Apple Wins Slide-To-Unlock Patent Claim Against Motorola

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Who would have thought that swiping a finger across the screen could cause this much commotion and expense

A Munich regional court has found that Motorola products infringe on an Apple patent covering the way a touchscreen device is unlocked. The judgement in Germany states that the familiar “slide-to-unlock” feature present in most modern smartphones is Apple’s intellectual property.

This could lead to changes in future devices and could see some smartphone makers being forced to pay Apple royalties for previous use of the technology. The court decision relates solely to activity in the German market.

Slide to give money

The hearing was the latest in a long line of suits and counter-suits between the two companies, and Apple’s first ever patent victory over Motorola. It originally focused on three separate applications of this gesture technology – two for phones and one for tablets. For now, the implementation used in Motorola Xoom tablets has been deemed acceptable.


It appears that this ruling is not a serious threat to Motorola, or its possible future owner Google. A spokeswoman for the company said: “Motorola has implemented a new design for the feature. Therefore, we expect no impact on current supply or future sales,” reported the BBC. The company still plans to appeal against the decision.

Some people think Motorola has suffered more damage than it admits. Software patent expert Florian Mueller on his Foss Patents blog, “On appeal, Apple will presumably try to win on the third embodiment as well since it could be seen as covered by Apple’s patent. But even with the current scope, this is largely a win for Apple that will result in a noticeable degradation of the user experience of Motorola’s products.

“Germany has become a key battleground because of the size of the market, the speed of the process, and due to the fact that infringement findings entitle patent holders to injunctive relief,” he said.

Manning the battle stations

Meanwhile, Google is rolling out some relevant patents of its own. The new unlock features for Android devices were discovered by website yesterday, and it looks like they are really different from that used by Apple in its products. Motorola, Samsung and other phone manufacturers may be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief when the solution is implemented in the new version of Android.

Some other Android-powered smartphones, notably those manufactured by HTC, have already moved away from iPhone-style slide-to-unlock screens. Instead, they are using a “pull ring” with additional features.

The Google Android operating system is Apple iOS’ closest rival in the mobile market and the competition between the two, including regular court cases, might become even more intense than the raging battle of Apple against Samsung and its Android-based Galaxy Tab.