The ruling has sparked searches for possible alternatives to the pinch — some have suggested finger taps, circles, wiggles — while also highlighting questions about whether a company should be able to patent how humans interact with their machines once those interactions become standardized.
“I don’t know what you do about ‘pinch and zoom,’ ” said Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor critical of the ruling. “That’s the cost of this decision. All the phones have to use less-efficient tools.”
Several legal steps remain. The trial judge will hear the request for an injunction banning some Samsung products on Sept. 20, though a hearing on a preliminary injunction could come sooner. Apple probably will ask the judge to triple the damages, to more than $3 billion, as permitted when patent infringements are found to be “willful,” though the damages could be lowered as well.
An appeal is almost certain. There are related legal fights in several other countries, including Japan, one of the world’s leading buyers of consumer electronics.
“On appeal, that will be the big question: Are these patents valid?” said American University law professor Jorge Contreras. “These are kind of intuitive, everyday gestures.”
The roiling legal action makes the future of “pinch and zoom” unclear. The court cases do not generally cover the latest generation of mobile devices, which were introduced after the suits were filed, but analysts expect manufacturers in the future to avoid features that might infringe on Apple patents.
Microsoft already pays license fees to Apple for several of the technologies in its smartphones, meaning the impact of the court fights is most serious for devices running Google’s rival Android operating system. Apple could charge licensing fees to companies that make Android phones and want to use the pinch feature, or it could block use altogether.
Neither Apple nor Samsung replied to requests for comment for this article. Samsung on Friday portrayed its loss as a defeat for American consumers. Apple chief executive Tim Cook wrote to employees over the weekend: “For us this lawsuit has always been about something much more important than patents or money. It’s about values. We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth.”