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German court says nein to Apple's slide-to-unlock patent

Appeal is on its way

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Apple's slide-to-unlock patent has been ruled invalid by a German court because it's not really an "innovation" in the eyes of European patent law.

The Bundespatentgericht (federal patent court) in Munich ruled that the famous patent is invalid because European law doesn't allow for the patenting of software that doesn't represent an innovation that is a "technical solution to a technical problem", the Frankfurter Allgemeine (translated with the help of Google) reported.

Much has been made of the user-friendliness and aesthetic value of the slide-to-unlock feature, although Android's pattern-unlocking workaround isn't really all that different. But despite any ingenuity in the design, it's not patentable in Europe unless the innovation itself is of a "technical" nature. In the ruling, the court reasoned that the features of the pulled patent that it judged to go "beyond prior art" are "not of a technical nature". (via Google Translate)

The court said several other handset makers had solved the same problem with slightly differing options to provide the same functionality.

US patent law deems that everything "new" can be patented and applicants are not required to innovate on a technical front, which goes some way towards explaining the seemingly crazy patents that are sometimes granted by the US Patent Office.

Of course, the Munich court decision isn't final - Apple has already set the wheels in motion for an appeal to the Federal Court of Justice. ®

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