Apple researching universal remote that customizes UIs intelligently

This is not the first time we have received hints that Apple is working on an innovative universal remote control for controlling TV and video content. In January, we told you that Apple was researching a touchscreen remote with adaptable user interfaces. The invention would essentially allow button layouts stored in the cloud or in a device (such as a TV) to be wirelessly and seamlessly beamed to the controller’s UI. The concept would alleviate the “table full of remotes” scenario Steve Jobs described at D8.

Today, a new patent application published by the United States Patent & Trademark Office and detailed by PatentlyApple gives us even more insight into what Apple’s universal remote concept could become. In the newly discovered patent application, Apple details a remote that is capable of displaying customized controls for various devices by simply taking a picture of the device. Apple would send the picture to iCloud, analyze it, and beam a UI or button layout to the remote that works for your TV. PatentlyApple explained:

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Slide to Unlock? Patented!

The United States Patent & Trademark Office this morning issued a patent grant to Apple pertaining to the familiar Slide to Unlock gesture. Remember, the now ubiquitous sliding move debuted on the original iPhone as a fun way to keep your device secured while in your pocket. “To unlock the phone, I just take my finger and slide it across. Wanna see that again? We wanted something you couldn’t do by accident in your pocket. Just slide it across – BOOM.”, Steve Jobs said entertaining the invitees at the phone’s unveiling in January of 2007.

The iOS chief Scott Forstall is credited as one of the inventors, in addition to Apple engineers Imran Chaudhri, Bas Ording, Freddy Allen Anzures, Marcel Van Os, Stephen O. Lemay and Greg Christie. Apple actually filed a patent application in December of 2005, a little over a year ahead of the iPhone introduction at the Macworld Expo. Of course, the work on the iPhone had begun a few years earlier.

It’s a bit silly, really, but blame it on the patent system. Be that as it may, nobody now gets to use the popular ‘Slide to Unlock’ without infringing on Apple’s patent unless a court rules it is invalid or prior art. Here’s a video of the 2004-5 Neonode N1m, showing a similar Slide to Unlock that existed before the iPhone (4 minutes in):

Interestingly, a Dutch court ruled that the slide to unlock patent was invalid because of this very device.

The company explains in the granted patent document:

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Apple has been denied the multi-touch trademark by Patent Office

As noted by MacRumors, Apple has been denied the tradmark for multi-touch, which they applied for on January 9, 2007 after the first iPhone was introduced. Once the decision was reached by the the Board, Apple then filed for an appeal which was then again shot-down. Excerpt from the decision that is embedded after the break:

Again, simply because the applied-for term has been used in association with a highly successful product does not mean the term has acquired distinctiveness. Decision: The examining attorney’s finding that the Section 2(f) showing is insufficient is affirmed.

Apple was denied the trademark simply because it is too broad, and lacks distinctiveness to Apple alone.  As a reference, NYU’s Jeff Han has multiple mentions of Multi-Touch as a generic term in papers from 2005 and before.  Here’s his multi-touch video demonstration more than a year before Apple filed for ‘Multi-Touch’ or released the iPhone.

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