The US Patent Office has, as of January 20, 2009 awarded Apple, Inc. patent number 7,479,949, which is titled "Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics". The patent covers the multi-touch and all its gestures (swipe, pinch, rotation, etc.) that are used on the Apple iPhone and was originally filed in September 2007.
A portion of the patent reads:
"A computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a computing device with a touch screen display comprises: detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display, applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device, and processing the command."
The inventors of the patent include a number of individuals, but more notably it lists: Steve Jobs, Wayne Westerman (FingerWorks co-founder), and Scott Forstall (iPhone Software development) as co-inventors. FingerWorks was a company (Wikipedia) that was acquired by Apple, and is responsible for creating devices capable of responding to gesture controls used in various Apple devices and especially the iPhone.
The patent filing itself is very long at nearly 360 pages. It covers what appears to be a complete overview of the technologies used to make an iPhone what it is today, divulging great detail regarding the various gestures used on the iPhone: pinches, zooms, swipes, twists, and differentiation in selecting the intended object when more than one of them is selected at once.
Recently, during Apple's first quarter financial results Apple drew a line in the sand against companies that would attempt to usurp iPhone intellectual property. You might even recall that Steve Jobs boasted about Apple's patents when the iPhone was shown at Macworld 2007. Apple interim chief executive Tim Cook, during the recent financial results broadcast, made it very clear again that Apple would aggressively pursue anyone who "rips off" Apple's intellectual property. This patent not only makes that line in the sand clearer, but also gives the iPhone maker the big stick it needs to keep that line intact and easily to defended.