Uh oh. Those were the first words that came to mind when I read this morning that Apple had been awarded a patent for multi-touch technology. Multi-touch is only one of many compelling features on Palm's comeback device, but it certainly has caught the attention of Apple. Is Palm screwed, as many have wondered? Not according to Palm. I just got off the phone with spokesperson Lynn Fox, who reiterated that the company is on more than solid ground should the legal fists start flying. At first, Fox provided pretty much the same statment as she did before, saying that "Palm has a long history of innovation that's reflective in our products and our robust patent portfolio, and we've been long recognized for those fundamental patents in the mobile space. If we are faced with legal action we are confident that we have the tools necessary to defend ourselves." But when we pressed a bit further about the possibility that the lawsuit might impact Palm's upcoming launch of the Pre, Fox said that "We have no reason to think that our launch plans for the webOS and Palm Pre won't come to full fruition. We have no plans to change the launch time." As much as Apple may feel emboldened right now, I'm not so sure that the company wants to duke it out with little ol' Palm. Even if Apple can prove that Pre is ripping off the iPhone's multi-touch goodness and win that battle, Palm could win the war should the company be able to prove that the iPhone ripped off all sorts of other touch-specific IP stored away in Palm's war chest. In other words, when Palm says "they have the tools to defend themselves" they probably mean it. Regardless of what happens on the legal side, I hope that the Pre comes to market. The smart phone space needs healthy competition, and to me multi-touch is a secondary feature compared to what's most exciting about the device. It's what Palm has done in terms of multitasking; integrating contacts, calendar, and messaging; and features like universal search that will make people want it. Apple certainly has a right to defend itself, but I think multi-touch on the Pre is more of a bonus.
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