Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

Summary: Yes, but Apple probably won't. Here's why.


A violation of Apple's slide to open patent!?

A violation of Apple's slide to open patent!?

In last week's episode of “Can you top this dumb patent?” we discovered that Apple had patented the design element of sliding to unlock a device. Gosh, and I recall my grandpa's front gate having a slide-to-unlock device in the 60s! Boy those Apple guys had to get up early in the morning to invent that one

Sarcasm aside, does” every Android device now infringe this Apple patent?” Or, for that matter, every Windows 8 device? Well, yes, they probably do. But does that mean that Apple is really going to be using this patent to sue everyone and anyone who uses the slide metaphor in their design? I asked some prominent intellectual property (IP) lawyers about it and this is what they said.

Thomas Carey, a partner at Sunstein, a major intellectual property (IP) law firm and chair of its Business Department, said that, “In this particular case, it appears that there is prior art that may render the patent invalid.” Carey points out that this video of the Neonode N1m device at the 4 minute mark appears to pre-date Apple's devices.

“However,” Carey continued, “The Apple patent claims refer to a touch screen, which is not what the device in the video contains. Nonetheless, applying the same technique to a touch screen would seem obvious. Hence, invalidity.  (The priority date on the patent is 12/23/2005, which comes after the date of the Neonode N1m.)”

If Apple were to sue someone with this patent, Carey suspects Microsoft, rather than Google and its Android partners, might be targeted. After all, “Apple has had its innovations ripped off by Microsoft for years, so you would surely expect them to start seeking patent protection for their innovations.”

Even so, Daniel Ravicher, an attorney and executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, doesn't see Apple suing anyone with this particular patent. “Getting a silly patent takes a few thousand dollars and can stealthily contribute to quantity metrics. Deciding to assert a silly patent in litigation takes a few million dollars and can't hide from quality requirements. I doubt they'd ever assert this patent.”

So, the consensus seems to be that this particular patent won't be seen used in anger inside a courtroom any time soon. Other dumb patents, that's another matter. With patents likes these, the mobile patent wars look certain to go on for years—decades—more. Now, just so long as no lawyer comes to my grandpa's old door I guess I can put up with it.

Related Stories:

Every Android device now infringes Apple patent: Slide to unlock

Windows 8 sure looks like it violates Apple's new 'Slide to unlock' patent

Could Lodsys turn its sights on Microsoft Windows 8 developers?

Samsung chief: Galaxy Nexus 'designed to bypass Apple patents'

Apple gets Samsung Galaxy Tab banned in E.U. with moronic ruling

Topics: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Legal

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  • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

    iOS5 infringes on Microsoft's patent from early 2010 of taking a photo from the iOS device while phone is locked. This was first shown/patented and still is available on Windows Phone. Microsoft has stock pile of patents they can throw at Apple which are most prob infringing. Doubted if Microsoft and Apple will ever sue each other as they have a patent cross licensing deal anyways.
    • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

      that patent sounds even more stupid than this one...

      its not about the title of the patent, but the content... about the actual method they describe, which can often be very different than the way the title sounds.
      • A better question, is why the US Patent Office is so dumb

        That allows so many silly patents.

        Who are the people that approve these?

        That's the problem that needs to be addressed.
    • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

      Exactly. I haven't seen Microsoft and Apple suing each other much lately. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

        @WebSiteManager +1
    • The "patented sandwich" anyone?

    • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

      @techwhizard Apple will sue just because they are (insert derogative here). Come on, they sued for a design by modifying the aspect ratio on paper in the Samsung case, they impersonated the police to recover a phone, and they sued over being able to touch a screen with two fingers. They are IP scum. They'd sue over a round cornered icon if they could be awarded the patent. I think Apple has shown their lack of intelligence and class by making a mockery of the international government patent offices to date, so why would we suspect this would be any different? The only reason they haven't sued Microsoft yet is because they aren't really a threat to their market share at the moment.
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

        True, but look at what Microsoft is doing to Android ODM's and OEM's -- they're basically going around to everyone in the industry who's involved with android and saying, if you don't agree to pay us and sign a license agreement, we're going to sue you -- and all those companies have said it's cheaper for them to pay microsoft than it would be to be take to court and lose. Microsoft finds ways to win even when they lose (Windows Phone 7 has virtually no market share yet they make money every time an android phone is made). :)
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

        @surge3@... That's true, but it could be worse. Apple has publicly stated that they won't go the route that Microsoft went with licensing of these ridiculous patents, because essentially, they want Android dead. Microsoft could have gone that route, but chose not to (thankfully). Not saying that Microsoft's interference is acceptable, just saying that Apple is not out to penalize or profit, but they are out to DESTROY their competition through frivolous patents. Apple's goal is not to compete, but to have no competitors. That's what makes these patent issues a bigger deal than the ones Microsoft holds.
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?


        Apple are not as mindless as you picture them with regards to patents. It is obvious that they want to reduce the willingness of others to copycat their designs and apparently so far are successful in this.

        They have no problem to sue Microsoft, if it meets their goals -- which is to have the best on the market. Not related to the 'share' of the market.

        But for Android, things are funny. Apple has declared a war at Android. Android vendors by now understand, they are in big trouble because they were misled by Google to base their services on this apparently infringing on other's IP OS. Then comes Microsoft, who simply tells them they have to pay them -- or risk being sued. If those vendors were that confident of their righteousness they would simply deny... but... Apple is doing good job.

        As always, it's Microsoft who steals the money. :)
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

        @danbi That's a fanatic answer. Anyone who believes this is Apple just recovering IP is a fanatic. They'd patent the power button if the patent office would give it to them and sue everyone who came within an inch of their market share.<br><br>This isn't about market share? Then why didn't Apple start this years ago when Google didn't have the edge on market share?<br><br>This is all about recovering IP by thieving Google? Right, which is why Apple had the gonads to show up to an international court with doctored photos of the Samsung Tab?<br><br>Microsoft went after the money, which is what most businesses do. They will find a way to make a profit off a neighboring company. Apple isn't most companies, they use a doorknob on a door, patent it, and then sue to eliminate any competing door manufacturers that use a turn to open mechanism.<br><br>Like I said, any non-fanatic can see what is really going on here if they've paid attention to the trend. Apple isn't even hiding the fact they want the competition eliminated (not shrunk, not paying royalties, but eliminated). Apple is not competing, they are out to remove their competitors. And you'd be insulting our intelligence to tell us that Apple would not try to eliminate Microsoft from the market if they were to become equal with Apple, unless of course Microsoft had the means to crush them under the weight of counter-patents. It's OBVIOUS what they are doing. Fanatics amaze me with their obliviousness.<br><br>As many of my colleagues and I have discussed, all eyes were focused on Microsoft for the longest time as being the largest "evil" corporation. Now, surprisingly, it turns out Microsoft never even dreamed of being a fraction of the Draconian overlord Apple has turned out to be with the way they have been running their Apple ecosystem and the anti-competitive practices they have begun to unleash.<br><br>Apple will not stop until Android is off the market, and if they can get away with it, they will patent the power button and replace all our electronic devices (I know, you fanatics would welcome that change and call it "recovering stolen IP" or "good business").

        How you people even try to pass off Apple as a victim is comical to say the least.
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

        @danbi You know what amazes me even more? Is this cult like following that Apple has whereby everything Apple does is either out of victimization, or out of some higher purpose. This is a distinct characteristic of an Apple fanatic, and is rarely found in any other culture (unless you delve into the religious world). I'm starting to think Apple should have been headquartered in Waco.<br><br>I'd also like to hear from a fanatic the justification for the doctoring of photos, and while we're at it, the impersonation and above the law tactics that were employed to recover their equipment, which they carelessly left at a bar?
      • I agree with your Apple as a victim point

        I too am constantly impressed at how Apple has managed to maintain its victim status while at the same time becoming the biggest, baddest, strongest, richest company in the world.

        There is nothing about Apple that makes it the victim in any way.
      • Do you realize ...

        @thoiness ... that your rant about Apple fanatics sounds suspiciously like the same kind of irrational rants made by Android fanatics?

        I'm not attempting to justify Apple's patent litigation efforts. I don't really have to: they have the legal right to do what they're doing, because they applied for and were granted various patents. Some are undoubtedly rubbish and will never stand up in court, once challenged. But the point is: they were granted the patents, and that gives them the right to defend them.

        As for Apple's intentions to destroy Android ... that was, indeed, one of Steve Jobs' quests. But it wasn't just blind fury: Jobs vowed to fight Android because Google CEO Eric Schmidt was on Apple's Board of Directors and took proprietary Apple info back to Google and used it to radically change the product plans for Android, converting it from a Blackberry-like experience to a very iPhone-like UI. To Jobs, this was not only bad business ethics, it was personal.

        But that doesn't really matter, because, again, Apple has the right to defend the patents that it was _legally_ (though not necessarily _correctly_) granted.

        And one of the funny things about being a patent holder is that you are not required to license your technology to anyone, not for any amount of money. Alternatively, you can choose to license it to anyone and everyone for no money at all. Or you can settle somewhere in the middle: license it to a few companies that can afford to pay a very big fee. It all depends on which plan best suits your needs.

        Apple, of course, doesn't state that it's officially trying to eliminate Android. It's official line is that it simply doesn't want anyone else using its proprietary IP, but that it's more than happy to compete with folks who design original products.

        Obviously, this isn't seen as a friendly strategy by Android fans. But so far, Apple's strategy of fighting Android in court doesn't seem to be stopping Android from growing, so it doesn't seem like there's much to worry about.
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

        I make it a habit to boycott the products of tech patent trolls.

        I took a long look at the iPhone 4S and found it attractive albeit a poor value proposition. Fortunately Apple made the decision for me.
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch? would be more expensive to go to court and lose. And all those companies being sued have very good lawyers and have determined that the likelihood of them losing to Microsoft in court is high enough to warrant a settlement. In other words, Microsoft's case has merit.
      • @ thoiness

        Apple started protecting their innovations from theft years ago. Long before Android's rise to high market share.

        Google attempts to dismantle all incentives to innovation and force it to grind to a halt by their blatant theft of both copyright and patent IP. But the gSheep don't really care.
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?

        @danbi: That's for showing your fanboi "colors" with the statement "As always, it's Microsoft who steals the money." Last I looked, Microsoft hasn't been in the news lately regarding patent infringements compared to Apple or Google. Apple may not be going after Google because their case could be weak. As for Microsoft, Windows 8 hasn't even come out yet. They can't take them to cour that is still not been finalized. Or maybe Apple's lawyers are too busy with all those other lawsuits [against and for them].
      • RE: Can Apple really sue Google or Microsoft for using its patented sliding on/off switch?


        You have your facts wrong... Apple is not suing any OEMs over any IP infringed on by Android. Apple's lawsuits against the OEMS are over hardware not software patent violations which Google has no part in or influence on the OEMs for. If Apple has any legitimate claims of IP infringement at the OS level they should launch a lawsuit against Google itself. Apple's outrage at Android phones "imitating" their own is pretty baseless considering prior art and obviousness. The way it reads is that Apple considers that any rectangular, thin computing device that has a wireless data connection, icons and a touch screen is a copycat and infringing on their design. This claim does not stand up to scrutiny for anyone who has a recollection that dates back past ten years (before the first (IPhone). Except for 3G/4G data connectivity which Apple holds no patents for and multi-touch which, in concept, is merely the natural and obvious evolution of touchscreen technology (which Apple did not invent) only the methodology of Apple's touch screen circuitry is patentable, not the concept. The other OEMs multi-touch mechanisms differ and yet Apple still sues over the concept.

        Google didn't mislead anyone into basing their "services" on infringing technology and the majority of Apple's lawsuits have nothing to do with the Android OS Apple is using their patent crusade punitively to punish any manufacturer for daring to develop and sell an Android phone. Most of their lawsuits are not related to the Android OS at all. Get your facts straight.
    • Microsoft and Apple.

      @techwhizard I agree, Microsoft and Apple have for years worked together, and Apple tried and failed to sue Microsoft in the past. So I don't think they will go at it again. Apple is a lucrative business for Microsoft, and Microsoft builds software for Apple. They're a perfect example of competitors working together to take out Google.