Apple's patent for unlocking a touch screen declared invalid

The defendant Apple Inc. is the owner of European patent 1 964 022 (patent in suit), which is also valid in Germany. The plaintiff Motorola Mobility Germany GmbH has challenged the patent in suit with a patent nullity action.

The invention relates to a measure for unlocking a portable electronic device with a touch-sensitive screen (touchscreen), for example a mobile telephone. According to the patent specification, it was known to temporarily lock such devices against unintentional triggering of functions by accidental touch contact and to unlock them again by touching certain screen areas in a predetermined sequence. The patent in suit aims to make unlocking more user-friendly. It therefore essentially proposes that the user performs a certain (finger) movement (swipe movement) on the touch surface to unlock the device. In doing so, he or she is provided with a graphical guide on the screen in which an unlock image moves along a predefined path on the screen "in accordance with the finger movement".

The Federal Patent Court declared the patent in suit invalid under Art. II § 6, first sentence, no. 1, IntPatÜbkG, with effect for the Federal Republic of Germany, and also held that the limited versions of the patent defended in the alternative were not legally valid. The subject-matter of the patent in suit was not patentable (Article 52(1) EPC) because it was not based on an inventive step (Article 56, first sentence, EPC). The N1 mobile phone marketed by the Swedish manufacturer Neonode anticipated all features of the invention except for the instruction to display an unlock image on the screen to the user, which moved along a predetermined path on the screen in accordance with the finger movement - known as such. However, this feature was not to be taken into account in assessing patentability because it did not solve a technical problem but merely affected the user's imagination by simplifying the operation of the device through graphic measures.

The X. Civil Senate of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH), which is responsible for patent law, rejected the defendant's appeal. Civil Senate of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) dismissed the defendant's appeal. When examining patentability, it did take into account - in contrast to the Federal Patent Court - that the invention went beyond the prior art embodied in the mobile phone Neonode N1 in that the unlocking was indicated to the user by a graphic display accompanying the unlocking process. However, such a more user-friendly display was suggested to the skilled person by the prior art. For there a "virtual switch" is described which imitates a slider by a wiping movement on a touch-sensitive screen by means of "sliding" a graphic object. The patent in suit is therefore not based on inventive step.


BGH - Judgment of 25 August 2015 - X ZR 110/13

Lower court:

Federal Patent Court - Judgment of 4 April 2013 - 2 Ni 59/11 (EP)


Source: Press release of the BGH


Goldberg Attorneys at Law 2015

Attorney at Law Michael Ullrich, LL.M. (Information Law)

Specialist lawyer for information technology law