A German Court handed Apple a significant victory over Motorola this week. The Munich I Regional Court ruled that Motorola's handsets infringe on Apple's slide-to-unlock image patent. The patent describes a method of "unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image." A previous ruling in a Dutch court declared this patent to be invalid because it was not inventive, but the German court apparently disagrees.
Speaking to the BBC, Motorola says it plans an appeal. The company already designed a workaround and expects this ruling will have "no impact on current supply or future sales." Motorola seems unfazed by this decision, but Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents said the ruling was "significant bad news for Android at large, and Google." Apple already cites this patent in another lawsuit against Samsung in Germany and could use it against other manufacturers as well.
Wins in multiple cases could force Google and its hardware partners to rethink Android's slide-to-unlock system. Other implementations, like the circle one used by Samsung, are awkward at best. Instead of sliding from left to right, Samsung makes you slide your finger from a smaller, inner circle to a larger outer circle.
If all Android handset makers had to develop a similar, non-infringing design, the result could be a mix of confusing unlock motions that could detract from Android's overall user experience. The unlock motion is the first thing you do when you get a handset and first impressions are important when someone is shopping for a phone.