Halloween Horrors: It came from the USPTO.....

Happy Halloween! The AmeriKat's mobile phone is practically Frankenstein. It is held together with industrial strength tape, has various dents and scratches pock-marking its surface, and opening the phone for use incites a sticky creaking noise. It horrifies the latest generation of touch-screen phones where a gentle left-to-right or other patterned sweep of the paw on the surface unlocks the phone. But at least, says the AmeriKat, it is not infringing the latest Apple patent.

Last Tuesday, the USPTO issued US Patent
No. 8,046,721 to Apple Inc. for a method of unlocking a hand-held device (it also included two product claims). The "Slide-to-Unlock" method claim is set out in Claim 1 and reads as follows:

1. A method of unlocking a hand-held electronic device, the device including a touch-sensitive display, the method comprising: detecting a contact with the touch-sensitive display at a first predefined location corresponding to an unlock image; continuously moving the unlock image on the touch-sensitive display in accordance with movement of the contact while continuous contact with the touch screen is maintained, wherein the unlock image is a graphical, interactive user-interface object with which a user interacts in order to unlock the device; and unlocking the hand-held electronic device if the moving the unlock image on the touch-sensitive display results in movement of the unlock image from the first predefined location to a predefined unlock region on the touch-sensitive display.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the moving comprises movement along any desired path.

3. The method of claim 1, wherein the moving comprises movement along a predefined channel from the first predefined location to the predefined unlock region.

4. The method of claim 1, further comprising displaying visual cues to communicate a direction of movement of the unlock image required to unlock the device.

5. The method of claim 4, wherein the visual cues comprise text.

6. The method of claim 4, wherein said visual cues comprise an arrow indicating a general direction of movement.
Dear readers, is your phone, sitting silently next to you, unwittingly (or not) infringing the latest Apple patent? Chances are that if you have a phone that runs the Google Android operating system or a Samsung Galaxy, your unlocking method may seem eerily similar to this claim. This summer the Dutch courts ruled against Apple in respect of one of their patent infringement claims against Samsung - a claim relating to a similar "Slide-to-unlock" patent - US Patent No. 7,657,849/EP 1964022. The court held that that patent was invalid for obviousness. The prior-art cited was the Neonode N1m, created by and released in 2005 (prior to those patents December 2005 filing date) by a small Swedish mobile phone manufacture. The question is, does this new patent, also filed in December 2005, withstand the Neonode N1m prior art? In any event, Google will undoubtedly be anticipating another fight on their hands from Apple.

So if you hear leaves rustling behind you on this, the most haunted of all nights, it may be
Sleepy Hollow, or the ghost of Jack the Ripper, but it could be something arguably far scarier - Apple's next mobile patent lawsuit...

Other Apple v Samsung disputes - here

Bobbing for apples - here
How to make shrunken apple heads (AmeriKat recommended!) - here
Halloween Horrors: It came from the USPTO..... Halloween Horrors: It came from the USPTO..... Reviewed by Annsley Merelle Ward on Monday, October 31, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. There's a youtube video showing the Neonode N1m's slide to unlock feature here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tj-KS2kfIr0 (jump forwards to about 4:08 unless you're a fan of clunky old phones)

    This clearly is 'sliding to unlock', and it clearly predates the iPhone, but the user isn't 'continuously moving the unlock image, and claims 4,5 and 6 are not evident either... but I think a layman would be hard pressed to say the difference is anything other than trivial.

    I note that we've not heard anything about Neonode licensing the idea to Apple, or joining the ever-growing tangle of phone patent law suits. Perhaps they too thought the whole thing was trivial?

    Slashdot (the 'news for geeks' website) covered the story too, the 600+ comments are at times very venomous, but might provide the much more restrained readers of the IPKat blog some insight into the contempt with which the USPTO are held by the tech-savvy community. Have a read here if you dare: http://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/10/26/0414206/apple-granted-patent-for-slide-to-unlock

  2. Invalid for want of obviousness? That's a good one.

    Patently-O just took down their posting on this Apple patent. I wonder what will now happen to the Kat's posting?

  3. Max, I'd wait a bit before suggesting censorship; I find the PatentlyO server to be slightly flaky in general. (Comments disappearing and reappearing, limited HTML validation, poor searchability of past comments).

    Compare the US patent's claim 1 with claim 1 of EP1964022B1

    1. A computer-implemented method of controlling a portable electronic device comprising a touch-sensitive display, comprising: detecting contact with the touch-sensitive display while the device is in a user-interface lock state; transitioning the device to a user-interface unlock state if the detected contact corresponds to a predefined gesture; and maintaining the device in the user-interface lock state if the detected contact does not correspond to the predefined gesture; characterized by moving an unlock image along a predefined displayed path on the touch-sensitive display in accordance with the contact, wherein the unlock image is a graphical, interactive user-interface object with which a user interacts in order to unlock the device.

    [reference signs deleted]

    The EP and US claims generally boil down to the same thing. The US claim has the user touching a first predefined location. The EP claim mentions a "a predefined displayed path"; I'm not quite sure whether this expression is actually limiting, it does however have a relationship with the US dependent claims.

    The EP claim is about 45 characters shorter than the US one, and this includes "EPA-Standardfloskel" such as "characterized by". (I know you don't judge a claim by its length, and neither do I).

    Which one of the US or of the EP claim is more "horrible"?

    In the EP Register I see that Nokia missed the time limit for filing an OPPO by a couple of weeks and tried to intervene under Art. 105, in the case someone else had filed an oppo in due time. Tough luck. Apple will have a slightly earlier glimpse at the cards Nokia intends to play.

    Concerning the title of this thread, Halloween Horrors: It came from the USPTO....., I had a head start of one day in my anonymous comments "Another USPTO Halloween horror story?" written in a "competing" blog.

    I should consider sending a cease-and-desist letter and get this post taken down... ;-) :-)

    If I had to attack these claims, I think I would invoke general knowledge on user interface design, and argue that human psychology, which guides the selection of UI metaphors, does not belong to a category of patentable subject-matter.

  4. When I saw the abstract of EP1964022 [Unlocking a device by performing gestures...] it reminded me of a passage from Randall Garrat’s “Backstage Lensman” parody of EE Smith’s classic SF “Lensman” stories : although that was concerned with closing something by means of a gesture: “And as he did so, he made that curious gesture known as Gray Seal. No entity has ever donned or ever will don that Gray uniform without making that gesture. It is the only way you can get the zipper closed.”

    SF aficionados will find the complete story here:

  5. Fly, good stuff. The O posting has in the meantime re-appeared, now with the correct spelling of "Ericsson". (Originally it was "Ericcson").

  6. Andrew. The Slashdot community certainly does provide a barbed view of the USPTO - and IP rights in general for that matter. I'd be more impressed though if a larger proportion of them bothered to read the actual claims of the patents they rant about.

    As regards the slide to unlock patent, could it be excluded as merely being a presentation of information. The Neonode phone video clearly does show a slide to unlock gesture - arguably all that Apple have done is added some on-screen instructions.

  7. Simply a touch-screen implemented version of a hard switch. Great stuff, and we wonder why everyone is up in arms over computer-related inventions.

    Nothing wrong with computer-related inventions, I would just like to see at least a tiny little iota of invention.

    Unfortunately, I had to abandon my touch-screen toilet flush after the sticky tape failed to save my iphone from a dunking.


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