Sep 8, 2015

Apple's 'Slide' Patent Falls Over for Lacking an 'Inventive Step'

The German Federal Court, Germany's highest appeal court, has affirmed a 2013 decision which declared the German part of Apple's 'slide-to-unlock' patent invalid. The patent relates, as one might guess, to the way in which Apple's iPhone is unlocked.

The concept has been the subject of much litigation over the years, markedly with Android on the other side, and now the German Court has ruled that Apple did not invent the 'slide-to-unlock' concept.

Original decision

In 2013 the Bundespatentgericht (Germany's Federal Patent Court) ruled that all claims of EP1964022 on "unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image" were invalid as granted, and additionally held that none of the 14 amendments proposed by Apple could salvage the patent.

An inventive step

A key aspect of a valid patent is that it involves an inventive step - meaning an invention must not be obvious to a person skilled in the art. The notion of a person skilled in the art varies according to industry and reflects someone that is skilled (in relation to the relevant state of the art) but uninventive. Generally, the result of this test is that any trivial variant of what is already known cannot be patented.

A key piece of evidence in the case against Apple was the Neonode N1 (Neonode), a smart phone released in 2005 (around 2 years prior to Apple's release of the iPhone). The Neonode involved a gesture system to unlock different features, and one of these gestures involved sliding to unlock.

The Neonode reportedly sold just over 10,000 units, marking its apparent insignificance in comparison to Apple's global reputation. However, the Neonode was held to form part of the 'state of the art', undermining Apple's inventiveness in relation to this particular feature (and thus removing Apple's right to have its innovation protected by a patent).

Posted by: in: Case Law, News, Patents

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