Apple's patent application was approved Jan. 20 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patent 7,479,949 was filed April 11, 2008.
The patent could present a problem to competitors like Palm, which unveiled its upcoming Pre smartphone with multitouch capabilities at the Consumer Electronics Show this month. During Apple's earnings call Jan. 21, only one day after Apple was awarded the patent, chief operating officer Tim Cook warned competitors that Apple would defend its intellectual property.
"We are watching the landscape," Cook told financial analysts. "We like competition, as long as they don't rip off our IP, and if they do, we're going to go after anybody that does."
Cook didn't name any companies, but the computer maker is likely to take a close look at technology like the Palm WebOS in the Pre. The operating system, like the iPhone OS, makes it possible for the phone's screen to recognize complex finger gestures, such as pinching and zooming.
Palm is banking on its next-generation software and hardware to pull the struggling company from its financial slump. Citi analyst Jim Suva said in a recent note that the company could sell 1.5 million units through Sprint, which will initially be the exclusive wireless provider in the United States. That arrangement isn't expected to be permanent.
Palm is expected to start selling the Pre in the first half of this year.