Apple just recently acquired a US patent on their ubiquitous slide-to-unlock lockscreen, but already they are putting another version of the same patent to good use in their ongoing patent war against Android. In the latest battle, Apple has alleged that the Samsung Galaxy Nexus violates a utility patent the company holds in Germany, an promising battleground considering a recent injunction against Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the country.
However, this lawsuit is interesting because instead of suing on the bases of their actual patent, they are citing a utility patent. As a utility patent is granted with almost no approval process in Germany, there is no assumption of the validity of the patent. It simply shows that Apple filed for the real patent at a certain time. Still, they seem to be looking for a big win against Samsung, who has resorted to citing a 2011 Dutch ruling which questioned the validity of Apple's slide-to-unlock patents as their defence.
Putting technicalities aside though, this lawsuit seems rather far fetched to me. Even if their utility patent does cover sliding in any direction, the Android 4.0 lockscreen has put something of a circular twist on the traditional horizontal slider. Unless the patent covers moving your finger left to right on the screen, this hardly seems like infringement. If anything, Apple should be claiming that a Gingerbread or Froyo device violates the patent, as its lockscreen is much more similar to theirs.
Not only that, if they do succeed in this case, it is likely that they would be able to move on to the likes of HTC and Samsung's TouchWiz based phones. No matter that HTC's phones unlock with a downward gesture and Samsung's lockscreen looks like a puzzle piece, if this patent gets held up simply because a lockscreen uses a sliding gesture, then all these devices are at risk.
I certainly hope that Apple doesn't win this lawsuit, much less get the Galaxy Nexus banned from the good people in Germany, but even if they do there's always pattern lock to fall back on.[FOSS Patents]