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Friday, January 20, 2012, 01:50 pm PT (04:50 pm ET)

New Apple suit claims Galaxy Nexus infringes on 'slide-to-unlock' feature

Apple's latest German complaint against Samsung is the first time the company has named the South Korean electronics manufacturer's flagship Android handset in a lawsuit, claiming the device infringes the iPhone maker's "slide-to-unlock" utility model.

Mere hours after serving up a ruling on Friday for a failed Samsung lawsuit against Apple, the Mannheim Regional Court held a hearing about a so-called Gebrauchsmuster ("utility model") complaint the Cupertino, Calif., company is leveling against the Galaxy Nexus, reports FOSS Patents.

In Apple's first suit that directly names Samsung's Android-based smartphone, the company claims the Galaxy Nexus infringes on the "slide-to-unlock" feature first introduced with the original iPhone in 2007 and subsequently patented with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in October 2011. In 2006 the company also obtained a "utility model" registration for the feature in Germany.

FOSS Patent's Florian Mueller describes a "utility model" as a limited fast-track patent that companies are allowed to file for alongside traditional patents, and Apple has done both for the "slide-to-unlock" in Germany.

Examinations of utility model registrations are not as stringent as patent filings and don't carry a presumption of validity which is necessary for a court ruling. Thus the Mannheim court does not foresee an immediate decision in the "slide-to-unlock" suit as it believes the validity or invalidity of the invention is too close to call.

Judge Andreas Voss could opt to stay the case pending the conclusion of an identical suit at the Munich-based Federal Patent court to avoid inconsistent rulings, but Apple wants to obtain a decision as soon as possible. If a stay was instituted, the "slide-to-unlock" model could come dangerously close to its 10-year expiration date, becoming increasingly devalued commercially.


YouTube spot showing Samsung's implementation of gesture unlocking on the Galaxy Nexus (at 0:08) | Source: T3.com


As part of its defense, Samsung is pointing to a relatively unknown Swedish device called the Neonode that persuaded a Dutch judge to doubt the validity of Apple's "slide-to-unlock" filing in 2011. Mueller notes, however, that the standard of availability for a device is much higher in a utility model case than a patent suit.

The Mannheim court is expected to announce either a ruling, a stay or decision to appoint an independent expert to help assess Apple's claims on March 16, 2012.