Apple patents phone unlocking, could cause problems for Android, Windows 8

From the I-can’t-believe-its-been-patented department: the US Patents and Trademark Office have granted a patent for “unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image” to Apple.

The patent details various methods of unlocking mobile devices (such as the slide-to-unlock feature that graces Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch software) and uses language so broad that it could apply not only to Android’s slide to unlock or 2D slide passcode, but other unlock mechanisms such as that revealed by Microsoft in Windows 8.

The patent describes “a method of unlocking a hand-held electronic device, the device including a touch-sensitive display, the method comprising: detecting a contact with the touch-sensitive display at a first predefined location corresponding to an unlock image.” It then goes on to a 10,000 word description of a generic mobile device, and methods of using a touchscreen and gestures to unlock the UI.

Whether the patent will hold up in court remains to be seen. There are many arguments of prior art (one Reddit user in the Android section jokingly posting a door bolt as a prior art example) before the patent was filed, and experts say the patent may be judged to be too generic or obvious to survive enforcement. In the UK, where software patents do not exist, lawyers suggest Apple may try and get round this by claiming it is a security mechanism of a hardware device – but this argument is also entirely untested.

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