​Apple loses 'swipe to unlock' patent battle in Germany's top court

Germany's top court for patent disputes agrees that Apple's 'swipe to unlock' feature on iOS devices should never have qualified for a patent.

Apple has lost a challenge in Germany's top court to overturn an earlier ruling that voided its European patent for its 'swipe to unlock' feature.

According to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, judges at the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe on Tuesday ruled that Apple's patent wasn't new, and that in any case a Swedish company had already developed the feature commercially before Apple's iPhone hit the market.

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The ruling has implications for Apple's long-running battle with Motorola, and backs a 2013 decision by Germany's patent courts in favour of the Lenovo-owned company.

The Apple patent in question, EP1964022, was granted in 2010. Apple had used the patent to win an injunction on Motorola smartphones in 2012, when the company was still owned by Google. According to Bloomberg, that case is pending on appeal and was stayed until the outcome of Tuesday's suit.

Samsung, which also stood to be affected by the injunction, had joined Motorola's claim but later agreed to withdraw.

Under Germany's patent laws, a software program needs to solve a technical problem with a technical solution to be awarded a patent. The patent court had ruled that Apple's 'swipe to unlock' patent lacked that requirement. The feature was merely a "graphic measure to make the use of the smartphone more convenient for the user" and thus didn't solve a "technical issue".

The judges on Tuesday came to a similar conclusion, finding that it was not a technical advancement but a graphic feature to make the phone easier to use, Deutsche Welle reported.

Swedish firm Neonode caused a stir in 2012 when it announced it had been granted a US patent that described very similar features to those at the heart of Apple lawsuits against Motorola and Samsung. Apple however was also granted US design patents for its 'slide to unlock' feature in 2013.

Apple declined to comment.

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