Last Updated: December 9th, 2012

Get on the edge of your seats, everybody - it's patent time again. Today, the USPTO handed down what's called a preliminary invalidation finding on a rather infamous Apple software patent regarding touchscreen heuristics. This patent was known as the "Steve Jobs patent," as its first listed author is the late Apple cofounder (let's keep the Jobs insults to a minimum in the comments, please). This comes after the preliminary invalidation of Apple's also-infamous "rubber-banding" patent back in October.

This patent here is pretty basic, and I'm going to break down the three elements of the primary claim. First, here's the relevant claim language (excerpted and modified in spacing):

...a vertical screen scrolling heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command rather than a two-dimensional screen translation command based on an angle of initial movement of a finger contact with respect to the touch screen display;

a two-dimensional screen translation heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to the two-dimensional screen translation command rather than the one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command based on the angle of initial movement of the finger contact with respect to the touch screen display;

and a next item heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a command to transition from displaying a respective item in a set of items to displaying a next item in the set of items.

US Patent No. 7,479,949

First, Apple claimed, in essence, the concept of a vertical scrolling heuristic that detected when the user, based on angle of movement, wanted to vertically scroll, rather than just move around content on both the X and Y axes.

Second, Apple claimed the concept of a heuristic that detected, based on angle of movement, when the user wanted to move around on both the X and Y axes as opposed to vertically scrolling.

Third, Apple claimed the concept of a heuristic that detected when the user wanted to move from one item in a list to the next item (this, presumably, was a horizontal 'fling' gesture, such as the one used on the homescreen).


Unfortunately, the full text of the office communication invalidating the entirety of the patent isn't something I was able to get my hands on. We'll likely see the full document with some of the reasoning (or prior art) for the invalidation finding emerge sooner or later. Apple had attempted to use this patent (with some success) against both Motorola and Samsung, so there is material value to the finding here today.

You may have noticed, though, the limiting language attached to "invalidation": preliminary. Yep, this finding will be subject to one more round of mandatory review, after which the patent holder can appeal the finding to the USPTO, and then to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and then to the Supreme Court. Let's just say patent invalidation isn't a lightning-quick procedure. Nor is the initial finding always correct - mistakes happen.

My guess, though, is that prior art made up the nails for Apple's coffin on this one - it seems eminently unlikely that these rather simple, basic concepts had not previously existed or been described together prior to 2008.

FOSS Patents

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amrin.long Amrin Long

    This false patent will die with it's creator.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andresdroid Andres Schmois

      So much for minimum...

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Acerbic/100001026602451 Joe Acerbic

        That's far below minimum... why isn't anybody fulfilling the minimum insult requirement?

        • ssj4Gogeta

          Haha, that made me laugh :)

    • AE35

      Geez, every time I see his picture I think "dick".

      Too soon?

    • kirby

      aww, so hateful. sounds harsh to me..

  • http://www.facebook.com/reeko.r.hyuga Reeko Rushdhan Hyuuga


  • Jon Garrett

    FUK apple, and its late "founder"

  • chrisjcks

    Prior art used and its invalidated, prior art used in rubber banding, patent again invalidated - is nice to see prior art finally being used.

    If this continues, apple will have no patents as everything they have is copied from older products changed a little then patented as their own ideas - is disgusting.

    • mrwirez

      Not to mention the bad PR for being pricks and a stock that's dropping like a rock... It couldn't happen to a bigger group of jerkoffs.

  • Meng Wu

    Enter 90/012,308 as the application # on the USPTO public PAIR website. If you look under the image file wrapper tab. The entire 44 page office action is there.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock


  • http://www.facebook.com/archercc Ryan Stewart

    Good to see some reason taking hold. I wonder how these things impact current and past cases like the Samsung trial.

    • Nevi_me

      Well because Samsung hasn't paid the money over yet, it likely means more appeals. At this rate, Samsung will have little or none to pay

      • http://www.facebook.com/archercc Ryan Stewart

        One could hope. Honestly, I dont mind them getting in a bit of trouble because some of their stuff has been pretty cheezy. Making it look iphonish at the expense of Android. But the sales ban and the judgement were ridiculous.

  • Deltaechoe

    About damn time that Apple's abuse of the patent system starts to catch up with them

  • andrew__des_moines

    The patentable technology is the touchscreen. The rest is obvious. I would love Apple to take this to a federal court and have this finding made. That would shake up everything.

  • RaptorOO7

    Is he turning over in his Mercedes without a license plate that is illegally parked in a handicap space? Does that fit the bill?

    Seriously its time the USPTO got a pair of balls and actually reviewed these patents with a real eye for prior art and recognized that innovation isn't just modifying someone else's work (which is what Apple does everyday). They take someone else's idea and yes make it a popular industrial design and then suck people in with the cult mentality. I sold my iStuff and I couldn't be happier.

    • Mārtiņš Belte

      Well, I don't think it's a bad thing if they were the ones who managed to make certain things popular - I mean, let them have their deserved credit, but as those patents are simple, they should be allowed to used by other companies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667020551 Jose Torres

    Leave jokes to a minimum? This is probably the one place on the internet where sSteve Jobs jokes should be a requirement!!!! I'd say one if I could think of any...

  • mrwirez

    Shame on HTC settling with Apple for this very patent. No relief HTC... You screwed.

    • ScottColbert

      Yeah because HTC knew this would happen. *eyeroll*

      • Nevi_me

        Well now they're stuck with some agreement that's likely set in stone

        • Goldenpins

          unless there smart enough to set it in stone if any of these patents become invalid deals off.

          • Nevi_me

            Let's hope so

      • selonmoi

        Well, they probably knew that a re-examination had been requested (if Google or another ally had made the request). If they didn't know, then they should have asked for re-examinations as soon as Apple brought the suit against them.

        Of course on one could know for sure what the patent office would decide, but it's worth waiting to find out.

        I'm sad to see HTC struggling, but they're really not handling things well. First paying off Microsoft, now paying off Apple...doesn't leave much room for profit margins.

  • JG

    Would LOVE if the Patent Office is using Google's new(ish) patent search function to invalidate these...

  • PleaseStop

    Somehow I feel this "let's keep Jobs insults to a minimum" is directed at me, after the comment I recently made calling Apple and Jobs' behavior as cancerous as the cancer that killed Jobs.

    Well, even though I don't regret it and really meant it, I'm fully aware how distasteful it was and I'd like to say I'm sorry for having said it. I know this was a very particular point of view and definitely doesn't reflect the community and/or AP's mentality. Moreover, I understand AP has a name to zeal and look after, and allowing hateful comments would stain AP's name and could lead to bad repercussion on the internets, also staining androiders' reputation as blind unreasonable distasteful haters. So, I understand the censorship you made deleting my comment was kind of necessary, even though I'll never endorse it.
    This comment was mainly targeted at AP's staff, specially whoever deleted my last comment. I'll refrain from making distasteful comments from now on, even though they might reflect my actual thoughts (sometimes in a unnecessarily harsh way). I just don't want to cause you trouble.
    You may now delete this post. Peace, and keep up the good work. :)

    • needa

      Well, even though I don't regret it and really meant it.

      I understand the censorship you made deleting my comment was kind of necessary, even though I'll never endorse it.

      so in other words all you care about it your street cred to a world of peeps that dont know you from adam. you could have sent this in privately to the staff and saved me ten minutes of my day. -1

      • PleaseStopApple

        Whoever saw the insensitive comment I made might as well see this one and reckon I'm trying to act in a civil manner and be nice to the community of readers/commenters/androiders, despite my strong opinions. I guess acting like that shows I care and is also positive to the community image as a whole, and might even make people think a bit before they express themselves in an unnecessarily harsh way like I did.
        Speaking of street cred, I'm using an anonymous alias which I don't plan on using again. I don't want any medals for redeeming my bad behavior, I'm doing it just because it's the right thing to do and I'll be less reckless exposing my strong opinions from now on.

    • Mike Dye

      I enjoyed the read.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      It's late at night, and I don't have time or desire to read the whole thing, but I just wanted to reply and let you know that I found this comment in the Pending spam queue in Disqus. We don't delete comments without reason here, so I'm approving it and will hunt down anything stuck in Spam as well.

  • JoeMama

    typical craApple

  • Goldenpins

    So what if there patents get invalidated.. Can HTC break out of there recent deal with Apple?

  • http://twitter.com/fightcrazy Vinny

    It's about time. Great to see AndroidPolice covering this very important story. No other website has even mentioned it as of yet. They are all into kissing ass instead of reporting the facts. Great job AndroidPolice. I think they should look much deeper and I'm sure they will find allot more bull shit patents.

  • Franky

    "Third, Apple claimed the concept of a heuristic that detected when the
    user wanted to move from one item in a list to the next item(....)"
    Heh, thats a good one. Swipe to get the next item? Apparently I'm an infringer of this patent, just as probably every developer of an app that handles more than one of anything.