Apple wins 'slide-to-unlock' patent

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Android vendors will need to brace themselves for another battle, thanks to a patent granted to Apple yesterday.

The company now has the right to the 'slide-to-unlock' feature seen in most touchscreen smartphones and tablets, thanks to patent 8,046,721.

Indeed, the patent's even broader than that, covering any gesture at all performed on the touchscreen to unlock the device.

"A device with a touch-sensitive display may be unlocked via gestures performed on the touch-sensitive display. The device is unlocked if contact with the display corresponds to a predefined gesture for unlocking the device," it reads.

"The device displays one or more unlock images with respect to which the predefined gesture is to be performed in order to unlock the device. The performance of the predefined gesture with respect to the unlock image may include moving the unlock image to a predefined location and/or moving the unlock image along a predefined path. The device may also display visual cues of the predefined gesture on the touch screen to remind a user of the gesture."

In other words, using any gesture at all on the touchscreen to unlock the phone could potentially be infringing.

The feature appeared on the first Apple iPhone, way back in 2007, a year after the company first applied for the patent.

"To unlock the phone, I just take my finger and slide it across," he explained at the time. "Wanna see that again? We wanted something you couldn’t do by accident in your pocket. Just slide it across... Boom!"

Interestingly, Apple failed to gain a patent on 'slide to unlock' in the Netherlands earlier this year, on the grounds that it was obvious. It had even been used by a small Swedish company, Neonode, before Apple applied for the patent.

Nevertheless, the company has already launched patent suits relating to the feature against HTC in Delaware, and Motorola in Southern Florida.