Apple Granted Patent for Disappearing Scrollbar

Apple has been granted what could be a significant patent (discovered by PatentlyApple) covering a disappearing scrollbar on a touch screen. Filed in 2007, refiled in 2010, the patent was granted on Tuesday, and it could be a weapon in the company’s ongoing battle against what it perceives as Android copycats.

Apple Patent Figure

Figure from Apple Patent

The patent is technically titled, “Portable electronic device, method, and graphical user interface for displaying electronic lists and documents,” and is patent 8,223,134. What it spells out, though, is the idea of having a scroll bar appear when scrolling through a list that is a proportional representation if where you are in that list. When you stop scrolling, the scroll bar disappears.

This was a novel concept when Apple introduced it in iOS, and The Verge pointed out that Google implemented the concept in Android 2.3. It is currently featured on most Android devices on the market.

If Apple pursues patent infringement claims against Android device makers, it could result in Google having to pull this functionality from its mobile operating system or developing an alternative implementation that doesn’t infringe.

This has been Apple’s goal, as articulated by CEO Tim Cook, who on several occasions has said that his company can’t be the developer for the rest of the world. At the 2012 D10 conference, Mr. Cook said, “From our point of view, it’s important that Apple not be the developer for the world. We can’t take all of our energy and all of our care and finish the painting, then have someone else put their name on it.”

At the same time, Mr. Cook has also stipulated that he’d prefer not to have to litigate these issues, with the insinuation that this would require that competitors stop copying Apple’s inventions. It remains to be seen if Apple does choose to assert this patent against its competitors.

Apple doesn’t just use this concept on iOS devices, as it was brought to the company’s line of Mac computers starting with Lion. Patent 8,223,134, however, is specific to touch screens.

The patent credits Senior VP of iPhone Software Scott Forstall, Henri Lamiraux, Andrew Platzer, Michael Matas, and Imran Chaudhri as inventors on the patent