HTC defeats Apple in swipe-to-unlock patent dispute
HTC is claiming victory in a patent dispute with Apple after a ruling by the High Court in London.
The judge ruled that HTC had not infringed four technologies that Apple had claimed as its own.
He said Apple's slide-to-unlock feature was an "obvious" development in the light of a similar function on an earlier Swedish handset.
Apple has also cited the patent in disputes against firms using Google's Android system software.
HTC launched the London-based lawsuits a year ago as part of an effort to invalidate European patents Apple had referred to in a German court case. Apple subsequently countersued.
The four patents at stake were:
- Unlocking a device by performing a gesture on an image .
- The use of a multilingual keyboard offering different alphabets on portable devices, including mobile phones.
- A system to determine which elements of a screen were activated by single-finger touches; which were activated multi-finger touches and which ignored touches altogether.
- Letting a user drag an image beyond its limits and then showing it bounce back into place to illustrate that they had reached its furthest edge.
The judge ruled that the first three patents were invalid in this case, while the fourth did not apply to HTC's devices.
Lawyers fighting other lawsuits against Apple are likely to pay close attention to the decision regarding its slide-to-unlock patent.
The judge said that HTC's "arc unlock" feature - which also involves a predefined gesture along a path shown on-screen - would have infringed Apple's technology had it not been for a device released in 2004.
The Neonode N1 showed a padlock on its screen with the words "right sweep to unlock" when it was in its protected mode. A later version replaced the text with an arrow.
The judge said it would have been an "obvious" improvement for the developers to have offered users visual feedback in the form of a "slider" in the way that Apple later used.
He added that the concept of a "slider" was not new since it had already appeared in Microsoft's CE system.
As a result Apple's claim to the innovation was rejected.
A statement from the Taiwanese firm said: "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."
Apple declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
Instead it re-issued an earlier statement, saying: "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."
Apple has previously defended its slide-to-unlock patent in other disputes against Samsung, HTC and Google's Motorola unit with some success.
Most recently a US court ruled the patent was valid in a dispute that led to a sales ban being imposed on the Google-branded Nexus smartphone.
However, Andrew Alton, a lawyer at UK firm Urquhart-Dykes and Lord who used to do work for Apple, said the impact of the London ruling might be limited.
"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."