The patent wars continue to rage, and during a stretch where Apple
is kicking some serious tail
, the Cupertino crew just scored a major coup by successfully patenting the slide-to-unlock feature--at least in the U.S.
Yes, that’s the same slide-to-unlock feature used on pretty much every touchscreen smartphone and tablet in existence. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has made that small but important item Apple’s exclusive property. It remains to be seen what the company will do with this legal win, but we wager that Google personnel and Android
device makers (and for that matter, the Windows Phone 7 folks) popped an antacid after their breakfasts today.
It’s also unclear how and if Apple’s competitors can get around this new patent. We’re not exactly patent law experts around here, but here’s the abstract from United States Patent 7657849--which, incidentally, was originally filed back in December of 2005.
Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image
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.
Does that mean that if that feature is called “swip to unlock” on Android devices, there’s no violation? Does it mean that any contact with the screen resulting in an unlocking of the device constitutes patent infringement? Does it mean that there’s no violation as long as there’s no “unlock image”?
We don’t know, but we’ll most likely hear about it from the courts in the coming months and years.