Boom: Apple was just awarded a patent on pinch-to-zoom for multitouch displays. That's the first directly applicable patent we've seen on the gesture since we first started looking during the Apple / Palm war of words in January 2009, and it certainly gives Apple some potent ammunition against its competitors -- although there are some specific limitations on what Apple's been granted that will prove to be important. Let's break it down, shall we? Patent #7,812,826 was first applied for on December 29, 2006, and over the course of the patent process the claims have been significantly narrowed to cover a very specific set of actions:
  1. A multitouch display detects at least two contacts.
  2. Those contacts perform a first gesture.
  3. That gesture adjusts an image in some way: magnification, orientation and rotation are specifically claimed, but the patent is broad enough to cover virtually any adjustment.
  4. The first set of contacts is broken.
  5. A second set of contacts is detected.
  6. The second contacts perform another gesture within a pre-determined period of time.
  7. The gesture continues to adjust the image in the same way.
It's steps 5, 6, and 7 that are critically important here: Apple doesn't have a patent on "pinch-to-zoom" generally, but rather pinching to zoom, and then pinching to zoom again within some fixed period of time. How long that period lasts is totally up in the air, but it has to be defined somewhere -- this patent doesn't really apply unless there's a clock running and a second gesture takes place. Still, it's the first granted patent on the now-ubiquitous gesture we've seen, and based on its filing history it's essentially effective as of December 30, 2005 -- long before anything multitouch products with pinch to zoom had arrived on the market. That's no small weapon to bear -- we'll see what Apple does with it.

P.S.- Apple was also awarded some 17 other patents yesterday, including two more that deal with multitouch, but none of 'em are nearly as interesting as this one. Hit the via link for more on those.