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Apple scores major iOS graphical user interface patent, potential weapon against Android

July 18, 2012

Filed in early 2007, U.S. Patent No. 8,223,134 was granted to Apple yesterday, among other patents awarded to the company by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. And from the looks of it, the company may have received a very important weapon that it could soon use in its “thermonuclear war” against Google’s Android.

The patent describes a “portable electronic device, method, and graphical user interface for displaying electronic lists and documents,” and we could see it included in a variety of patent-based legal clashes in which Apple is either suing or being sued by an Android device maker – and the company is fighting the most important ones, Samsung, HTC and Google-Motorola.

Why is this patent so important for iOS and Android? Well, basically USPTO acknowledged Apple’s innovation when it comes to smartphones being able to display documents and other elements on the screen and allow the user to interact with them.

The iPhone was not the first smartphone to feature a touchscreen-only display, but it was the smartphone that reinvented the mobile business. Everyone making smartphones today adopted that model, and while you will argue that your favorite platform is the best, the fact remains that essentially, they’re all pretty similar. No matter what smartphone you’d buy today you’d end up with a spacious touchscreen display and a friendly user interface ready to help you browse the web, check email, run apps or perform work-related stuff. And it’s a lot easier to work on such devices than on pre-iPhone smartphones. Very few of them also offer physical keyboards, but the keyboards are not as important as they were in the pre-iPhone era. Not to mention that the companies that failed to adapt to this new smartphone fashion either faded away or may soon disappear – the lists includes Palm, RIM and Nokia, although the last two still have what it takes to come back on top.

This newly obtained patent describes a variety of user interface elements and the way users would interact with them, or better said, the patent pretty much describes the current smartphone experience that we get to take advantage of no matter what mobile platform we may temporarily favor:

Some portable communication devices (e.g., mobile telephones, sometimes called mobile phones, cell phones, cellular telephones, and the like) have resorted to adding more pushbuttons, increasing the density of push buttons, overloading the functions of pushbuttons, or using complex menu systems to allow a user to access, store and manipulate data. These conventional user interfaces often result in complicated key sequences and menu hierarchies that must be memorized by the user. […]
The above deficiencies and other problems associated with user interfaces for portable devices are reduced or eliminated by the disclosed portable multifunction device. In some embodiments, the device has a touch-sensitive display (also known as a “touch screen”) with a graphical user interface (GUI), one or more processors, memory and one or more modules, programs or sets of instructions stored in the memory for performing multiple functions. In some embodiments, the user interacts with the GUI primarily through finger contacts and gestures on the touch-sensitive display. In some embodiments, the functions may include telephoning, video conferencing, e-mailing, instant messaging, blogging, digital photographing, digital videoing, web browsing, digital music playing, and/or digital video playing. Instructions for performing these functions may be included in a computer program product configured for execution by one or more processors.

What will Apple do next with this ‘134 patent? We’ll just have to wait and see in what lawsuits the new patent will be used.