Android users know that “slide-to-unlock” stands for two things in the smart mobile world we live in, a software utility made popular by Apple to unlock the display of the iPhone and then used in different variations by Android device makers for the same purpose on their phones and a patented weapon for Apple to go after the same competitors in courts.

Apple already has two such patents on slide-to-unlock, one granted in 2010 and a second one in 2011 but a third one, U.S. Patent No 8,286,103 was just awarded offering the company another weapon against its Android rivals.

According to The Verge, the new patent is broader than the first two, as it lifts any of the existing limitations in them that would permit competitors to bypass them:

The ‘103 patent moves past the limiting language of the first two patents that required that the unlock image move along a predefined path, or that it at least start and stop at predefined locations on the screen. The ‘103 patent now broadly covers continuously moving an image to a general unlock region on the screen to unlock the device.

It’s clear that Apple is skating to where the puck is going in its patent wars also. Competitors have already found ways to stay clear of the “slide-to-unlock” Apple patent while still using the technology, but now it looks like the iPhone maker could in theory go after them again thanks to the newly issued patent. That’s because U.S. patent law allows for such patents to be filed and approved:

While many other countries don’t allow it, a US patent owner can file what is called a “continuation” patent application before a patent issues. These continuations can be used to go after different — usually broader — coverage compared to the original patent, effectively presenting the competition with an ever-moving target for its workarounds.

But at the same time it also means that Apple may have other things in mind for the technology. After all Apple started patenting its iPhone-related tech, and not only, long before using the granted patents against Android OEMs.

Of course, we’ll still wonder whether Apple’s next legal moves against Android will include the new ‘103 “slide-to-unlock” patent. What do you think?