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"Obvious" patents should never have been granted, given prior art

Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) international quest to kill Android, not by competition, but by lawsuits hit a roadblock in the United Kingdom when a Judge ruled Apple's patents to swipe-to-unlock patents to be invalid due to obviousness and prior art.

I. Neonode Invented Swipe to Unlock, Not Apple

The judge wrote in his decision that HTC Corp.'s (TPE:2498) four targeted Android handsets were not in infringement of Apple's patents on swipe-to-unlock as those patents never should have been granted in the first place.

The ruling comes in a London lawsuit brought by Apple against HTC.  The ruling is a dangerous for Apple as it threatens to invalidate previous wins over Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KSC:005930) and others in Germany and the Netherlands, which forced the Android device-makers to modify their products.

His decision echoes my own analysis remarkably closely, citing technology from Neonode Inc. (NEON), who included slide to unlock on an icon in its patented July 2004 n1m smartphone:

Similar prior art referenced by HTC convinced the judge that Apple had habitually trolled the patent waters, patenting technology that other companies had already brought to market at the time of its filings.  Two other key software patents were also found to be invalid due to obviousness and/or prior art.

The results are important, but not terribly surprising.

After all late Apple CEO and co-founder Steven P. Jobs famously brazenly bragged of his company's lust for stealing others' work, "Picasso had a saying - 'Good artists copy, great artists steal.' And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas."


II. Bye, Bye Apple Patents, Bye, Bye Lawsuits 

The decision decimates in the EU much of the patent stable Apple has tried to leverage to bully Android smartphone makers in the U.S. and EU alike.  In total the judge invalidated three EU Apple patents:
  • EP1168859 (B1) "Portable radio communication apparatus using different alphabets" (a multilingual keyboard patent)
The judge was particularly taken by the abundant evidence of invalidity of the slide to unlock patent.  The Neonode n1m in 2004 displayed a padlock icon with the words  "right sweep to unlock".  Yet astonishingly an Apple patent filed over a year later was granted.  Apple lawyers would later argue that the inclusion of a capacitive touch screen (the n1m used resistive touch) to detect the swipe more accurately and a different icon were sufficient to seize broad ownership of all swipe to unlock on touch devices.

Unlocking the iPhoneUnlock n1m
[Image Source: YouTube]

The British judge blasted that line of thinking calling the inclusion of a slider "obvious" and saying that the advances in touch detection did not call for a repatenting of the same technology.

Apple issued a statement to the BBC, "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

But according to the British judge, it was Apple who stole others' work, not the other way around.  Apple refused comment on whether it considered it an acceptable practice to steal others' work, a practice it has repeatedly condemned others for supposedly doing.

HTC was ecstatic, commenting, "HTC is pleased with the ruling, which provides further confirmation that Apple's claims against HTC are without merit. We remain disappointed that Apple continues to favour competition in the courtroom over competition in the marketplace."

A single Apple patent -- EP2059868  (A2) -- the "bounce animation" patent survived, but the British judge narrowed its scope saying that that a somewhat similar animation on some of HTC's smartphones was sufficiently different that it was not in violation.

Android Gingerbread Gallery App
Browser App Gingerbread
Bounce animations on an HTC EVO running Android 2.3 "Gingerbread"

While the ruling is devastating to Apple's EU lawsuit campaign, it can at least seek solace in the fact that it has banned Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet and Galaxy Nexus smartphone in the U.S.

III. Editorial: U.S. Invalidation is Coming Soon to a Courtroom Near You

Andrew Alton, a lawyer at UK firm Urquhart-Dykes and Lord -- a firm which used to work for Apple -- comments, "National patent laws thematically are very similar, but can be applied very differently.  Not only are the tests different but also the evidence that can be introduced in different courts varies. If the Neonode wasn't released in the US it might not be able to be cited there.  So the fact that Apple has lost this particular patent battle in the UK shouldn't mean it should be seen to have lost the global war."

Indeed, while the EU court justly found that Apple has received an invalid patent on a technology which its competitors were selling years before, U.S. patent law may be structured in such a way in which courts allow it to ban would-be competitors on the grounds of technology that had been released years before overseas, assuming those competitors did not release devices to the U.S. market or file for a U.S. patent.

Of course, I would disagree with Apple's lawyer's assessment, at least on the issue of the swipe to unlock, given that Neonode did patent its technology in the U.S.  Simply take a gander at Fig. 11 and Fig. 12 (pg. 5) in U.S. Patent No. 8,095,879 -- a "User interface for mobile handheld computer unit":
Neonode patent
There's swipe-to-unlock, the same technology Apple reworded and repatented, effectively "stealing" (as Apple would say) Neonode's novel idea and claiming it for its own.

I correctly predicted the EU invalidation, and I would expect the U.S. court system, despite the Android OEMs less-than-stellar legal representation and Apple's great level of influence in the Californian court system, will eventually come around to reason and invalidate this patent.

After all, the U.S. court system has to maintain some semblance of competence and non-biased behavior.

Then again, I don't expect Apple to give up without a fight.  After all, Apple has been badly beaten by Android in market share.  Apple attorney Josh Krevitt sums up his company's plight, remarking, "Samsung is always one step ahead, launching another product and another product."

Apple isn't launching product as fast as it used to.  Since the departure of founder and visionary Steven P. Jobs, it saw its iPhone 4S launch slip to October 2011.  Now hopes that Apple would "catch up" with a July launch are all but lost.  To make matters worse, Apple'shomely iOS 6 was left "playing RIM" to a the slick, stylish Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, unveiled at last week's Google I/O developers event.  Word has it that Jelly Bean's built in search even beats Siri in accuracy -- and Google supports many features absent in iOS, such as offline dictation.  And that's not to mention Windows Phone 8 who also makes iOS 6 look like a 2007-era dead-end.

Apple left behind
iOS, left behind: iOS 1.0 (top left), iOS 6.0 (top right);
Android 1.0 (bottom left, Android 4.1 (bottom right); Windows Phone 8 (far right)

As HTC said in its comment, Apple, despite virtually standing still interface-wise hopes to compensate by courtroom thuggery.  Unfortunately for it, much of its technology appears to be invalid and borrowed (or "stolen" to use Apple's own terminology).

Source: BBC

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RE: Bounce Animation Patent...Really?
By gamerk2 on 7/6/2012 12:04:14 AM , Rating: 0
Funny you talk about the Postal Service, considering it ran, without a single taxpayer dime, for over 250 years. Problem is, that thing called E-mail rendered its business model obsolete, and FedEx (which coincidentally tried to do what the postal service did over a century ago, and couldn't make a dime on it...) and UPS have eaten too much of the package delivery market. And there is a really simple fix: Cut Saturday delivery. Funny thing is, Congress refuses to want to cut any services, even if they are expensive and not needed...

As for the ACA, its better then what we currently have, and will probably be no more cheaper or more expensive at the end of the day. A "better" solution would have been to unify every single government healthcare buracracy (Social Security, Medicare, Medicade, Tricare, and the like) all under one unit. You'd save a few billion just on adminstration savings alone.

Finally, bringing up Social Security, when the funds are stolen from to help balence the year over year budget, and the tax that pays for it made void during any economic slowdown, guess what? You're going to have a funding problem. As designed, the program was and would remain fully solvent. Blame the politicians for borrowing money from the fund during its surplus, and cutting taxes into the fund during the deficit, for the current state of the fund.

Finally, bringing up the economy as a whole:
1946: ~132% Debt-to-GDP
1980: ~32% Debt-to-GDP
1992: ~68% Debt-to-GDP
2000: ~60% Debt-to-GDP [Budget at about a break-even]
2009: ~90% Debt-to-GDP [Budget at a ~$950 Billion Defecit and major economic recession]

Notice how everything went to hell during Regan? His budget policy of cutting taxes while increasing government spending, shock, does not work. Say what you will, at least Democrats offer up tax increases to pay for their new spending...

RE: Bounce Animation Patent...Really?
By Reclaimer77 on 7/6/2012 1:01:26 AM , Rating: 1
You're an idiot. Everything went to hell under Carter! Reagan inherited a worst economy than Obama did in '08. I love how you people cite ONE statistic and claim things went to "hell" when in fact Reagan brought us out of the brink. The largest peacetime growth of the US economy happened under Reagan. Hell under Reagan inflation went from 10% to 4%.

You have a lot to learn kid

RE: Bounce Animation Patent...Really?
By Paj on 7/6/12, Rating: 0
By Reclaimer77 on 7/6/2012 10:14:33 AM , Rating: 3
Seems like you're only bringing up the negatives for some reason. And ignoring the explosive economic growth, the massive cutting of inflation under Reagan, and the prosperity of the nation as a whole. The 2.4 million private sector jobs added to the economy per-year under Reagain.

The parallel tax system hit middle class Americans the hardest by reducing their deductions and effectively raising their taxes.

Ummm where are you getting this from? Reagan made tax changes that eliminated the Federal Income tax burden for nearly 40% of all Americans. In fact as much as it might pain Conservatives to admit this, but because of Reagan we have nearly half the country today not paying income taxes.

People like Gamer, and probably you, refuse to understand that you CAN lower taxes and actually gross MORE federal revenue. Federal Income taxes only make up about a third of the Fed revenue. When you lower taxes, you spur economic growth, and in turn the Government grosses MORE revenue. Every time taxes have been lowered, there has been a corresponding increase in federal revenue.

Liberals will bring up Clinton and his great "balanced budgets". Well what did Clinton do in 1997? Yup, he cut taxes!

This is a nice simple non-partisan read if you're interested. Using all easily researched data.

RE: Bounce Animation Patent...Really?
By retrospooty on 7/6/2012 8:15:00 AM , Rating: 2
"Everything went to hell under Carter! Reagan inherited a worst economy than Obama did in '08."

True Reagan inherited a mess and it made Reagans #'s look much worse than they should have been, but you gotta give Obama that same slack. Obama inherited a worse mess than Reagen by far though. Granted he did crap with it, most of what we are dealing with today would have happened to anyone that was elected. Even Reagan... It was unstopable as of January 2009.

RE: Bounce Animation Patent...Really?
By Reclaimer77 on 7/6/2012 4:11:43 PM , Rating: 1
Retro it will be really cool when you can take the kid gloves off and actually judge Obama. The apologist stance you take is indefensible.

Obama inherited a worse mess than Reagen by far though.

Since there are very few numbers that actually support this statement, I figure you just said it because it sounded good at the time.

but you gotta give Obama that same slack.

Oh we are. I think he needs a break in fact.

And when Romney is elected, and the economy actually REALLY improves, it's going to be funny watching everyone claim it was because of some delayed result of Obama's plans and reckless spending.

By lexluthermiester on 7/8/2012 12:43:27 AM , Rating: 2
I agree that Romney is the better candidate, but there is not promise of his election. There are not enough middle ground moderates in this country to guarantee his election.

To many extremist liberals and conservatives fighting over power. Not enough people willing to do the correct thing, for the correct reason at the correct time. And I am NOT talking about political correctness. Political correctness is anything but correct MOST of the time. I'm talking about proper correctness. Doing what's right regardless of popular opinion.

"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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