Apple has fired a warning shot across Palm's bows, over possible legal action concerning the new Palm Pre smartphone's possible use of multitouch and touchscreen gesture technology that Apple holds IP rights to. Talking to analysts in the financial conference call on Wednesday, where Apple announced record earnings for the last quarter, executive Tim Cook responded to a question about sustaining iPhone market leadership by saying "we don't mind competition, but if others rip off our intellectual property, we will go after them."
A follow-up question specifically mentioned the Palm Pre by name, and highlighted its potential similarity in terms of interface. Cook declined to comment on "any specific companies", suggesting that he meant his statement more generally, but that reaffirmed that Apple "will not stand for companies infringing on our IP."
Both the Pre and the iPhone have capacitive panels capable of recognising multiple points of contact and complex gestures; judging by the state of the technology, it's fair to assume that today's implementations of multitouch are simply scratching the surface of what is possible. Palm is believed to be using a capacitive panel by Cypress Semiconductors, who boast their technology is capable of individually tracking ten touch-points; the origin of the iPhone touch panel is still unknown, although in Cypress' video demo they do show the Apple smartphone at several points.
It seems highly possible that it's the Pre's development history, not just the end-product, that Apple are watching so closely. The Pre was co-developed by Jon Rubinstein, who used to work on Apple's iPod team.