to Apple’s ongoing patent wars against several companies it claims copies its devices.
The 21 approved patents include technology for the iPhone’s visual voice mail system and integrated touch screen, as well as others that pertain to technology for Mac Pro tower, for example. But is the iPhone patents, in particular, that may be of most immediate use in Apple’s ongoing lawsuits concerning smartphones’ touchscreen patents.
The patent for the integrated touchscreen, which Apple originally filed in September 2009, describes a way to stack touch-sensitive circuits to the pixels of an LCD display, making phones that are “thinner, brighter and require less power.” This could make it difficult for other companies, who came out with their own thin, bright smartphones in later years, to claim Apple stole their patents, since Apple has had its own patent for the technology pending for nearly two years.
Meanwhile, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Senior Vice President Scott Forstall filed for the voice mail patent on June 28, 2007, just one day before the first iPhone launched. The patent details Apple’s visual voice mail system, including the option to pick a voice mail message from a list and control its playback.
The voicemail manager system is part of several lawsuits that have been settled in recent years. Klausner Technologies sued not only Apple, but AT&T and Verizon over the patent, which covers selectively listening to voice mails. Apple, AT&T and Verizon all later settled with Klausner, and the company’s patents are now listed in the newly granted patent’s references section.
With this newly granted patent protection Apple may keep Klausner from filing further legal action against it in regards to the voice mail system in future generations of the iPhone.
The patent approvals may be seen as part of Apple’s strategy to prevent further lawsuits while protecting its own innovations. Apple actively files for patents, a habit the company may find invaluable as patent wars in the industry escalate. The patent office awarded Apple 563 patents last year alone. In addition to its own creations, Apple keeps buying up patents, like those it acquired when the company, as part of a consortium of buyers, bought Nortel Networks’ patents for a record-setting $4.5 billion earlier this year.
Even with the latest additions to its portfolio, Apple is likely to continue facing legal challenges while its product line continues to grow. A wide variety of rival smartphone makers, including HTC, Motorola, and Samsung, as well as smaller patent holding companies, are all caught in a tangled web of patent lawsuits and countersuits that may continue for several more years.