The U.S Patent and Trademark Office declared one of Apple’s strategic patents that was at the centre of Apple v. Samsung invalid.
The patent ruled invalid by the USPTO was the ‘Steve Jobs patent’ — the master patent that covered multi touch and scrolling — which arguably defines the iOS experience. Listed by the USPTO as U.S. Patent No. 7,479,949 with Jobs, Steven, et. al as the inventor, the patent is titled “Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics.”
According to the patent’s abstract, it seeks to protect “a computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a computing device with a touch screen display comprises: detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display, applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device, and processing the command.”
Patent blogger Florian Mueller notes that the USPTO’s ruling, while seemingly damning, is only the start of what will certainly be a ‘long war’ between patent lawyers.
“First Office actions and other non-final Office actions are just preliminary. Many patent claims that are rejected at this stage do ultimately survive. There are many steps inside the USPTO, followed by a potential appeal to the Federal Circuit (and in a few cases even the Supreme Court),” Mr. Mueller blogged.
“It would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of a first Office action,” he continued. “A complete rejection of all claims of a given patent is potentially more devastating than one affecting only some claims.”
“Should the first Office actions tentatively invalidating the rubber-banding and the touchscreen heuristics patents be affirmed at the end of the proceedings,” Mr. Mueller wrote, “Apple would lose two iconic patents, but it would still have thousands of other patents, including hundreds of multitouch patents.”
Mr. Mueller said he is opposed to the patent because it “seeks to monopolize the right to solve a problem as opposed to a specific solution.”
A legal professor Santa Clara University School of Law that spoke to Wired told its Gadget Lab blog that such rejections aren’t unheard of, and don’t signify the end of a company’s hold on a patent.
“At this point, the ultimate fate of Apple’s patent is far from clear, and Apple has many options for how to proceed,” professor Brian Love said.
It is unknown at this time how this ruling, or subsequent loss of appeal, will impact the plethora of lawsuits — not only this summer’s Apple v. Samsung — where this patent was weaponized and used against competitors.