In the fast-changing world of smartphone design, often the most valuable thing that a company can own is a patent for a specific feature they've invented. No matter how seemingly trivial the design feature is, a company like Apple will seek patent protection in order to maintain the uniqueness of their product.
Three years ago, Apple filed for patents on two features that iPhone, iPod touch and iPad users see every day -- the Slide to Unlock feature of the Lock screen and the pop-up letters that appear when you're typing on the iPhone keyboard. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has today awarded Apple a series of two patents titled "Animated graphical user interface for a display screen or portion thereof " that provide Apple with patent protection for the animated unlock screen and keyboard.
Even though most other smartphone manufacturers have avoided having the same design elements on their own phones, the patent protection awarded by the USPTO means that Apple can now require license fees from any company that seeks to use the same or significantly similar elements.
You can view the two patents here: