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Apple's 'Slide-to-Unlock' Patent Invalid, Says Top German Court

One of the more important patents that Apple has been using in its legal war against Android manufacturers, the "slide-to-unlock" patent, was declared invalid by Germany's highest appeals court.

The Federal Court of Appeals in Karlsruhe confirmed the initial ruling of a lower Federal Patent Court, which canceled Apple's "slide-to-unlock" patent back in 2013. The lower court found that such a feature already existed in the Swedish phone Neonode N1, which was announced in 2003 and released in 2005.

Neonode only sold a few tens of thousands of phones before declaring bankruptcy in 2008, but it reorganized as an intellectual property firm, licensing smartphone and other touchscreen-related patents.

This lawsuit was initially started by Motorola, then owned by Google, at a Munich court, which gave Apple the win in that case. However, it was later overturned by the Federal Patent Court, and now the decision to invalidate Apple's slide-to-unlock patent was made permanent by the Federal Court of Appeals.

Although the ruling happened in Germany, it should quickly trickle down to other European Union countries, and the slide-to-unlock patent may even be revoked by the European Patent Office, much like the rubberband effect patent was earlier this year.

Apple has seen some successes in its patent battles, especially in the U.S. against Samsung, but even there, Samsung has managed to cut back on its losses. In Germany and other countries, Apple hasn't been as successful, which is why it settled with Samsung last year to stop all non-U.S. patent fights against each other.

Apple has also had little to gain from these patent battles over the years, and it has even garnered the company the image of being the "bully" of the smartphone industry. That characterization, unfair or not, is because it appears that Apple doesn't necessarily want to "protect its intellectual property" as much as it wants to throw its weight around. Many of these cases show Apple has been using some obviously trivial or invalid patents to carry on these fights. For many of Apple's so-called "inventions," there was already prior art, which means the company should never have been granted those patents in the first place.

However, the main blame really should go to the U.S. Patent Office, which has a week to verify the validity of patents, and very low standards for approving them. The latter creates a two-fold problem: 1) Weak patents are granted to companies, which they can then use to abuse these trivial patents against other companies and stifle real innovation, and 2) the USPTO becomes even more backed-up by weak patent applications, which means even less time will be spent verifying how strong the patent applications actually are.

If the USPTO drastically increased its rejection rate, while still charging applicants for each application, the quality of the patents could rise, as wasting tens of thousands of dollars on rejected applications would disincentivize many. The USPTO would also be much freer to check how real the "inventions" described in the applications are, which should lead to even higher quality patents being given to the companies that actually deserve them.

Update, 8/27/15, 7:25am PT: Fixed typo.

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Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • codo
    I only hope I live long enough to see apple go out of business. Or at least return to their state of being relatively unheard of by the general public
    Reply
  • Mac266
    Typo is second last paragraph: the US Patent Office which has a weak to...

    Should be week. A weak effort. Sorry, that was weak. Well, see you in a week!
    Reply
  • ohim
    Is this crap still a thing ? The innovation of the "slide to unlock" that our grandmas had at their doors...
    Reply
  • CROOKID
    As stated in the article, the real problem is the patent office. Why are they throwing patents around for inventions already invented?

    Sickening.
    Reply
  • targetdrone
    As stated in the article, the real problem is the patent office. Why are they throwing patents around for inventions already invented?

    Sickening.

    The answer to your question is MONEY.

    If "inventors" knew their worthless patent will be rejected there won't be as many patent being filled which means that much less funds for the patent office.
    Reply
  • f-14
    the patent office doesn't make money, they are one of those charity cases funded by the people, that's like saying the fire department makes money from every fire or cops get paid by every criminal they convict.
    Reply
  • rothbardian
    the patent office doesn't make money, they are one of those charity cases funded by the people, that's like saying the fire department makes money from every fire or cops get paid by every criminal they convict.

    The patent office is not funded by charity, it's funded by tax dollars coerced out of the population. They people can't chose not to fund the patent office, so as targetdrone correctly says, they have a big motivation to grant loads of patents to have a justification to demand more budget. It's in their interest to do that, so they do. The public is just forced to pay the bill.
    Reply
  • utgardaloki
    Is this crap still a thing ? The innovation of the "slide to unlock" that our grandmas had at their doors...

    ^ Most likely the reason the Swedish company didn't make a fuss over this in the first place. A simple, "obvious" idea based on previous ones. I mean, that's how I get into the shit-house at my family summer house.
    As such some companies act on decent honour and respect towards others. So no patent claim.

    Some companies obviously have less of that. Apple didn't even "invent" it and simply use the flawed system since dollares count for more than human decency as seen through their $-goggles.

    At the risk of penalty of death, I'll buy Apple products...

    ...because I'm a hypocrite.
    Reply
  • targetdrone
    the patent office doesn't make money, they are one of those charity cases funded by the people, that's like saying the fire department makes money from every fire or cops get paid by every criminal they convict.

    Police Departments and District Attorney offices SO justify their budgets(and existence) based on the number not quality of arrests and convictions.

    And in some areas the fire department will charge 10s of thousands of dollars to put out a fire or they will just let the house burn to the ground if the owner hasn't paid their monthly fire protection fee. It does happen, go search the interwebs for news articles on it.

    Reply
  • utgardaloki
    Police Departments and District Attorney offices SO justify their budgets(and existence) based on the number not quality of arrests and convictions.

    And in some areas the fire department will charge 10s of thousands of dollars to put out a fire or they will just let the house burn to the ground if the owner hasn't paid their monthly fire protection fee. It does happen, go search the interwebs for news articles on it.

    Good ideas FTW. Pay up or let it burn. Anything else would be red clothed Bolshevik Socialism. Subsidizing? That's for commies. Having society pay for single individuals' mistakes or lack there of regarding fire is evilution as fudge /(no) end sarcasm
    Reply