Slide-to-unlock is ‘obvious’, rules Apple patent judge

Apple’s lost the battle over its ‘slide to unlock’ patent in the UK, with a High Court judge ruling that it’s invalid.

He reached the same conclusion about two others, one relating to multi-touch and the other to a multilingual keyboard, and ruled that HTC wasn’t infringing on a photo management patent also named in the suit.

Slide-to-unlock, he said, was an ‘obvious’ development, given the presence of a similar feature on an Swedish phone released in 2004.

Apple’s far from contrite, and is expected to appeal the ruling. The UK is notably less friendly to patent-holders than many countries, with only 15 percent of patent claims upheld.

The decision is a blow for Apple, which is attempting to assert the same four patents against Samsung in the UK. It’s also asserting some of them against HTC, Samsung and Motorola in Germany and the Netherlands, with cases due to be heard later this year.

“The UK decision now makes it even less likely that the Munich court, which was skeptical of Apple’s arguments anyway, would be persuaded now,” says patent expert Florian Mueller.

Just a few days ago, the company failed to win a US import ban while the International Trade Commission investigates its allegation that HTC is infringing another patent relating to recognizing telephone numbers in emails.

“I expect the UK ruling to have very limited relevance in the United States, but it will have some relevance in other European countries and in Australia [where it’s embroiled in more patent battles],” says Mueller.