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Apple granted patents for visual voicemail, touch screen technologies

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office issued a batch of 21 patents to Apple for a range of inventions, including technologies related to the iPhone's visual voicemail feature and an integrated touch screen.

Voicemail manager

U.S. Patent No. 7,996,792, entitled "Voicemail manager for portable multifunction device" describes a method for managing voicemail messages on a touch screen display that allows users to scrub through messages using touch input.

Drawings included with the filing depict an rough outline of the iPhone and the Visual Voicemail interface.

In the filing, the iPhone maker describes push-button voicemail interfaces as "cumbersome and inefficient," and puts forth visual voicemail as a "more transparent, intuitive and efficient" solution.

Apple's list of specific voicemail features includes: "displaying a list of voicemail messages; detecting selection by a user of a respective voicemail message in the list; responding to the user selection of the respective voicemail message by initiating playback of the user-selected voicemail message; displaying a progress bar for the user-selected voicemail message...; detecting movement of a finger of the user from a first position on the progress bar to a second position on the progress bar; and responding to the detection of the finger movement by restarting playback of the user-selected voicemail message at a position within the user-selected voicemail message corresponding substantially to the second position on the progress bar."

The list of inventors includes Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Senior Vice President Scott Forstall. The patent was filed on June 28, 2007, though related patent documents date back to September 2006.

Apple introduced its Visual Voicemail feature alongside the original iPhone in 2007. The technology was subsequently targeted in a patent infringement suit from Klausner Technologies that alleged Apple and AT&T had violated its visual voicemail patents. The two companies eventually agreed to license the patents for an unknown amount.

Integrated touch screen

The USPTO also granted Apple U.S. Patent No. 7,995,041, which describes an "Integrated touch screen." The invention integrates touch sensing circuity into the display pixel stackup of a display.

Apple claims that the new method can make the display thinner, brighter and require less power, while requiring fewer parts and/or processing steps. The patent could be implemented in a mobile phone, digital media player, or a personal computer, according to the company.

The invention suggests that using multi-function circuit elements to operate as part of both the display circuitry and the touch sensing circuitry. "The multi-function circuit elements can be, for example, capacitors in display pixels of an LCD that can be configured to operate as storage capacitors/electrodes, common electrodes, conductive wires/pathways, etc., of the display circuitry in the display system, and that may also be configured to operate as circuit elements of the touch sensing circuitry," Apple wrote in the filing.

Shih Chang Chang is listed as the inventor for the patent. The application was filed on September 11, 2009.

Integrated touch screen patent