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New Apple patents cover touch-screen, voice mail tech

Apple's been granted some 20 new patents, one of which includes its visual voice mail system along with a touch-screen system that puts the touch sensors inside the LCD panel to shave weight and improve performance.

Apple's visual voice mail patent.
Apple's visual voice mail patent.

With a lull in the battle of words between Google and Microsoft over patents held by tech giants, Apple today has been granted 20 new ones, including patents that cover integrated touch screens and parts of the visual voice mail tool found on the iPhone.

The full list, dug up today by Apple patent tracking blog Patently Apple, is definitely on the technical side, including printed circuit boards, metadata processing, and a system for estimating where a computer is located to improve online shipping experiences.

Of special interest though is one for an "integrated touch screen." The system, which Apple applied to patent in September, 2009 describes a way of stacking together touch-sensitive circuitry into the pixels of an LCD display to use "fewer parts and/or processing steps," as well as having the end result be "thinner, brighter, and require less power."

Perhaps a more interesting patent granted is the one for a "voicemail manager for (a) portable multifunction device." This one, which was filed for on June 28, 2007 (just a day ahead of the first iPhone's launch), details Apple's visual voice mail system, though particularly the option to pick a voice mail from a list and control its playback with a running counter.

That's the very same system Apple and AT&T were sued over following the iPhone's release for infringing on two patents owned by Klausner Technologies that cover selectively listening to voice mail messages. The two companies later settled with Klausner, whose patents are listed in the newly granted patent's references section.

One other patent granted to Apple today covers the behavior of launching a Mac OS X application from the dock when dragging a file onto it, even if you're not explicitly running that app at the time. That same patent also covers synchronizing a user's dock settings from one machine to another, something Apple introduced as part of MobileMe, that's being phased out with the move to iCloud.