Sunday, December 09, 2012

USPTO tentatively rules iconic 'Steve Jobs patent' invalid

The famed "Steve Jobs patent" has been ruled invalid by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The patent earned its name because Steve Jobs is listed as the key inventor, but also because it covers several key multitouch features -- including scrolling -- at the heart of iOS.

As noted on Florian Mueller's Foss Patents site on Friday, U.S. Patent #7,479,949 ('949), has been tentatively ruled invalid in a first Office action. This is not a final decision, though, and can be appealed.

However, of huge import is the fact that all 20 claims of one '949 were ruled invalid. That means that Apple will have to make a very strong case to the USPTO to prevent the patent from being revoked.

'949 covers a "touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics." While Steve Jobs' name appears as the lead on many Apple patents, most of his other patents are design patents.

This key patent, therefore, has been referred to by many people -- including Apple's own lawyers -- as "the Steve Jobs patent".

'949 has been used by Apple in lawsuits against OEMs like Samsung and Motorola. However, the fact that Apple recently cut a deal with HTC over its cache of patents shows that the company will deal, though we'll see if it wants to do so with its biggest rival, Samsung.

Brian Love, an assistant professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law, said that 89 percent of patents which are re-examined ultimately are maintained in one form or another, meaning that the "Steve Jobs Patent" may yet survive.

In addition, a judge at the ITC has initially ruled in a different direction, asserting that the '949 patent is valid and that Samsung infringed its claims. The final ruling in that case could come as early as February.

It is the second time in less than two months that the USPTO tentatively declared, via a first Office action, that a key Apple multitouch patent invalid. The earlier "rejection," U.S. Patent #7,469,381, which covers iOS's "rubber banding" scrolling effect.

This effect can be seen when an end user tries to scroll past the edge of a document, image, or list. Once that is done, the original items "bounces back" into place once the attempt to scroll is halted. This patent was tentatively ruled invalid back in October, but as with '949, this is just a tentative decision, and can be appealed.

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