Apple has been granted a patent for the touchscreen control system used in its iPhones, potentially allowing it to sue unauthorised imitations.
The patent, which was initially filed last April, grants Apple exclusive rights over: "Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics”.
This has been interpreted by experts as referring to the iPhone’s multi-touch control method, whereby navigation of menus is done by pulling icons around or apart.
The patent could prove to be bad news for Palm, whose Palm Pre handset uses a similar method and is due to hit the UK market later this year.
Apple chief operating officer Steve Cook stopped short of threatening Palm with legal action, but did spell out Apple’s intention to closely guard its technology.
He said: “We think competition is good. We are ready to suit up and go against anyone.
“However, we will not stand for having our IP ripped off and will use whatever weapons at our disposal."
The iPhone sold 1.75 million units in the US alone in the last three months of 2008.