German court says ‘swipe-to-unlock’ not sophisticated enough to be awarded patent protection

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Germany’s top civil court today has ruled against Apple in a case pertaining to the company’s swipe-to-unlock input method. Judges in the case explained that swipe-to-unlock is not sophisticated enough to be awarded patent protection. This ruling falls in line with a similar ruling that favored Motorola back in 2013 (via Bloomberg).

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Swipe-to-unlock was not an invention by Apple, the court claims, seeing that it was already suggested by “the state of the art.” The court wrote the following:

“This user-friendly display was already suggested by the state of the art. The contested patent thus isn’t based on an invention.”

In 2012, Apple was able to secure an injunction in Germany against Motorola on the grounds that its use of the Android unlock method violated its swipe-to-unlock patent. This case is still pending on appeal, but with today’s ruling, it should now progress forward in favor of Motorola.

Apple’s swipe-to-unlock patent has been the backbone of many of its legal battles with Android manufacturers. Samsung, Apple’s infamous legal foe, was found guilty of infringing on the patent in May of 2014. That ruling has since been the subject of quite a bit of criticism, with many claiming that Apple did not suffer “irreparable harm” from Samsung’s use of the swipe-to-unlock input method.

With today’s Germany ruling, more doubt will likely be cast on the validity of Apple’s slide-to-unlock patent. But what effect that doubt will have on the legal cases remains to be seen.

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  1. AeronPeryton - 7 years ago

    Isn’t this the second time that this particular patent has been attacked directly? It takes everybody working together against Apple to maybe kinda sorta almost-kill one of their weakest iPhone-related patents.

    • Leif Paul Ashley - 7 years ago

      It’s because it’s so insanely hard to patent anything and have it stick when it comes to UI and design. Samsung totally ripped them off, and have yet to pay anything I think…

      • John Gibson - 7 years ago

        And Apple ripped of Neonode (not really – in reality it was an obvious idea for a touch screen in that Apple came to the same “invention” 3 years after Neonode did with their Windows CE device). Samsung may have been more blatant as I’m relatively certain it’s the iphone that they aped. However the Neonode prior art does mean the Apple patent should be invalidated.

  2. PMZanetti - 7 years ago

    If this 2007, there is no doubt. The court has had 8 years of using swipe to unlock, they think it’s generic.

    • epicflyingcat - 7 years ago

      What other way is there? It’s hardly revolutionary sliding your finger across a touchscreen to unlock your phone.

      • It wasn’t at the time. There were plenty of touch screen devices, not one was unlocked with a swipe…

      • Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

        Patents are about getting there first — everything is patentable… there are companies that dont even make tech, instead they purchase patents and make money that way… even apple has to pay some of these companies…

        rather than swipe to lock, why could the other companies had a triple tap system…or long press home button… auto code unlock — most went as far as placing the writing and swipe to unlock exactly like apple…

        The companies got lazy and decided to copy apples design…apple beat them to the punch

      • Leif Paul Ashley - 7 years ago

        When the iPhone came out, there were exactly 0 mainstream products with swipe to unlock.

  3. I’m surprised. I’m sure a lot of time and research (and thus money…) went into developing this “not sophisticated enough” gesture. There was nothing like this before, and it’s that lack of sophistication, or simplicity, is why it’s so fantastic. By denying protection to the idea court is discouraging invention…

    The best inventions are those that are simple…

    • louiethelug72 - 7 years ago

      Thanks Danny.. That was cool to see Steve again with the original iPhone. I think its an automatic that Apple Owns the “slide to unlock”… Steve Made it quite clear that he invented that with the Original iPhone…I mean come on ?

  4. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    Apple applied for a patent and the patent office awarded it — the patent office deemed it to be valid of patent protections… after all, the idea necessarily isnt the actual thing patented, but the method of how to do it — there are many things we say in life “wouldnt it be great if this could do that”… but without a patent it’s not protected and many big companies patent the idea instead.

    Regardless of whether the courts deem it a patentable thing is irrelevant…the fact is, apple paid for the patent, keep paying for the patent, and was awarded the patent…

    You might as well just stop all patents — there are many design patents out there!

  5. This is good news for Apple and developers going forward. In fact any and all invalidation of software patents are good. I say this as an Apple shareholder too. Apple has traditionally used patents defensively, but has been on the pay-out end of many cases in the past 15 years. Quite many of them frivolous to a person skilled in the art. The simple premise is that no software, method or otherwise, should be protectable by patent. Software is written in code, code is a language construct and is already protected by copyright. Artwork is also protected by copyright. If the copyright is not violated to achieve a similar functionality, then there’s really no infringement. There are far too many cases of natural methods or obvious methods and ideas being granted patent protection. First ideas aren’t protectable by patent and some of the stuff I’ve seen barely qualifies as more than idea with very loose claims. Second, anything subject to protection must be non-obvious to someone skilled in the art. How many software patents actually fall into that category? You’d be surprised.

    Patent reform starts with getting rid of all software patent protection.

    • I really don’t believe that you’re a stock owner, or a person who believes in ownership of anything. Your comment is disgusting to say the least and offensive to anyone who creates software or anything for that matter.

  6. wizzard - 7 years ago

    They cited prior art: take a look at this video, starting at the 4 min mark:

  7. Jurgis Ŝalna - 7 years ago

    So this is how patent system works currently:
    – Awarded patent that never implemented? Feel free to troll and extort people.
    – Awarded patent for an actual invention an someone infringed it? Patent invalidated.

    Makes perfect sense, aye?

  8. Gregory Wright - 7 years ago

    Nice to have blogs like this one where people can comment on matters they nothing about.

  9. griffd - 7 years ago

    Hindsight is 20/20. It wasn’t so obvious and simple the day before it came out. In fact, it was jaw-dropping – so simple and beautiful, and now so obvious in hindsight.

    • John Gibson - 7 years ago

      Did Apple borrow the idea from Neonode’s Windows CE handset? No, but it was out first and it also had slide to unlock. If implementing a full touchscreen interface it is rather obvious.

  10. strawbis - 7 years ago

    I like to see the judges write the code they claim isn’t sophisticated enough to warrant protection! If they fail, they should award in favour of the plaintiff. It’s that simple.


Avatar for Chance Miller Chance Miller

Chance is an editor for the entire 9to5 network and covers the latest Apple news for 9to5Mac.

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