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Apple granted patents for visual voicemail, touch screen technologies

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office issued a batch of 21 patents to Apple for a range of inventions, including technologies related to the iPhone's visual voicemail feature and an integrated touch screen.

Voicemail manager

U.S. Patent No. 7,996,792, entitled "Voicemail manager for portable multifunction device" describes a method for managing voicemail messages on a touch screen display that allows users to scrub through messages using touch input.

Drawings included with the filing depict an rough outline of the iPhone and the Visual Voicemail interface.

In the filing, the iPhone maker describes push-button voicemail interfaces as "cumbersome and inefficient," and puts forth visual voicemail as a "more transparent, intuitive and efficient" solution.

Apple's list of specific voicemail features includes: "displaying a list of voicemail messages; detecting selection by a user of a respective voicemail message in the list; responding to the user selection of the respective voicemail message by initiating playback of the user-selected voicemail message; displaying a progress bar for the user-selected voicemail message...; detecting movement of a finger of the user from a first position on the progress bar to a second position on the progress bar; and responding to the detection of the finger movement by restarting playback of the user-selected voicemail message at a position within the user-selected voicemail message corresponding substantially to the second position on the progress bar."

The list of inventors includes Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Senior Vice President Scott Forstall. The patent was filed on June 28, 2007, though related patent documents date back to September 2006.



Apple introduced its Visual Voicemail feature alongside the original iPhone in 2007. The technology was subsequently targeted in a patent infringement suit from Klausner Technologies that alleged Apple and AT&T had violated its visual voicemail patents. The two companies eventually agreed to license the patents for an unknown amount.

Integrated touch screen

The USPTO also granted Apple U.S. Patent No. 7,995,041, which describes an "Integrated touch screen." The invention integrates touch sensing circuity into the display pixel stackup of a display.

Apple claims that the new method can make the display thinner, brighter and require less power, while requiring fewer parts and/or processing steps. The patent could be implemented in a mobile phone, digital media player, or a personal computer, according to the company.

The invention suggests that using multi-function circuit elements to operate as part of both the display circuitry and the touch sensing circuitry. "The multi-function circuit elements can be, for example, capacitors in display pixels of an LCD that can be configured to operate as storage capacitors/electrodes, common electrodes, conductive wires/pathways, etc., of the display circuitry in the display system, and that may also be configured to operate as circuit elements of the touch sensing circuitry," Apple wrote in the filing.

Shih Chang Chang is listed as the inventor for the patent. The application was filed on September 11, 2009.


post #2 of 23
Visual VM could be another area where the Android platform may have royalty obligations. We'll have to see.

Boy, bureaucratic wheels do turn slowly (it's 4+ years since Jobs's famous '200 patents' quip). But it's nice to know that they do turn!
post #3 of 23
visual voicemail is fair but the touch screen I think they are just taking advantage of the broken system now.
post #4 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple v. Samsung View Post

visual voicemail is fair but the touch screen I think they are just taking advantage of the broken system now.

Remember, a patent is not just the words of its title: its the whole document; which contains, in this case, a specific method for making a touchscreen thinner. THAT innovation is what is patented here, not the general concept of touch screen."
post #5 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by nagromme View Post

Remember, a patent is not just the words of its title: its the whole document; which contains, in this case, a specific method for making a touchscreen thinner. THAT innovation is what is patented here, not the general concept of touch screen."

+1 Agree!

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post #6 of 23
I remember hearing about and than seeing the visual voicemail. I still remember how it completely blew me away. Voicamail used to be a way to charge you money for listening to your voicemails in order they arrived just to get to the one you really want or worse yet just to find out they were all spam.

With visual voicemail I could delete them all or listen to just the ones I wanted to. I think it was on par with touch controls as a revolutionary feature of the iPhone.
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post #7 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

I remember hearing about and than seeing the visual voicemail. I still remember how it completely blew me away.

I didn't think it was all that impressive. PhoneValet had been doing it since 2002 and you could even email or import your individual messages into iTunes. I had a legal case, and it was really cool being able to simply take my voicemail tracks in iTunes as evidence.

Before that, going back to 1993, Apple had visual voicemail with their GeoPort Macs, starting with the Quadra 840av and Centris 660av.

The iPhone was cool with the touch interface, but really nothing more than how else you would implement visual voicemail within the touch interface.
post #8 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

I remember hearing about and than seeing the visual voicemail. I still remember how it completely blew me away. Voicamail used to be a way to charge you money for listening to your voicemails in order they arrived just to get to the one you really want or worse yet just to find out they were all spam.

With visual voicemail I could delete them all or listen to just the ones I wanted to. I think it was on par with touch controls as a revolutionary feature of the iPhone.

Selecting from a list is hardly revolutionary. It is a standard GUI component. The only thing different here is it is being used for voice mail rather than email or songs in an album or files in a directory ...

This really doesn't justify being a new patent. It just more evidence of how broken the software patent system is.
post #9 of 23
What sucks is Bell Canada forces iPhone users to sign up for their 'Bundle 20' thing for an additional $20/month to get visual voicemail, while BlackBerry users can get it for only $5/month [which is ridiculously high, since you separately have to pay just to voicemail].
post #10 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Orlando View Post

Selecting from a list is hardly revolutionary. It is a standard GUI component. The only thing different here is it is being used for voice mail rather than email or songs in an album or files in a directory ...

This really doesn't justify being a new patent. It just more evidence of how broken the software patent system is.

Definately a broken system. How anyone can call this innovative I do not know.

THe touch Screen patent is a different story. That is far more innovative, although I think you should be only able to patent something that has been demonstrated as a working prototype, particularly when it is about embedign one technology in another - standard way of making things smaller.
post #11 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by macslut View Post

I didn't think it was all that impressive. PhoneValet had been doing it since 2002 and you could even email or import your individual messages into iTunes. I had a legal case, and it was really cool being able to simply take my voicemail tracks in iTunes as evidence.

Before that, going back to 1993, Apple had visual voicemail with their GeoPort Macs, starting with the Quadra 840av and Centris 660av.

True, but on a mobile phone?

This system on a mobile phone is far more relevant because we pay for both airtime and data.
post #12 of 23
It seems like a lot of these posts are based on current perspective. I remember when the iPhone came out, and all of this stuff was so new. People need to remember that before the iPhone, the entire cell phone industry was made largely of phones with, well, buttons. Now, granted there were a few devices with touch screens -- heck, I've owned a Palm for years. However, Apple was the first company that I know of, to completely and quite successfully replace the entire face of the phone with a touch screen capable of accepting simple finger gestures -- no stylus required. The market is now saturated with phones which mimic the iPhone, both in style and function. Pinch to zoom, swipe to turn on, auto screen rotation -- they've copied it all, and we have grown used to it.

I suppose Apple should take this as a compliment. I was in Walmart the other day marveling at how so many of the laptops followed design cues which I first saw in Apple's devices. That little gutter around the keyboard, the 'chicklet' keyboard design, the black bevel around the screen, the angled hinge design.

Apple leads the way time and time again with these concepts. In a world full of copy-cats, rip off artists, and Chinamen with fake Apple stores, should it not be granted to Apple occasionally that THEY were the first? That they were the leader in their field and deserve protection of their intellectual property? In modern market full of duplicates, it is easy to gawk at a simple patent. But the incredibly slow rate at which the de facto* government grants patents should not affect our judgement.

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post #13 of 23
While I agree that the patent system could use some refining, I also notice that most who say, "the patent system is broke" are usually ignorant of what patents cover and how they are written and what all is involved in getting something patented.

It seems, most people read the title of the patent and like to claim how vague or obvious it is and it shouldn't patentable. The fact of the matter is, patents must describe, in detail, the method and implementation of achieving the end result.

I can apply for a patent for, "Method and apparatus for trapping a mouse", and so could another 1,000 people. We could all be granted a patent, because the there are many, many different ways to build a mouse trap.

Furthermore, I'd like to point out that software patents come under scrutiny most often because it may not be so obvious how the offender achieved the end result, so anyone holding a patent that describes the same thing, would have to defend their patent and ask/force the other party to show how it was implemented, and unfortunately this usually means dragging someone into court.

Where the system is being abused, is by squatters, companies that have no desire to create anything with the IP they posses, they're just hanging onto it. With the hopes that they'll someday be able to sue someone. So far, in case people haven't noticed, all of Apple's lawsuits are for IP they actually use.
Disclaimer: The things I say are merely my own personal opinion and may or may not be based on facts. At certain points in any discussion, sarcasm may ensue.
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Disclaimer: The things I say are merely my own personal opinion and may or may not be based on facts. At certain points in any discussion, sarcasm may ensue.
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post #14 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple v. Samsung View Post

visual voicemail is fair but the touch screen I think they are just taking advantage of the broken system now.

Really? I see it as exactly the opposite. The patent dealing with pushing the touch sensitivity into the same physical layer of the display as the pixel circuitry seems like a clear-cut case of an appropriate use of the patent system.

There's going to be much more appetite for debate about the legitimacy of the visual voicemail patent.
post #15 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by mjtomlin View Post

I can apply for a patent for, "Method and apparatus for trapping a mouse", and so could another 1,000 people. We could all be granted a patent, because the there are many, many different ways to build a mouse trap.

The problem with the visual voicemail patent is: If claim 1 of the patent is held to be valid, then any visual voicemail system on a portable electronic device that employs any sort visual list of voicemail messages selectable by any sort of touch, which also allows for random seeking through the voicemail message by way of touching a progress bar, is infringing no matter how it was implemented behind the scenes.

Every possible implementation that involves a visual list of touch-selectable messages and a touch-adjustable progress bar allowing for random seeking within a message during playback would infringe upon this patent.

Get rid of the touch-adjustable progress bar, and suddenly you might not be infringing upon claim 1 of this patent.

But given the prior knowledge of GUIs involving touch interfaces, is the addition of a touch-sensitive progress bar allowing the user to randomly fast-forward and rewind a message during playback really such a significant innovation, that it deserves to qualify as non-obvious to somebody well versed in the field? Even by 2007 standards?
post #16 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by lfmorrison View Post

But given the prior knowledge of GUIs involving touch interfaces, is the addition of a touch-sensitive progress bar allowing the user to randomly fast-forward and rewind a message during playback really such a significant innovation, that it deserves to qualify as non-obvious to somebody well versed in the field? Even by 2007 standards?

By current standards in applying the 'obvious' test this will probably stand, it's certainly no worse than the Personal Audio patent that Apple lost to a while back.

The only solution is to campaign for an end to the patenting of software.
post #17 of 23
Visual Voice Mail also introduced the concept of voice mail management, where voice mail to email did not. interactive visual voice mail was new and the ability to delete without having to connect via call to your voice mail system was revolutionary... I was so tired of having to press 3-3-7 to skip messages to get to the relevant ones I could scream.
post #18 of 23
What struck me about this is how potentially huge this could be for Apple. Wrangling about the state of patent law and practice aside, this patent award could have major ramifications for Apple's competitors (copiers) in this market. I see no obvious way to engineer around visual voice mail. You either license it or go back to the old way--listening to a string of messages with that annoying beep in between!

Funny, I recall that when the iPhone first came out some hater on this forum said something to the effect that if visual voice mail represented the innovation that Apple was bringing to smart phones, it was a fail.
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post #19 of 23
Prior to Apple's iPhone, when one wanted to listen to a particular voice mail using the phone (as opposed to a computer) all voice mail had to all be listened to or at least deleted or skipped over. Apple (with AT&T's help (as the network had to be changed)) changed the way voice mail is presented on a mobile device by making it more like email. I have an iPhone on T-Mobile. I do not get the visual voice mail. To listen to a particular voice mail, I have to listen to all the ones that precede it.

I can get around that by having the messages emailed to myself where each voice mail will be contained in an email. That still isn't as nice, as the identifying information other then the phone number, is not listed.

Apple's invention absolutely deserves a patent. As obvious as it might seem after the fact, nobody was doing it on the mobile phone prior to the iPhone. Amazon got a patent for one click purchasing, which also seems obvious. Apple licenses that patent.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Orlando View Post

Selecting from a list is hardly revolutionary. It is a standard GUI component. The only thing different here is it is being used for voice mail rather than email or songs in an album or files in a directory ...

This really doesn't justify being a new patent. It just more evidence of how broken the software patent system is.
post #20 of 23
When Apple said it was going to come out with a Smart phone, everybody dismissed it asking how can Apple compete against competitors with years of experience in the phone arena. Those experienced companies didn't think to offer visual voice mail? If it was so obvious, why didn't they do it? They didn't do it because it wasn't obvious to them.

Apple's patent goes well beyond simply fast forwarding and rewinding based on a touch interface.



Quote:
Originally Posted by lfmorrison View Post

But given the prior knowledge of GUIs involving touch interfaces, is the addition of a touch-sensitive progress bar allowing the user to randomly fast-forward and rewind a message during playback really such a significant innovation, that it deserves to qualify as non-obvious to somebody well versed in the field? Even by 2007 standards?
post #21 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by TBell View Post

Apple's invention absolutely deserves a patent. As obvious as it might seem after the fact, nobody was doing it on the mobile phone prior to the iPhone. Amazon got a patent for one click purchasing, which also seems obvious. Apple licenses that patent.

Obvious after the fact? Select an item from a list has been around since the early days of graphical user interfaces.

One click purchasing is another example of a patent that should never have been granted. At last the EU were sensible enough to reject Amazon's patent application.
post #22 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by TBell View Post

I can get around that by having the messages emailed to myself ...

Presumably, you could also get around it by designing it to work differently than what was described in Apple's patent.

For example, looking only at claim 1 for the time being, the set of available voicemail messages could be presented in some format that does not constitute a "list". A grid view comes to mind, which, once you tap the icon, displays full "sender" data in a separate view.

Another way to escape claim 1 of the patent would be to get rid of the progress bar used to fast-forward and rewind an individual message.

Or maintain the progress bar, but make it nonresponsive to touches -- ie, a display-only widget.

Or even, in all probability, you could keep on using the the progress bar, and keep on using it to fast forward and rewind a message, but get rid of the ability to continue tracking the user's finger's progress if it ever slips outside the confines of the bar's physical dimensions.

Continue this process of small refinements for each of the remaining claims.

Of course you'd only need to worry about making refinements to avoid the broad claims, eg. claims 1, 7, 13, and 19. Once you've done that, the remaining claims (which are all conditional upon being applied to the devices described in claims 1, 7, 13, and 19) are already out of the picture.

[edit]
By the way, since this is being displayed in a public forum, could this be considered "prior art" for the purposes of making it impossible for any future patents to be filed based upon the refinements I've proposed above?
[/edit]
post #23 of 23
Freakin' KPN here in The Netherlands doesn't support VV. I wish Apple would make it a selling point and make it mandatory for their iPhone operators.

KPN can suck it after my contract is up; I'll go straight back to T-Mobile. With a mere 10 / month for unlimited data that's a better deal anyway.
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