Florian Mueller of Foss Patents has confirmed that Samsung and Google-owned Motorola Mobility have secured an important victory over Apple's famed slide-to-unlock patent in Germany. In its ruling, the Bundespatentgericht, Germany's Federal Patent Court stated that Apple's claims of EP1964022 pertaining to unlocking a device using gestures on an unlock image are invalid. The court noted that none of the 14 amendments proposed by Apple could salvage the patent.
The Cupertino company can appeal the ruling to the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice). The case was heard before a panel comprising five judges – three judges with an engineering background – and was presided by Vivian Sredl.
Interestingly, Mueller notes that Apple, Samsung and Google knew beforehand that the Federal Patent Court was likely to deem this patent invalid. Speaking on the commonly used slide-to-unlock patent, Mueller says, “This patent isn't even remotely as strategic as it is famous. Every user of a smartphone with a touch screen needs to perform this gesture frequently, but the patent does not cover all slide-to-unlock mechanisms but only some, and Apple's rivals have all developed workarounds.”
Slide-to-unlock patent invalidated in Germany
Importantly, the post notes that software “as such” is not patented in Europe, unless it fixes a technical problem with technical means. In the case of the slide-to-unlock patent, the fact that the gesture has a visual representation “was not deemed to constitute a technical innovation”.
This isn't the first time that the slide-to-unlock patent was cited in the legal battle between the tech giants. Early last year, Apple had alleged that Samsung has used one of Apple's patented technologies on its Galaxy Nexus smartphone, called slide-to unlock feature, thereby infringing it. Apple had won itself this patent in October last year. Slide to unlock, by itself is a very popular feature, which users can use to unlock the iOS operating system on a mobile device. However, there is more to this case than meets the eye. Although Apple used the slide to lock in feature first on its iPhone in 2007, reports state that back in 2006, Apple had gone in for a utility model registration for “slide to unlock”.
It also featured prominently in the patent battle between Apple and Google owned-Motorola Mobility. The slide-to-unlock feature saved the day for them, as it has fetched them partial victory against Motorola Mobility in Germany. Apple won an injunction at the Munich Regional Court against “all Motorola Mobility mobile phones that use methods for unlocking touchscreens”.
Earlier this year, Apple won the patents for the slide-to-unlock user interface and the design for the initial iPhone. The US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) okayed Apple's bid to secure a patent for “ornamental design for a display screen or portion thereof with a graphical user interface”, which comes with “illustrations of the familiar horizontal bars with rounded corners found at the bottom of locked iOS screens since the original iPhone's debut in 2007”.