Armed with the 358 page iPhone patent awarded last week, Timothy Cook who runs Apple in Jobs' absence has now threatened Palm with legal action.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple a key patent for its iPhone, which it applied for in September 2007. Patent 7,479,949 covers the product's distinctive multifunction touch screen. The patent covers multi-touch functionality like pinch, rotation, and swipe

Apple is completely within its rights to protect its intellectual property, Bill Munck, chairman of the IP practice at Munck Carter said It's the only way to protect market share.

What they're patenting is what happens when the touchscreen senses the finger movements, he continued. From a user application standpoint, it's a market-differentiator.

The real question is whether the legality of certain gestures will be upheld. For example, the Palm Pre also uses a pinching gesture for zoom, which would seem to be covered.

With this conflicts the announcement of Palm's new smartphone has clearly sent shivers down Apple's spine; partly because several key engineers with a deep knowledge of Apple's secrets switched over to Palm, but mainly because Palm's smartphone (dubbed Pre) is the first iPhone rival to use multi-fingered gestures like pinch zoom.

Palm has demonstrated it can still create truly compelling devices, but Apple wields a significant patent portfolio in the area and has made it clear that it isn't afraid to use it.

When the Palm Pre was officially announced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, the company said that they were prepared to face any legal battles that may arise from the phone's release.

Since the battles begins let see what will the future be!