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back to article Apple gets patent for ‘unlock gesture’

A US Patent granted today (October 25) will send Google and Android phone makers around the world reaching for their lawyers. Patent 8,046,721 is quite dull, but all-embracing in that special way that patents have become in America: “A device with a touch-sensitive display may be unlocked via gestures performed on the touch- …

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You've got to be effing kidding me...

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Just use an unlock button

It's not that big of a deal.

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Unless you mean a real phyiscal button, this would still require a touch. Pressing a touch button can still be considered a 'gesture'.

Essentially if your design constraint is 'Only use a touchscreen' then 'unlock button on the touchscreen' is a pretty obvious invention.

As is using different logos to denote different methods of unlocking - I'm sure 'prior art' could be made from video games where they use different methods to show how you have to open the door. Maybe a slight strecth but proof enough it is not an entirely unseen idea.

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Anonymous Coward

I wouldn't worry to much, it didn't do them much good as their developer's still f**ked up the security code and left the iPad wide open to abuse!

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Prior art

I saw two Android-toting friends use unlock gestures this weekend. I was even thinking I should get one of those for mine.

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FAIL

The swipe prevents you from pressing an 'unlock button' by accident.

Imagine reaching for your phone, pressing the button by accident (in your pocket), calling somebody with the next mis-touch, then deciding not to use the phone while somebody listens from your pocket. Not a big deal, considering that could be a long distance call or you could be having a (seemingly) private conversation that shouldn't be listened in on?

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Trollface

He said farcically, mimicking a dead tech iprophet, pissing off some the Register fanbase.

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Prior art

Regardless of who else did it first they've been doing that since the ipod touch. I thought something had to be new to patent?

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Anonymous Coward

Dear Register Reporters...

Please learn that it is claim 1 (or more genrally the independent claims) of a patent that define the scope of protection. Here, claim 1 reads:

1. A method of unlocking a hand-held electronic device, the device including a touch-sensitive display, the method comprising: detecting a contact with the touch-sensitive display at a first predefined location corresponding to an unlock image; continuously moving the unlock image on the touch-sensitive display in accordance with movement of the contact while continuous contact with the touch screen is maintained, wherein the unlock image is a graphical, interactive user-interface object with which a user interacts in order to unlock the device; and unlocking the hand-held electronic device if the moving the unlock image on the touch-sensitive display results in movement of the unlock image from the first predefined location to a predefined unlock region on the touch-sensitive display.

Therefore each of these elements must be replicated to infringe. It does not mean that simply indicating how to gesture or whatever will infringe.

That said, my suspicion is that there will be prior art out there that the USPTO missed, and that in time this will either go away or be considerably narrowed.

In the meantime, perhaps basing an unlock feature on the duration or timing of a movable image at certain keypoints along a path would achieve the same thing wihout infringing? oh look - thinking around the problem solves it better than whining....

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Coat

One would wonder....

I wonder if a touch-screen security keypad (you know, the type that randomizes the grid of digits to press) infringes on this patent, since it shows "images" (of numbers) indicating the "gesture" (sequence of digits) one must enter in order to unlock a device (door). Obviously entirely NOT the original object of this patent, but can easily encompass based on the language.

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Lots of different logos?

How about 10 of them, arranged in a 3x3 grid with a single central low one? Tap in the correct code- which I'd count as a gesture given the broad nature of patent-language as it involves a predefined motion of the hands and fingers- and you gain access to the phone.

Actually, didn't WinMo have the option to unlock screens from back when it was PocketPC?

This has prior art going back years. Back when Apple were making colourful plastic toys rather than black-and-silver toys.

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A button like the one on the kindle? What's the betting that's patented already.

As to this patent: My Zen2 uses a gesture on the touch screen to unlock it. Guess what? That's been out for a lot longer than the iPhone. My HTC uses an unlock gesture, and that's been out for quite a while, too.

So as to the comment of 'It's not that big a deal': Oh, yes it is. It's a big deal because this patent should never have been granted. It's a big deal because now companies either have to pay for a license to use what already exists and is in use. That or they have to pay for the lawyers to challenge this patent and have it revoked. Apple, in the mean time, can sit back and bleed their competitors of funds at a time when competitors want to be focusing on research and true innovation.

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WTF?

Oh for fuck's sake

Shite like this should just not be patentable. Fucking useless USPTO, keeping all their lawyer buddies in business. Wankers. Steve Jobs will be laughing in his iGrave...

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I'm going to get so downvoted for this, but what the hell!

Why should it not be patentable? It fulfils the non-obvious part of the patent requirement that most of the patents out there currently for trolling seem to lack.

Let's face it, having to slide across the touch area is not immediately and categorically 'obvious', because prior to the iPhone, I don't believe any device did it - they were all relying on pressing a key combination. Having a touch sensitive display doesn't prevent that still being used. (Caveat: it's entirely possible someone else did do it first, but if so that would be prior art, which would be a viable grounds for appealing the patent. However, that doesn't make it beyond patenting because it actually fulfils the other criteria as I understand it.)

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While this may not meet the definition

IANAL, BUT I seem to recall my HTC Tilt (WinMo6.5) having the ability to touch the screen to unlock. Granted it was touching it to put in a code, just like I have my Evo 3D currently is setup (fuck Swype that insecure POS, unless you clean your screen all the time after). So unless that is outside of the patent (and it appears it is not) than how is that not prior art?

That nervous tick I used to have with Apple, and which I thought was gone with the death of St. Jobs appears to be back.....

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@Pete Spicer

Pete, for the record I think you're right. Just because it's become ubiquitous to use gestures to unlock, doesn't automatically make it unpatentable (note: IANAL so this may be bollocks).

Frankly it surprises me that Apple hasn't already patented it, given that it's one of the few things they did legitimately invent themselves.

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Boffin

"to slide across the touch area"

One would think that the ability to detect "a slide across the touch area" was "invented" when the touch screen was invented.

To patent any specific use of that ability is madness and so is the the way patents are granted too.

I "hope" Nokia has patented "the slide" in the Nokia N9 for changing menus. Wonder who patented "the slide" for booting the thing. one slide to the left, one to the right and the again one to the left and in an other great patent twice to the left and a tap on the right corner with the device held in the upright position. Great.

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Boffin

Obvious solutions to a problem

The trouble your argument is that once you design a phone with a touchscreen only, you are faced with the problem of doing all operations through it, including unlocking. At that stage, the idea of a special gesture is one that probably presents itself after about a minute's thinking, or less.

This is true also of almost every other patent I have seen: The special thing is the problem. Once you have stated it, the solution shown in the patent is either obvious, or something a person knowledgeable in the field reaches after thinking for a moment. No magic flashes of genius involved.

It also means that independent reinvention of solutions is the norm, when a field of technology is faced with a common problem. This makes the winner-takes-all nature of patents fundamentally unfair. It is a relic from an era where there was no companies with systematic research and development, and you had to encourage individual inventors working in their sheds...

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"Frankly it surprises me that Apple hasn't already patented it, given that it's one of the few things they did legitimately invent themselves."

Given that I was using it (after a quick mod) on Windows Mobile 5....no they didn't.

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FAIL

prior art

I remember epos terminals at argos in the 90s that had swipe to unlock. Not a problem for lawyers.

apple will be after temporary injunctions with no actual worry about being able to enforce it.

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Coat

"one slide to the left, one to the right and the again one to the left and in an other great patent twice to the left and a tap on the right corner"

for some weird reason the Rocky Horror Picture Show came to mind while reading this... must be my twisted mind

<yeah yeah, mines the one with OT spraypainted on it>

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Devil

Optional

@MacroRodent

and by extension, the trouble with using a non-touch screen device is that to use it, you need to activate it somehow - wonder who's gonna try to patent the power button, the wake from sleep button, the power off button, etc.

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N9 and swipe

Nokia had patented the swipe gesture to move between screens of content long before the iPhone arrived. Apple breached this in the first iPhone (swiping between icon grids), and paid a settlement earlier in the year as one small part of the $450m (plus future, recurring per-device payments) it stumped up to Nokia.

This patent is bad news for the "maze" lockscreen on Android phones, and maybe like Nokia's now-defunct "Bubbles" lockscreen (although that didn't use pre-defined paths), but the N9's lockscreen, and that Android one where you just "slide off" the dark layer over the screen should be fine, because they're a swipe of the whole page, not a drag of an object along a path.

(I'd agree that Apple have some grounds for a patent here, but not anything as broad-reaching as they've just been granted)

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Anonymous Coward

My cheapo 2009 Samsung Tocco Lite (S5230) has gesture unlock, I just draw an L on the screen to unlock it.

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Pressing a key combination...

so that will be moving your finger in a predefined pattern across a (discrete) touch sensitive array

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Wrong. For a long time before apple iPhone existed I was gesturing at 4 areas of the pin screen to unlock it. Sometimes I gestured towards a lock area too by touching it and the pone duly locked.

Sometimes i stroke my coffee table with my left hand whilst whacking off with my right. Is that patentable? or just a sticky table?

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Nonsense

Any patents are nonsense in this regard since Xerox created the GUI interface and gave it to the world. It is understood that they did not patent all of their technology that they invented. Windows nor Apple would have made it past puberty if the GUI wasn't invented by Xerox. So NO company has a right to patent any of this. Basically software patents are the bane of IT and only serve to create monopolies, of which Apple has a big part in software patent trolling or territorial terrorism. I'm tired of companies claiming innovations on the backs of engineers who actually created the tecnology, the technology stack and the infrastructure decades ago and it wasn't Apple or Microsoft either.

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Reality Check

Apparently that means laughing at himself since Apple is the patent holder who ISSUED the application for the unlocking patent.

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Anonymous Coward

but your samsung was

2 years behind the iPod Touch - which also used the gesture.

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Someone else did do it first.

The unlock gesture and graphic on iDevices is a simulation of the method for unlocking the cover of some classier types of pocket book.

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Obvious Impementation

"Why should it not be patentable? It fulfils the non-obvious part of the patent requirement that most of the patents out there currently for trolling seem to lack"

Apple have implemented the real-world sliding lock... on a computer. It's like saying that you could patent a shopping list... on a computer, or an accounts ledger... on a computer. It's just an implementation of something real world... on a computer, and that counts as obvious.

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Anonymous Coward

HP Jornada - remember those?

Yup, I had one of these back in 2005/6 and it definitely provided prior art with WinMo for gesturing to unlock...

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Mushroom

Prior Art

Many moons ago, I had a security app on my Handspring Visor called "OnlyMe" which prevented access to the device via a security code. One of the unlocking methods available was to swipe the stylus in a predetermined (user defined) pattern through areas displayed on the touch screen.

This was circa 2000.

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yep, been done, not that it would bother apple..

@Danny14. The tech was certainly there on POS systms in the 90's, the version we used also had a locking mechanism based on 'signing' the screen and the instructions specifically stated that it didn't need to be a signature as in a paper signature, just a unique shape. It also worked very well

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No, the maze is fine

... as it doesn't require moving an icon from one area of the screen to another. The standard lock screen, however, may well fall foul of this.

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"Why should it not be patentable? It fulfils the non-obvious part of the patent requirement that most of the patents out there currently for trolling seem to lack."

No, it's pretty freaking obvious. The only reason it wasn't widespread before the iPhone (and I'm certain it was around earlier than that) is because there weren't many touchscreen-only devices around that fit in your pocket before then. USPTO is just being stupid in granting this patent, but then that's par for the course.

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Flame

What about Microsoft Surface?

A quick look on wikipedia shows the surface came out in 2007, the ipad in 2010. I'm not sure if there are unlock combos for the Surface, but I wouldn't be surprised. Prior art it would seem.

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Optional

That would be Apple...

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@ Stu J

Did you notice it was patent eight-million-and-something? Therein lies part of the problem, I think. In a country based upon lawyers and greed (although they call it "capitalism"), there is some merit in: 1, making this system so broken that arguments are frequent and costly; and 2, perpetuating this rubbish for as long as possible. Common sense dictates various things, a big one being that patent holders should *exercise* their patents, not just collect them to sue the asses off of everybody else. But common sense does not equal money, so this situation is only going to change when companies start actively dropping America from their distribution, and given the economic benefits, who is willing to do that right now?

Us dweeby end users? We're the ones that will eventually get rogered to pay for this shit.

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@ Pete Spicer

Isn't a caveat of patents that it should be "non-obvious"? How else would you propose to "securely" (as in non-accidental) activate a feature when your only method of input is a touch screen of some sort?

FWIW, I would call prior art. I had a little "organiser" thing with a touch screen and stylus back circa '98. It had an on-screen keyboard, I could "draw" words (like Swype) and I could tap-drag to switch the backlight on and off (this was important for running off two AAAs the backlight was horrendous on battery consumption). The tap-drag was remarkably similar to Android's unlock. The only difference is it turned a feature on and off, not unlock. Same principle. If I could find the thing, I'd power it up and drop a video on YouTube. I wonder if the Psion5 did anything similar, given it's touch screen and stylus arrangement.

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Wait, Samsung copied this in 2009?

So you're turning Samsung in for yet another violation? Because the iPhone came out in 2007, and I'm sure this patent was filed years ago as well and just took this long to be issued.

I'm not a fan of patenting the obvious, but sometimes obvious isn't. I had several touchscreen devices before the iPhone (Sony MagicLink, Palm Pilot, PocketPC) and none of them ever used a gesture to perform the unlock - and I certainly remember people wondering how Apple was going to avoid phones making random calls with a touchscreen in your pocket.

Others can use a keycode to keep the screen locked, use a hardware button or button combination, etc. I suspect the patent is valid and it did do something different and useful. And let me be clear, I loathe the concept of software patents lasting more than 5 years personally, but within this flawed system, Apple probably is in the right.

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Go

I don't like the software patents much either (they need much shorter terms, weeding out the obvious, more discoverable, etc.), but Xerox not having patented GUI ideas and showing them to other companies in the hopes that people would implement them isn't really the same case as an unlock gesture being thought up by Apple to prevent capacitive touchscreen devices from going off in your pants.

There are already other things that may be spuriously activated there, so no need for a phone to do the same. In any case, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the lawsuits to start, and whether it will turn out that Google knowingly implemented unlock gestures despite being aware of this patent having been filed.

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Is it any wonder? Why would any competent engineer work for peanuts at the USPTO when he or she could earn twice as much, at least, anywhere else? One reason is that they are new immigrants from non-English speaking nations. As such, though they may very well be technically qualified, they don't necessarily have the English language skills needed to decipher something this simple when it is presented as 17 pages of "lawyer-ese" gibberish. The lawyers, naturally, do this on purpose to render the PTO affectless, thereby forcing many more court cases than would otherwise occur. After all, they make much more money in litigation fees than in reviewing boring patent applications.

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WTF?

@pete

Stating the use of a slide would. This patent is so broadly defined, typoing a code into the keyboard falls under it.

Keyboard == touch sensitive ( for the slow ones in the class )

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Mushroom

Nuke 'em from orbit....

...it's the only way to be sure...

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Mushroom

I see a way to avoid patent issues like this...

.. ignore them.

No seriously...

"Dear sir, I am a lawyer representing Apple and we have reason to believe your product violates our patents X, Y and Z. Please cease production and enter into negotiations for licensing of our technology as described by these patents."

Bin it.

"Sir, we wrote to you recently and you failed to acknowledge our concerns. If you fail to act we shall have no choice but to initiate legal proceedings on behalf of our client."

Bin it.

"Summons to appear in court."

Bin it.

"Contempt of court proceedings"

Bin it.

Eventually the party attempting to enforce their patents will have to take such steps as make their actions so disproportionate to the apparent/claimed "injury" caused by "violation" of the patent that the nonesense of the whole sorry system will be thrown into sharp relief.

Giving these patents actionable credibility by *defending* against them or submitting to their legitimacy is the biggest mistake anyone can make, imho.

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Unhappy

Oh that it were that simple

I applaud the sentiment, but I fear it won't work that way. All they need to do is get a court ordered import ban, and that's it. The state will then do the dirty work :(

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FAIL

Nonsense thrown into sharp relief

The only nonsense thrown into relief here would be you trying to ignore our legal system.

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The key here is the phrase 'cease import'.

What you end up with is a two tier system where the rest of the world moves on and the US remains locked into the past like the post war soviet bloc.

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Anonymous Coward

Ignoring it will cause problems with import restrictions etc. The more obvious solution is to move innovation out of the US and set up separate companies to handle production for the patent encumbered market. The problem with articles such as this one is that they all take a US-centric view. The majority of people in this world live in countries which do no endorse software patent. About 1/3 of the world does not endorse patents at all. Learning by example is one of the driving forces of evolution. Patents are a relatively recent invention. I doubt that we would live in a high-tech society today had USPTO-style patents been the order of the day since the dawn of time.

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