Appeals Court Dumps Apple's Slide To Unlock Patent, Tosses Massive Jury Award Against Samsung In The Trash

from the bye-bye dept

Apple may have been able to convince a jury that Samsung violated a bunch of its patents, on concepts like “slide to unlock,” but apparently the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) disagrees. Despite the court’s reputation for regularly expanding the power of patents (and getting smacked around by the Supreme Court for doing so), CAFC has sided with Samsung and tossed out a jury’s $120 million award and with it some Apple patents — including “slide to unlock.”

There were a few different patents in this lawsuit, and the appeals court found that Samsung didn’t infringe on one of them and that two others were invalid. On the Slide to Unlock patent — US Patent 8,046,721 — the court said it was invalidated due to obviousness and the fact that all of the elements involved in slide to unlock were found in prior art. It notes that the “case for obviousness was strong” while “Apple’s evidence… was weak.” In fact, the court is not at all impressed by Apple’s arguments for why “slide to unlock” was some great innovation — including the idea that because the Steve Jobs reality distortion field made people all excited about it, that doesn’t mean the idea wasn’t obvious at the time.

Apple appears to identify the unsolved problem as the lack of an ?intuitive? method of unlocking a touch-screen portable device. But Apple provided no evidence showing that this problem was recognized in the industry. No reasonable jury could find testimony by a single expert about his personal experience with one device as evidence of an industry-wide long-felt need.


As evidence of industry praise, Apple presented expert testimony that the attendees at an Apple event manifested approval when Steve Jobs first presented and unlocked the iPhone…. Evidence of approval by Apple fans?who may or may not have been skilled in the art?during the presentation of the iPhone is not legally sufficient.

CAFC also found an Apple patent (US Patent 8,074,172 on “autocorrect” features to be invalid as well. Everyone agreed that there was a ton of prior art around autocorrect — it was just a question of whether or not Samsung did it “Apple’s way.” But here the court said that “Apple’s way” was pretty obvious from the prior art. Once again, this may sound familiar:

In short, we find that Samsung presented a strong case of obviousness, showing that every element of claim 18 was present in the prior art. Apple?s evidence of secondary considerations was very weak.

Apple’s “weak” defense was, in short, “but the iPhone was super popular and people like autocorrect” The court notes that this doesn’t really matter.

Apple?s evidence shows that phones with autocorrection may sell better than phones without autocorrection, but it does not show that phones with the specific implementation of autocorrection embodied by claim 18 sell better than phones with other methods of autocorrection disclosed by the prior art.

The even bigger win, monetarily, for Samsung, though is the US Patent 5,946,647, which was on a “system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data.” The alleged infringement of that patent was what made up the bulk ($98 million) of the $120 million award. And here, CAFC found simply that Samsung didn’t infringe (the discussion there involves claim construction and specifically how Samsung’s setup operates). Samsung is still fighting Apple on multiple other patent battles (and has lost a few). But considering how much attention the “slide to unlock” patent got, it’s good to see it get tossed.

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Companies: apple, samsung

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Comments on “Appeals Court Dumps Apple's Slide To Unlock Patent, Tosses Massive Jury Award Against Samsung In The Trash”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Before its time?

Not sure if the autocorrect patent invalidation will help make one that actually works well. How many times did it OK a word that was not what you intended? Maybe if someone put a grammar checker that worked in there as well? Oh wait. I haven’t seen one of those work well either…

I will be really impressed when someone comes up with an auto-editor that corrects what I type into what I meant. The next step after that would be to correct to my writing style as well, or not my writing style as one instructs it.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Before its time?

Thank you for the referral to Grammarly. it looks interesting but their privacy rules would prevent me from giving it a try. While it would be free, what they collect is beyond what I will allow.

I use Libre Office, and sometime write in that and then transfer it to the post. That grammar checker does not do a particularly good job.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

It's obvious!

This is very, very good news.

Not just because some bad patents and claims were tossed out, but because this will help set precedents for the standard of “obviousness”.

It’s great to see an appeals court taking seriously the requirement that patents not be obvious, and starting to work up some reasonable tests for it.

“Evidence showing that this problem was recognized in the industry” is exactly what a applicant should be required to show before receiving a patent on a new idea.

Otherwise, finding an obvious method to resolve a new problem would qualify for a patent monopoly. As it has too often in the past.

🙂 🙂 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s a pretty harsh indictment of one of the ills of our jury system. Those who are intelligent, hard working, and busy quite often try their hardest to avoid jury duty. Those who do take the time, usually are weeded out during jury selection because one set of lawyers (depending on the case) are usually looking to weed out those who have technical expertise or are rational thinkers. Often what it leaves us with is a jury pool of non-technical people who are more apt to be swayed by passionate statements rather than the merits of the arguments.

Anonymous Coward says:

apple fanboy

Well… I don’t think we’ve gotten an article on Apples behaviour in china- something which seams rather important for context… but it’s hard to praise the good deeds of companies while also condemning the bad- confuses people… and man the shear amount of articles coming out of TD lately is impressive; maybe they just haven’t had time.

International corporations are inherently sociopathic- and psychotic when viewed as a singular entity.

also- Fanboy: an insult implying slavish unreasonable bias mostly used by fanboys against anyone who don’t agree with them.

…always thought of Mike more as a google fanboy. 😛

Linux fanboy.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

People like autocorrect?

Is Apple still living inside a reality distortion field? People hate autocorrect, because it regularly screws up what you meant to type. I’ve never spoken to anyone who actually enjoys it, and people I text with frequently curse its name after it renders what they meant to say as something bizarre and incomprehensible. This phenomenon is so common, in fact, that there’s an entire website devoted to it.

This is, of course, yet another example of how DWIM (trying to get a computer to “Do What I Mean” rather than what you actually said) never actually works reliably and is actively harmful more often than not.

Anonymous Coward says:

>Gosh darn it mike, how is anyone going to ever innovate unless we have stupid patents like this?

Forget innovation: how is Apple ever going to be motivated to make smartphones at all?

[Apple’s track record on innovation is pretty sparse…although beside Microsoft they look like Thomas Edison redivivus. They do often put previously-invented hi-tech stuff together in a package that can be used by luddites. Which is an accomplishment that can be respected even by passionate-non-Apple-customers like me.]

Graham J says:


I’m no fan of the US’ awful patent system, particularly when it comes to software patents, but since when does a patent have to solve a problem to be valid? Slide to unlock does solve a problem, however minor, and to my knowledge no previous phone had such a system.

Obviously physical sliding locks and onscreen sliding things existed before but is that really prior art for a software component with the specific purpose of unlocking a touchscreen phone? Considering other patents I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem like it should be.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Novel

Just because no previous phones had slide-to-unlock (although there were a couple of previous non-phone handheld computers that had something very like it) doesn’t mean the thing is patentable.

First, you can’t patent ideas as such. You patent specific implementations of ideas. Second, those implementations, even if never seen before, have to be not obvious to the average practitioner in the field. I think that nonobviousness is what is being debated.

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s nothing special about a slide to unlock. Crap I gotta drill bit case that has that feature to open it. It’s not in competition with Apple other than it probably has pretty much the same features and methods as far as the physical unlocking mechanism goes.

I remember wooden cabinets done back in the days of Louse xiv French furniture with slide locks to access hidden compartments. The basic mechanism has long been understood. There is certainly a ton of prior art as far as using the method goes. I’m surprised Apple could get a patent on that to be truthful.

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