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Summary:

A prized piece of Apple’s intellectual property empire is in jeopardy after the USPTO agreed the patent was invalid after a re-examination request. For now, the defeat is more symbolic than strategic.

In a surprise ruling, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has declared that one of the crown jewels in Apple’s patent empire is flawed.

In a ruling dated last week, the USPTO held that all 20 claims for US Patent 7,479,949, — which covers the simple swipe and tap gestures used to operate a smartphone — are invalid. Apple successfully wielded the patent, nicknamed “the Steve Jobs patent,” in a major case against rival Samsung this summer.

So, what exactly does this mean? Well, for starters, note that the patent is far from finished. Last week’s ruling is part of a re-examination request — a proceeding where the patent office must second-guess itself. Under USPTO rules, the office provides an initial answer and then gives the patent owner a chance to respond — if the response fails, the re-exam is final and the patent is no good. Oh, and after that, there are appeals: PBIA; Federal Circuit; Supreme Court.

While all this plays out, Apple’s patent lives on and the company can continue to wield it in court. The ruling is, however, a significant symbolic blow to Apple. The patent has been regarded as one of its most powerful pieces of intellectual property and was even featured in a Smithsonian exhibit of Steve Jobs patents.

The same patent also caused controversy earlier this year when famed Judge Richard Posner threw out a lawsuit between Apple and Google, and called the patent system dysfunctional.

(Image by Photography Perspectives – Jeff Smith / Shutterstock.com)

  1. So what this shows kids is if you lose keep whining and whining and eventually they willl give you what you want.. im surprised under the jeopardy law this was thrown out .. a judge already made a call…

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    1. fulmetaljacket Friday, December 7, 2012

      No, what it shows kids is sometimes when you take all your toys and sit in the corner, you’re made to share.
      Multitouch? Really apple?
      Thank ### apple didn’t design the car, or no other manufacturer would be able to use 4 wheels. Or doors to enter the vehicle.

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    2. What it shows is there is justice in the world and Apple should have never been given certain patents in the first place. It would be the same thing if Ford sued every car maker for having 4 wheels and an engine. Doesn’t Apple have a patent for making calls and texts with a cellphone?

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  2. Weren’t these gesture demonstrated in an early TED talk, well before Apple’s filing date?

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    1. Do you have any dates? You might be thinking about the gesturing demonstrated using a computer’s camera to detect the motions of the fingers.

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      1. fulmetaljacket Friday, December 7, 2012

        gestures were being used back in 1990 and as far back as 1982

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  3. Reblogged this on Wlane36's Blog and commented:
    I am so glad went with an AndroidB-)

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  4. Software patents are tricky. But, in this case, it seems that these patents should be thrown out. One company dominating gestures that are basic use and indigenous to touch screen phones and computer use shouldn’t be monopolized. These patents appear to be directed towards and prepping such as one step closer in further lawsuits which would eliminate any other company to use touch screens the way they are meant to be used.. I suspect we should see more of these patents being revisited to verify whether they are valid.

    John B.

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  5. I’m just glad the tech-savvy masses are slowly weeding out incumbent naivety in mind-share with regards to regulation, law making, the courts, etc.

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  6. does this mean Apple can sue Allen-Bradly and every other manufacturer of industrial touch screens?

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