Apple Inc. (AAPL) Multi-Touch Patent is Actually Invalid?

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has made a lot of progress in innovation over the last few years, since it introduced touch-screen interface with its devices like the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. However, that patent, which paved the way for Apple’s huge growth and success, has reportedly been challenged via a re-examination request by a prominent intellectual-property law firm which has worked for both Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has posted a provisional ruling that the “Steve Jobs multi-touch patent” is invalid, posting the ruling after a third party challenged the patent and requested a re-examination. Reportedly, the office stated it had issues about virtually every point by which Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) had established in its patent application as a justification for the patent award. One reviewer in the patent office, in fact, made a determination that all 20 claims of the “Steve Jobs multi-touch patent” are invalid – although each claim is very specific in their distinctions from each other.

While this patent is central to most of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) devices produced now, there have been prior art for touch interfaces dating back at least to the 1990s, according to the CBS News report – with some of it, including a noted doctoral dissertation, being left out of the Apple patent application. That in itself, is pretty unusual for any patent application. Was that just an oversight, or convenience? Apple has 60 days to respond to the provisional finding. What happens then, if the patent is found to be finally invalid?

While it’s not expected to affect Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to adversely in its legal battles over patents – Apple often claims several patent infringements in its lawsuits, not just one – having that particular patent deemed invalid may open the floodgates in terms of competition and innovation in various multi-touch interface iterations and would weaken Apple’s case as innovator with multi-touch interfaces. These legal battles have been expensive, and investors in Apple stock like billionaire Julian Robertson of Tiger Management seem to be waning in their support. What do you think? How important is this patent to Apple, in your view? Is Apple still an innovator, or a defender of past innovations?