Apple wins patent
For slide-to-unlock feature;
Competitors quake?

The US Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple a new patent on its “slide-to-unlock” feature used in the iPhone and iPad.

According to late-Apple-CEO Steve Jobs, “We wanted something you couldn’t do by accident in your pocket.”

This slide-to-unlock gesture is used by almost every other smartphone and tablet computer on the market and thus may provide Apple with additional ammunition in the intellectual property wars that have been raging between Apple and competitors like Motorola.

However, some commentators have questioned whether the slide-to-lock patent would stand up to a court challenge.

The new patent is number 8,046,721, filed in June, 2009 and granted October 25, 2011. It relates to an earlier and very similar Apple patent, number 7,657,849, filed in December 2005, well before the iPhone debuted in 2007, and granted in February, 2010.

According to the abstract, the ‘721 patent is for

A device with a touch-sensitive display may be unlocked via gestures performed on the touch-sensitive display. The device is unlocked if contact with the display corresponds to a predefined gesture for unlocking the device. The device displays one or more unlock images with respect to which the predefined gesture is to be performed in order to unlock the device. The performance of the predefined gesture with respect to the unlock image may include moving the unlock image to a predefined location and/or moving the unlock image along a predefined path. The device may also display visual cues of the predefined gesture on the touch screen to remind a user of the gesture.

Apple sued Taiwanese company HTC last year, claiming infringement of the earlier ‘849 patent. The Dutch judge in that case said that the ‘849 patent was invalid because the slide-to-lock gesture appeared in the Neonode N1m phone a year before the iPhone premiered. I suspect we shall see if the ‘721 patent will also withstand a challenge in court.

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