“The Taiwanese company Elan Microelectronics has sued Apple, alleging infringement of two of its touch screen patents…The lawsuit alleges that Apple products — including its MacBook computer, iPhone and iPod Touch — use technology that infringes on two of Elan’s patents…” [via NYTimes]

Elan Microelectronic Corporation is a semiconductor & product design house that strives to create solutions which enable smart human-machine interactions. The company’s area of expertise is in the development of multitouch-sensitive inputs for handheld devices and computers, such as the touchpad on the Asus EeePCs.

Honestly, having a multitouch touchpad on my netbook is wonderful–I get a little sad every time I do a two-finger or three-finger tap or swipe on Powerbook (Mac OSX Tiger) and nothing happens. The guess the smart thing would be to upgrade to Leopard, but it’s not entirely necessary.

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“The first patent at issue, U.S. Patent 5,825,352 (“the ‘352 patent”), relates to touch-sensitive input devices with the ability to detect the simultaneous presence of two or more fingers…The ‘352 patent is a fundamental patent to the detection of multi-fingers that allows for any subsequent multi-finger applications to be implemented. The second patent, U.S. Patent No. 7,274,353 (“the ‘353 patent”), is directed to touchpads capable of switching between keyboard and handwriting input modes.” [via ELAN]

Elan has been in licensing talks with Apple for years, but the two companies were not able to come to an understanding. So Elan went ahead and filed suit. Does Elan Microelectronics stands a chance? They did manage to conclude litigation with touchpad-maker Synaptics at the end of 2008 (the two companies agreed to dismiss pending lawsuits and cross-license their patents). Perhaps cross-licensing will be in order for this case as well as the forseeable one between the Apple iPhone and the Palm Pre.

All the IP hurdles are going to make it difficult for companies to bring multitouch technologies to the mainstream market. I hear that Google disabled multitouch on the Android G1 to avoid patent infringement.

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