Last week, Germany's federal patent court declared Apple's iOS 'bounce-back effect' patent invalid, in a case brought by Samsung and Motorola. The reasoning? The court said that a January 2007 presentation by Apple's then CEO Steve Jobs, where he unveiled the iPhone (and in it, the now infamous effect) is considered "prior art", as it was made before the patent request was filed.
"Prior art" refers to information that is made public before a patent is filed, which can be used to contest an invention's claims of originality.
In the US at the time, patent law allowed for a 12-month grace period before a patent is filed, where a presentation like Jobs' would not have been considered prior art. (Apple filed the bounce-back patent in August 2007.) However, in Germany, no such grace period exists, and Jobs' demonstration of the effect — where he moves a photo around an iPhone screen and it bounces back to the centre — was enough to have the patent declared invalid.
The bounce-back effect has emerged as an important — albeit somewhat esoteric — element in a global patent battle between Apple and Samsung over their respective mobile operating systems. Last year, a Dutch court banned the sale of some older Samsung phones in the country, since they infringed on Apple's bounce-back patent. Earlier this year, a court in Japan ruled similarly.
In the US, the country's Patent and Trademark Office initially found in favor of Samsung, but eventually reversed its decision, saying that the company infringed on Apple's 'rubber-banding' patent.
The German court ruling applies specifically to the bounce-back implementation in photo galleries, so it isn't as broad as the US Patent Office ruling, which applies to the functionality more generally.
In a sign that Samsung is working around the patent at issue, the company has implemented a "blue flash" effect in newer versions of some of its mobile applications, where a bluish halo replaces the bounce-back effect.
Apple can still appeal the German court's ruling.