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Apple wins German injunction against Motorola over 'slide-to-unlock'

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A ruling handed down by the Munich I Regional Court on Thursday found that a number of Motorola products had infringed on Apple's slide-to-unlock patent, resulting in a permanent injunction against any offending devices.

Judge Dr. Peter Guntz deemed that Motorola's implementation of a screen unlocking feature used across its smartphone line is a copycat that infringes on Apple's slide-to-unlock patent image, which gives the iPhone maker the option to enforce a German injunction against a bond, reports FOSS Patent's Florian Mueller.

Apple's European patent, EP1964022, was awarded in October 2010 and is titled "Unlocking a Device by Performing Gestures on an Unlock Image." The company was also granted an identical patent a year later by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The German court looked at three different Motorola implementations of gesture-based device unlocking and found that two infringed on Apple's patent, namely those used by the RAZR maker's Android smartphones.

The third example, used by Motorola's in its Xoom tablet, showed enough of a difference from Apple's patent to escape injunction. That particular implementation is similar to that of the Galaxy Note, Mueller says, and requires a user to swipe their finger from inside a circle to outside.

Apple's first win against Motorola could result in a complete reworking of how Motorola devices handle screen unlocking, though it seems that the judgment would only force a firmware modification and not the ban of device sales.

Mueller describes the outcome as possibly creating a "noticeable degradation of the user experience of Motorola's products," as the company will have to extend the "slide-to-unlock circle" found in the Xoom across its entire product line.

Should Apple choose to enforce the injunction, it would have to put up a mandatory bond that would cover damages and legal fees for incurred by Motorola if a future appeal finds that the original ruling was incorrect.

Motorola Xoom screen unlock implementation. | Source: ZDNet

Today's decision is a blow not only to Motorola Mobility, but to Android handset makers in general as Apple can bring similar claims to companies using the Google OS in Germany. For instance, the Cupertino, Calif., company is currently in the midst of asserting the same slide-to-unlock patent against Samsung in Mannheim.

Previously, Motorola was on a winning streak in the fast-acting German court system, with favorable judgments in a GPRS standard patent case as well as one related to push services, however it seems that the tide may be turning.

Apple's win follows an earlier outcome in February in which the Mannheim Regional Court dismissed a proposed 3G-relatedMotorola suit.

There will likely be an appeal to today's court ruling, however no official word has been given as to when that proceeding will take place.