Apple's slide-to-unlock feature not patent-worthy, rules German court

Apple has seen its gesture-based unblocking system invalidated by Germany's federal patent court.

Apple has suffered a defeat in the German federal patent court as it invalidate Apples patent for the so called slide-to-unlock feature used on its iOS devices.

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Apple's patent on the feature, EP1964022, is invalid in Germany, the federal patent court decided late last week. The decision was made by five judges, three of whom have an engineering background, according to patent expert Florian Mueller

The news is a victory for Samsung and Motorola Mobility (now owned by Google), both of whom have been sued by Apple for using a similar gesture to unlock their smartphones.

In an attempt to save the patent, Apple proposed 14 amendments, but ultimately couldn’t convince the five judges that the feature is patent-worthy and the amendments were also dismissed. According to Mueller, Apple, Samsung and Google knew in December that the court was inclined to invalidate the patent.

Contrary to patent law in the US, it is considerably harder to patent software in Europe and Germany. To be able to patent software, a program needs to solve a technical problem with a technical solution.

The federal patent court has denied that Apples (in)famous slide-to-unlock gesture adheres to this requirement. "It serves as a graphic measure to make the use of the smartphone more convenient for the user. The method in question does not solve a technical issue", the court said in a statement.

Apple can (and will) appeal the decision at Germany's federal court of justice, known as the Bundesgerichtshof. The outcome of this appeal is uncertain, however. In February last year, a Munich regional court granted Apple a patent injunction against Motorola . The patent at issue then was the slide-to-unlock-feature in Motorola's Xoom tablet . Motorola appealed the ruling, and the Munich higher regional court is expected to announce its decision in three weeks, Mueller reports.

Apple declined to comment on the ruling.