Apple has just been granted a touchscreen patent that is so inscrutable it's potentially very broad - and according to GPC's Alexander Poltorak, it fits the profile of a classic "submarine" patent. ("Apple Granted Patent for High-Concept Input Techniques" Wired.com - July 24, 2012)
Article excerpt: Apple was granted a sweeping, multipronged patent today by the United States Patent and Trademark Office — but you may need a degree in theoretical physics to divine exactly which technologies the patent is protecting. The patent, “Method for providing human input to a computer,” addresses both new and existing ways we interact with touchscreen devices, and covers everything from computer interfaces, to Kinect-style gaming and virtual-reality gloves, to touch input for vehicles.
“This is a classic submarine patent,” General Patent Corporation CEO Alexander Poltorak told Wired, referring to patents filed before November 2000, which remain secret until they’re granted. Hidden for years, a submarine patent can be significantly updated and amended until it finally emerges — at which point the whole world might be tripping over its patented technology. “It was just issued this year, but if you look at the history, patent continuation after continuation, it was originally filed in 1995. It has been submerged under water in the U.S. patent office for a long time,” Poltorak said.
Apple acquired this patent from a Canadian inventor named Timothy Pryor. Today’s granted patent dates back to an application filed in 2009, and although extensive, Poltorak says it’s not actually broad per se: “It describes a lot of things, but each claim is, in its own way, very specific,” he said.
...The patent uses inscrutable language, and it’s debatable whether the patent office even knew what it was granting. “It’s not easy to unravel what this patent covers, and whether it’s valid or not,” Poltorak said.