One step forwards, two steps back for Apple lawyers

Apple’s recent injunction against Samsung was a big (if potentially costly) victory, but the company has now had two patent claims thrown out in the space of a couple of weeks. A British court today rejected a claim against HTC which, as with a claim against Google that was recently laughed out of court by an American judge, centered on the swipe-to-unlock feature.

As we noted last week, Apple was granted a temporary sales injunction blocking Samsung from selling the original version of its Galaxy Tab in the United States. Apple, which claimed the device too closely copied the design of the iPad, put up a $2.6 million bond to cover Samsung’s damages if the ban is later lifted.

Today Apple failed in a similar bid against HTC in the United Kingdom. The country’s High Court said an Apple patent on the way users swipe a finger to unlock the phone didn’t hold up. The Apple patent specifically referred to the user performing the swipe gesture along a displayed image: a bar on the iPhone and an arc shape on the HTC handsets.

The judge in the case said the Apple patent didn’t hold up as a 2004 handset, the Neonode N1, had already used a swipe-to-unlock gesture. He ruled that having a visual aid to show the user where to swipe was too obvious a development of this technology to be covered by a patent.

The judge also tossed two other Apple patents cited in the case, one covering the use of multilingual keyboards with more than one style of alphabet, and the other on how different parts of a screen could be activated with specific types of gesture, as happens with Apple’s photo displays. A fourth patent, involving dragging images to the side of the screen only for them to bounce back, was ruled irrelevant to the case.

The verdict is harsh for Apple, though at least not as embarrassing as one made by a federal appeals court in the US in late June. Richard Posner threw out both sides of a suit and countersuit between Apple and Motorola, saying that even if one or both company’s could prove violation, it was completely unreasonable for either side to pay the other damages.

After describing Motorola’s claim for a 2.25% cut from every iPhone sale because it allegedly copied a single technology as nothing more than “going for broke”, Posner turned to the most ridiculous element of Apple’s various claims:

“Apple’s argument that a tap is a zero-length swipe is silly. It’s like saying that a point is a zero-length line.”

Posner dismissed the entire case with prejudice, meaning neither company can ever bring fresh claims on the same issue.

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