Apple may be forced to sell unlocked iPhones in Australia, and is engaged in an attempt to patent the device's Multi-touch "pinch" technology.

Reports from Australia this morning claim competition law experts there have analysed Apple's preferred network business practice for iPhone, and believe the device may fall foul of local competition laws.

"The iPhone is breaking new ground in using technology to restrict customer's choice in technology markets," Queensland University of Technology (QUT) law researcher Dale Clapperton said, as reported by

Dr Clapperton and Queensland University of Technology law expert Professor Stephen Corones published their findings in the Queensland University of Technology Law and Justice Journal.

Their report points out that Apple's preferred strategy of insisting customers agree to a two-year exclusive iPhone contract with a nominated network partner to be illegal in Australia. Apple has sold the iPhone on these terms in the UK, US and Germany, though in France competition law demanded the device also be sold unlocked for use with other networks.

"If Apple enter into an exclusive agreement with any particular carrier then it would be a matter for the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) as to whether that agreement was anticompetitive and contravened the trade practices act," the experts said.

The two legal boffins likened Apple's practice to being as if Ford sold cars that customers could only refuel with petrol from Shell, with the car refusing to run if the gasoline were not from that approved supplier. They called Apple's strategy so far a "fundamentally bad thing for competition."

Meanwhile Apple continues to protect its technology with patent filings. The latest patent aims to protect the pinch technology used to enable certain features of the Multi-touch UI. This key patent would ensure others in the mobile phone sectore were unable to implement similar features without a licensing agreement with Apple, Wired reports.