If you remember the first series of ads that Apple produced for the iPhone back in 2007, you might recall that the first commercials were given the task of introducing consumers to what was a different kind of phone with a revolutionary UI. And among the first handful of spots was one that included a tour of the handset that began with the words, "This is how you turn it on" while the user swiped the "Slide to unlock" slider from left to right.
Apple received a patent from the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO) for the slider. The patent was cleverly written in such a way that its application could be extremely broad. In fact, the title of the patent was "Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image." In Europe, however, there were some questions about the patent. A Dutch judge said in 2011 that the "Slide to unlock" patent (U.S. Patent No. 7,657,849) was probably not valid in Europe.In 2011,
Apple has now been on both sides of "Slide to unlock" court battles
Over the next few years, Apple wielded the patent like a Whack-a-Mole mallet suing phone manufacturers for infringement even if no slider was involved. HTC was sued by Apple and fought back with a successful defense, claiming the idea of "Slide to unlock" was too simple and obvious to receive a patent. But in Apple v. Samsung, ultimately the former came out on top.
Now, "Slide to unlock" is back in court, but with a twist; this time, Apple is the defendant. As PatentlyApple reports, a patent troll named Zeroclick sued Apple back in 2015 alleging that they had received two patents (one in 2001 and the other in 2010) for the feature. Apple was able to get the case thrown out of court that year with the court ruling that Zeroclick's patents were invalid. But like last night's Chili, the suit came back up in 2018 when the Federal Circuit said that the California judge who previously tossed out Zeroclick's patents hadn't done the proper analysis.
So back to court Apple and Zeroclick went; last Friday Apple asked the court for a declaratory judgment of invalidity for the two patents owned by Zeroclick that were originally given the ol' heave-ho in 2015. This time, the plaintiff was Dr. Nes Irvine, the named inventor on the patents; Zeroclick had transferred the patents to him in 2017. And this is where things get really confusing. The business entity that originally sued Apple back in 2015 was called Zeroclick-1. Then, as we just mentioned, Zeroclick-1 transferred the patents to Dr. Irvine in December 2017. Dr. Irvine turned over those patents to another entity called Zeroclick-2 in January 2020.
Are you still following the bouncing ball? On Friday, the judge dismissed the case stating that the plaintiff, Zeroclick-1, had no legal standing to sue. So the latter asked the judge if he would substitute Zeroclick-1 with Zeroclick-2 instead of tossing the case. But the judge wasn't having any of that and he struck from the record all proceedings since December 2017 when the patents were first transferred to Dr. Irvine.
Zeroclick-2's sole business " is the assertion of the Zeroclick Patents in litigation against various entities." While some might call Zeroclick a patent troll, Apple's court filing refers to the company as "a patent assertion entity."
Apple is seeking a ruling from the court stating that the two patents owned by Zeroclick-2 be declared invalid or unpatentable. The company states that "such a declaration is necessary and appropriate at this time to determine the rights and obligations of the parties." Apple is also asking the court to grant it any further relief it deems "just and proper."