Researcher’s 1991 video could torpedo Apple’s key ‘slide to unlock’ patent

A video from a researcher could spell curtains for one of the key patents in Apple’s ongoing litigation against Samsung.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 10.03.10 AMThe 1991 video, entitled “Touchscreen Toggle Design,” features University of Maryland researcher Catherine Plaisant showing off a number of ways to model a touchscreen toggle that users can control. One of the toggles (shown at around 2:55) is an on-off slider that users can control by swiping their finger back and forth, in a manner that’s similar to Apple’s slide-to-unlock control for the iPhone.

That’s a problem for Apple, which argues that Samsung’s phones violate its patent on the slide-to-unlock gesture. The video, which pre-dates Apple’s patent by more than a decade, could serve as prior art that shows the patent is invalid. According to Florian Mueller over at FOSS Patents, Apple has argued in the past that Plaisant’s video doesn’t count because the company’s patent governs sliding to unlock, and an on/off switch is different than that.

Saying that a sliding on/off switch is different than a slide to unlock switch just because one of them unlocks and the other doesn’t is a fairly weak argument, but it seems like that’s all Apple has. Mueller pointed out that Apple’s patent has been deemed invalid in Europe because of similar functionality present in the Swedish Neonode N1M. Right now, there’s some dispute over whether or not a Swedish phone could be considered prior art when it comes to Apple’s patent in the U.S.

Still, even if the slide to unlock patent is invalid, Apple still has a number of other patents that it claims Samsung infringes. Another Apple patent at issue in the current lawsuit governs “rubber banding,” which allows users to slightly scroll past the top of a document or view before it bounces back into place.

[This post has been updated to correct Plaisant's employer.]

  • Jan

    Please, don’t use Florian Mueller as any reputable source. He is a paid lobbyist, revealed as Microsoft and Oracle shill before, often has no idea how the legal system actually works and often spreads unfounded nonsense. That guy is largely discredited.

  • InklingBooks

    What the tech world needs is an online, date-stamped database into which people can easily place ideas such as slide to unlock. The ideas would not be patented. In fact, very purpose of the database would be to register ideas as prior art, so no one could latter monopolize them. It’d also be great if people could: 1. Consult the database for ideas on how to deal with a problem and 2. Expand on and add to an idea.
    Think of it as Creative Commons but for patents rather than copyrights.
    –Michael W. Perry, Untangling Tolkien (LOTR chronology)

  • PoodleSheep

    I am a fish.

  • carol argo

    Shuut!that microsoft area is in slumber,it is clearly written on the ms patent Sarah ou à! DO NOT AWAKE!if ms was to revisit the first 10 year they were born?patent wise ?they probably could discredit most patent probably why when ms call a corp said corp only ask :how much