Patent office changes mind about crucial Apple patent

The US Patent and Trademark Office has reviewed one of the Apple patents that led to a $1.05 billion ruling against Samsung – and decided that it isn’t valid after all.

The so-called ‘rubber-banding’ patent, which makes the page ‘bounce’ back when a finger’s finished scrolling down the screen, was one of a half-dozen at issue during the case.

But, through a long-standing system for re-examining granted patents, the USPTO has decided to rescind it on the grounds that the feature lacked novelty. The decision – if it’s not successfully challenged by Apple – could possibly force a review of the $1.05 billion Samsung’s been ordered to pay.

It’s the right decision, says patent expert Florian Mueller, who first spotted the USPTO notice.

“It’s not surprising that the ‘381 patent faces a serious challenge to its validity. I’ve said in a report on a Munich trial that it’s a great achievement in the realm of use interface psychology, but in a strictly technological sense it has extremely little merit, if any,” he says.

“It doesn’t take rocket science to make it work. Technically it’s just about drawing rectangles.”

Because there were a number of other patents involved in the court case, this move doesn’t invalidate the whole ruling. It does, though, give Samsung another opportunity to fight – and, indeed, it’s already alerted judge Lucy Koh to the invalidation of the patent. There’s now the possibility of a whole series of reconsiderations and appeals.  

The USPTO’s re-examination is here.