In a surprise ruling, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has declared that one of the crown jewels in Apple’s (s aapl) 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(s goog), and called the patent system dysfunctional.
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