[Originally posted Jan. 27, 2009 on Fortune.com]
Tim Cook must have known.
One day before Apple's acting CEO told Wall Street analysts that his company would not stand for having its intellectual property "ripped off" -- a remark clearly aimed at certain iPhone-like features of the Palm Pre -- the U.S. Patent Office awarded Apple Patent No. No. 7479949.
This 358-page document, originally filed on Sept. 5, 2007, is the mother of all iPhone patents. Signed by 21 Apple (AAPL) employees -- starting with Jobs, Steven P. and Forestall, Scott -- it covers everything from the way a finger or fingers touch the screen to the heuristics that turn those touches into commands.
Other smartphones introduced since the iPhone came out have avoided using the multi-touch technology covered by this patent. The Palm Pre may have crossed the line. See Apple vs. Palm: Geeks with grudges.
Patents in the United States are enforced through civil lawsuits in Federal court. The patent holder will typically ask for monetary compensation and an injunction prohibiting further violations.
In order to prove infringement, the patent owner must establish that the accused infringer practices all of the requirements of at least one of the claims of the patent. The accused infringer has the right to challenge the validity of that patent, something Palm has already suggested it plans to do.
“If faced with legal action,” a Palm spokesperson said last week, “we are confident that we have the tools necessary to defend ourselves.”
Palm (PALM) shares were down more than 10% in mid-morning trading, but had made back half those losses by mid-afternoon.
Kudos to Alex Brooks of World of Apple for spotting the news.
[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]