German high court invalidates Apple slide-to-unlock patent

At the beginning of its patent lawsuits against the likes Samsung, with Android as collateral damage, Apple seemed to have the force of the law behind it. The publicity might have backfired, putting its patents under greater scrutiny, which has led some of them to be narrowed down or even thrown out outright. That latter might just be the case in Germany, where the country's highest (or next highest) court, the Federal Court of Justice, upheld that Apple's slide to unlock patent isn't patentable, at least not in Germany.

Slide to unlock has been one of Apple's biggest guns in its patent squabble with Samsung. While US District Court Judge Lucy Koh agreed to this particular patent, the combined 10 judges of Germany's Federal Patent Court in 2013 and the 5 judges of the Court of Justice beg to differ.

Their argument was that, first, there is prior art for the mechanism itself. Swedish manufacturer Neonode had a Windows CE phone named Nim back in 2005 that used a similar method to unlock the device. Neonode did have this patented. The difference between its implementation and Apple's is that Neonode used pure text to give instructions while Apple added a slider visual. The German court, however, considered that it was a negligible difference.

Of course, that ruling really only applies in Germany and has little direct effect in other countries. It could be used as a precedent, however, by courts that still have decided on Samsung's appeals against Apple's recent court victories. Then again, many of Apple's patent targets have more or less conceded defeat by settling out of court or mutually agreeing to drop charges, like in some of the Apple v. Samsung cases. So it is indeed a victory for Google, Samsung, and other Android manufacturers, but it could be one that won't have a huge impact immediately.

VIA: FOSS Patents