Apple ‘slide-to-unlock’ patent invalid, German court rules

by: Chris SmithApril 6, 2013


Apple’s famous “slide-to-unlock” patent has been invalidated by a German court earlier this week, which is good news for Samsung and Motorola (Google), both engaged in patent-based legal wars with the iPhone maker in the region.

All claims of the slide-to-unlock patent (Patent No. EP1964022) have been found invalid by Germany’s Federal Patent Court, and Apple’s 14 proposed amendments were also shot down. According to European patent law, software that “fails to meets the ethnicity requirement” can’t be patented in Europe.

Previously, courts in the Netherlands (August 2011) and the UK (July 2012) ruled against Apple’s patent. Both courts found the technology described by the patent “obvious” when compared to the Neonode N1m (prior art), a handset that features the technology and precedes the iPhone by a year.

The slide-to-unlock patent describes a technology that allows the user of a device to unlock it by “performing gestures on an unlock image.” All current smartphones have some sort of gestured-based screen unlocking features, with many handset makers already employing workarounds to avoid Apple’s lawyer teams.

The decision can still be appealed by Apple at the Federal Court of Justice in Germany, and whatever the final outcome, it will surely affect rulings in various patent cases in Germany between Apple and two Android device makers, Samsung and Motorola. Based on the current ruling, things are looking good for the two companies in their respective cases against Apple.


A court in Munich awarded Apple in February 2012 a permanent but appealable injunction against two Motorola devices that were found to infringe on the slide-to-unlock patent. Motorola has appealed the injunction and a final decision will be available in the coming weeks.

At the same time, a court in Mannheim, dismissed an Apple vs Samsung case in March 2012 over the same patent, finding no infringement. A second case between the two companies over the same patent asserted as an “utility model” (or a “German intellectual property right comparable to a second-class patent that does not undergo examination and therefore does not enjoy a presumption of validity”) has also been stayed.

While the German court has invalidated the Apple patent, the same thing may not necessarily happen in the U.S., as FOSS Patents explains:

Under U.S. patent law pretty much “everything under the Sun made by Man” is patent-eligible (provided that it is new and inventive), and there is no such thing as a technicity requirement. Also, the most important prior art reference, a Swedish mobile phone named Neonode N1m that was launched approximately a year before the iPhone, may not be eligible as prior art under U.S. law.

That said, the patent wars are nowhere near finished, so expect to see more episodes of the Apple vs Android legal fight this year.

  • IncCo

    Good, that patent is ridiculously general.

  • PuzzledObserver

    A simple genius trick becomes obvious AFTER you see it. During 60 years of my life, I always pee in my pant each time I go to public washroom.

    Until one day I saw a man unzip his pant before peeing. Only then I immediately understood the usage of that benign zip. That innocent man didn’t know he could become a billionaire if ever he had patented his pant-unzip-before-peeing action. Well Apple is the man, who doesn’t make that same mistake.

    Nothing is too late, any of you still have a chance to patent something new. Because, I still have another embarrassing issue. I still sh!*t in my pants that I can’t quite figure out how to solve elegantly. The unzip trick doesn’t work because I have no zip in the back of my pants. If ever you know the solution, run right away to patent that idea before Apple file it.

    • MasterMuffin

      I have a good idea that I will let you patent: How about no pants? Easiest and lightest option, you can feel free again :D

      • PuzzledObserver


        Oh smart and wise man :) Unfortunately, I need my pants for my social duties. As a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, pants are required. Luckily (for me), brain skills are not mandatory.

        • MasterMuffin

          Damm :D

  • mohdamr1

    Patent loss after patent loss, apple will be nothing.

  • aw3som3

    as in a ‘playground slide’? slide to unlock. maybe that’s going to be the next ‘unlock’ feature, that you literally can only unlock your iphone by sliding down a slide. good luck.