On October 25th the US Patent Office issued Patent number 8,046,721 to Apple Computer for the process of unlocking a cell phone by sliding one’s finger horizontally across the screen. The following are from the patent application.
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. 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 addition, there is a need for sensory feedback to the user regarding progress towards satisfaction of a user input condition that is required for the transition to occur.
Does that mean that all the makers of Android phones that also have the slide to unlock should worry about a call from Apple’s lawyers? Possibly, but not likely for long. A Dutch court had already thrown out a similar patent by Apple on the basis of prior art. The prior art? The Neonode N1m phone that was on the market a year before Apple’s patent was filed and three years before the iPhone was released. If you look at the following video review you will see the sweep to unlock feature demonstrated four minutes in:
It is clear that the patent office simply cannot be familiar with all areas of technology and design. Only a matter of hours after the patent was granted, the blogosphere had tracked down the NeoNode video and the Dutch court denial. (Credit 9 to 5 Mac and others.)
For this reason, a good feature of the recent patent reform law is the nine month post grant review period. It will hopefully mean that items like this can be reviewed administratively rather than judicially.
Frankly, the Neonode N1m video reminds me that the reason that the iPhone was seen as such a groundbreaking product in the US was the degree to which US cell phones lagged behind the best that was being offered elsewhere in the world. The N1m has some features that are still on my wish list for Apple, but for proprietary reasons will likely never occur: SD card memory, standard USB port for data and charging, and an easily accessible SIM card slot.