German Court finds Apple's 'slide to unlock' patent invalid

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Yoni Heisler
April 5, 2013 11:30 AM
German Court finds Apple's 'slide to unlock' patent invalid

German Court finds Apple's 'slide to unlock' patent invalid

Germany's Federal Patent Court on Thursday invalidated all of Apple's claims for its slide to unlock patent. The news comes courtesy of Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents who was in the courtroom observing the proceedings in question.

Samsung and Google's Motorola Mobility have just scored a win over a famous Apple user interface patent. The Bundespatentgericht, Germany's Federal Patent Court, ruled that all claims of EP1964022 on "unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image" are invalid as granted, and additionally held that none of the 14 amendments proposed by Apple could salvage the patent.

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Apple, of course, plans to appeal.

A question worth posing, however, is to what extent does this matter anymore?

As Mueller points out, Apple's slide to unlock function is today much more famous than it is a strategic feature. Note that Apple's slide to unlock patent doesn't embody every multitouch unlocking gesture and that many companies have developed alternatives that skirt around Apple's patent.

German Court finds Apple's 'slide to unlock' patent invalid

Mueller also points out a fundamental difference between patent law in the US and patent law in Europe. Put simply, the patent requirements in Europe are more stringent to the extent that they are granted for technical solutions to technical problems.

"In this case," Mueller writes, "the mere fact that a sliding gesture has a visual representation was not deemed to constitute a technical innovation worthy of patent protection."

The death blow for Apple's slide to unlock patent was likely a Swedish phone called the Neonode N1m that launched well before the iPhone and featured its own slide to unlock implementation. The N1m was released in 2005 while Apple's own patent for slide to unlock wasn't filed until December of 2005.

Skip ahead to about 3:58 into the video and you'll see something very familiar.

Incidentally, a Dutch Court also found Apple's slide to unlock patent invalid because of the Neonode N1m.

When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, he confidently went over some of its unique features and boldly exclaimed, "and boy have we patented it!" Yet here Apple is, still battling over iPhone patents.

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German Court finds Apple's 'slide to unlock' patent invalid