Some of Apple's patents, I am pretty sure are based on Prior art some of these include:

Patent US 7844915. Here is its claim 1:

A machine implemented method for scrolling on a touch-sensitive display of a device comprising:

  • receiving a user input, the user input is one or more input points applied to the touch-sensitive display that is integrated with the device;
  • creating an event object in response to the user input;
  • 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;
  • issuing at least one scroll or gesture call based on invoking the scroll or gesture operation;
  • responding to at least one scroll call, if issued, by scrolling a window having a view associated with the event object based on an amount of a scroll with the scroll stopped at a predetermined position in relation to the user input;
  • and responding to at least one gesture call, if issued, by scaling the view associated with the event object based on receiving the two or more input points in the form of the user input.

Patent US7864163. Here is its claim 1:

A computer-implemented method, comprising:

  • at a portable electronic device with a touch screen display;
  • displaying at least a portion of a web page on the touch screen display, wherein the web page comprises a plurality of boxes of content;
  • detecting a first finger tap gesture at a location on the displayed portion of the web page;
  • determining a first box in the plurality of boxes at the location of the first finger tap gesture;
  • and enlarging and translating the web page so as to substantially center the first box on the touch screen display, wherein enlarging comprises expanding the first box so that the width of the first box is substantially the same as the width of the touch screen display;
  • resizing text in the enlarged first box to meet or exceed a predetermined minimum text size on the touch screen display;
  • while the first box is enlarged, detecting a second finger tap gesture on a second box other than the first box;
  • and in response to detecting the second finger tap gesture, translating the web page so as to substantially center the second box on the touch screen display.

The first includes gestures like pinch-to-zoom which have been in use long before Apple's patent was filed. I believe the first implementation of a pinch gesture on a touch sensitive screen was in the late 1980s, if this is the case it could invalidate the patents as Apple were not the inventors of the technology.

The second is based around a tap-to-zoom technology, which means taping a portion of a screen to zoom in or out again this has been in use long before Apple filed this patent in my opinion.

There are in my opinion many other patents filed by Apple based on prior art, but these are the ones I have found so far.


7 Answers 7


Yes, Apple's patents here are undeniably based on prior art. I'll try to answer your question best by providing details for your points, and then follow up with links to the authoritative sources. Hope this helps! :-)

Prior Art as an invention

Touch screens are approximately 40 years old, first built by IBM. The first publicly available touchscreen was produced by 'Control Data' in 1972. Multi-touch was first implemented in 1982 by the University of Toronto's Input Research Group. It was an optical imaging system, rather than the capacitance based systems most commonly used today. The same group developed a multi-touch tablet that used capacitance in 1985. All multi-touch screens today have roots to this development, 27 years prior.

Prior Art as a patent

The earliest I found was US4476463, filed in 1981, issued in 1984. Claim 21 in the patent calls to a second detection (i.e. multi-touch).

Prior art as published

In 1983, two Bell Labs employees authored and published a paper on multi-touch screen user interfaces.

Prior art as published

Gestures date back to at least 1991, in Pierre Wellner's published paper titled "Digital Desk".

Prior art as published

Multi-touch computer pads were used throughout the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ran from 1987 to 1994. Additionally, the technologies were described in detail in the book "The Star Trek Encyclopedia".

Prior art as published

Apple bought the company 'FingerWorks' in 2005, which produced touchscreens. One of the newly acquired employees was Wayne Westerman, who had ironically written his PhD thesis on multi-touch screens in 1999.

Links to authoritative sources


  • 1
    Thank you for this good overview of touch-interaction concepts. While these concepts definitely were known before Apple's patent application, I doubt that the exact method for implementing these concepts - as described in the patent - had been published before. Do you have any information on this? Additionally, what is the source of "In 1983, two Bell Labs employees..."? Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 10:24
  • 1
    Hi Raphael, thanks for the follow up. The methods did get patented by the same company holding the earliest multi-touch screen system patent I mentioned above. Here's that patent again, and 2 follow-up patents for the methods methods you asked about. Interaction Systems, Inc. Patents: US4476463 Aug 24, 1981 Oct 09, 1984 Display device having unpatterned touch detection US4622437 Nov 29, 1984 Nov 11, 1986 Method and apparatus for improved electronic touch mapping US4623757 Nov 29, 1984 Nov 18, 1986 Method and apparatus for electronic touch mapping Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 6:31
  • Oh, and the Bell Labs report you asked about is the first link in my original post. Here it is again. dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=800045.801573 Thanks much! Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 6:33
  • As an aside, as much as we may love Star Trek, science fiction is definitely not prior art. A large part of what it takes to have a patent is actually solving the actual problems with an invention. Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 2:02

There is mention of the pinch gesture dating back to 1983 in Bill Buxton's article here.


The '915 patent was one of the patents Apple asserted in both the Samsung case and the HTC case. It is now in an exparte reexamination that I believe was initiated anonymously. Anyone can follow it in Public PAIR. The effective application number for the reexamination is 90/012,332. The claim 1 above and several others have been rejected in a non-final action as anticipated by US7724242 Filing date: Nov 23, 2005 Issue date: May 25, 2010. The inventor is the famous Danny Hillis. As of today Apple has not yet responded.

  • The reexamination also cited Japanese patent JP2000163031 by Seiko Epson Corp. filed on Nov 25, 1998 and published on Jun 16, 2000 (6 years before Hillis' application), as disclosing the use of the number of contact points for distinguishing a scroll and a gesture. Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 20:41
  • The reexamination ended in a rejection of the '915 patent on July 26, 2013, confirmed on appeal by the Patent Board on Dec 9, 2014. Appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) was sent on Nov 30, 2015 and decision was given on Apr 14, 2017: the Board's decision of rejecting claim 1 is affirmed. The corresponding EP application EP2102738 was granted on April 13, 2017. Apparently, the examiners were not aware of the documents cited in the US procedure. The patent was not opposed. Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 20:44
  • Interestingly, Qualcomm has bought Hillis' patent US7724242 in June 2013... Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 20:54

Mitsubishi released the Diamond Touch - using a capacitive glass surface in 2001 which far predates Apple's so-called patent.

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    What does Diamond Touch do? This patent is about one specific use of touchscreens. Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 21:49

SecurityAndPrivacyGuru made a good case for this particular patent being based on prior art. However, I haven't heard anyone discuss the "rubberband" concept - the "snapping" of the window screen when the minimum or maximum bounce values are crossed. Also, the deceleration of the scroll isn't discussed either. Those are unique and non-obvious traits in my humble opinion.

  • I don't see snapping or deceleration in the claims, but I may missing something under the habitual patent legalese. Which steps correspond to snapping and deceleration? Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 19:39

This patent relies on an invention which Apple did not invent, multi-touch screens, which is itself the prior art. Apple simply uses the invention to improve its own product. Limiting how that the multi-touch screen invention(via the patents in question) can be used, also limits the inventors ability to use the invention. If this patent is considered valid, it is possible, and likely, that every action on a multi-touch screen could be patented, eventually the inventor of the multi-touch screen would not be able to create programming for the invention.

This patent does not cover an invention, but instead covers a use of a previous invention.

  • 1
    That the patent relies on prior technology is irrelevant. Pretty much any patent does. The patents listed here do not claim multi-touch screens (they would have to claim a particular way of making multi-touch screens work anyway). They claim specific ways of using multi-touch screens to achieve user interaction effects. Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 19:37

Ken Perlin wrote a blog post today: Pinched again! in which he gives prior art for the "pinch to zoom gesture".

So now it seems that Apple did not, in 2005, invent the “pinch to zoom” gesture that Myron Krueger had already implemented in 1983.

According to a recent US Patent and Trademark Office ruling, in fact it was Bran Ferren and Danny Hillis who in 2005 invented the pinch to zoom gesture that Mr. Krueger created thirty years ago.

Which invalidates patents 7724242 and 7844915.

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