OPINION: Broad iPhone patent - finally granted after four years - could make life difficult for rivals

Has Apple just won the war?

Four years after the initial filing, Apple has been granted a US patent for its iPhone touch screen interface.

If this seems like a long time, it will have been well worth the wait for the tech giant, who now has a significant legal advantage in the notoriously competitive smartphone market.

While it’s perfectly common practice to file patents for technological innovations, the sticking point for many in this case is the broad nature of the document.

The patent describes "A computer-implemented method, for use in conjunction with a portable multifunction device with a touch screen display, comprises displaying a portion of page content, including a frame displaying a portion of frame content and also including other content of the page, on the touch screen display."

This could conceivably be attributed to a good deal of smartphones on the market, and may have ramifications on the tablet market too – an area the firm already has a massive lead in.

So has Apple just struck the killing blow in the smartphone war? It all depends how it goes about using the patent.

With such a patent now actioned, it could try to make life very hard for rivals in the court room. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but certainly this puts Apple in a position of legal strength in future disputes.

The most extreme scenarios could involve the firm taking rivals such as HTC, Motorolla, Microsoft, and Samsung to court. This isn’t totally inconceivable since Apple is already in legal proceedings with the latter.

With Apple’s consumer electronic devices tending to dominate their respective markets anyway, ultimately some would claim such a course of action would stifle competition. However it has also been argued that this very point could cause the patent to be revoked in the public interest.

As ever, no one ever really knows what Apple is going to do until it’s done. But this surely won’t come as welcome news to those in the business of competing with Steve Jobs’ consumer tech empire.

Watch this space.

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