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Swedish company claims rights to 'slide to unlock' with new UI patent

A patent issued to Swedish touchscreen technology company Neonode for a 'sweep gesture' user interface could mean legal trouble for Apple, which is currently embroiled in a dispute with Motorola and Samsung over its 'slide to unlock' patent.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, Neonode says it was issued U.S. Patent No. 8,095,879 which covers gesture-based interaction with a touch sensitive surface, a description that is similar to Apple's "slide to unlock" patent.

According to Neonode’s head of IP, Yossi Shain, the '879 patent was first filed for in 2002 and the company has been shopping the technology around since the IP was issued on January 10, 2012, reports TechCrunch.

Apple is supposedly the first target for Neonode, though Shain said the company is looking for "friendly licensing" deals before pursuing patent infringement lawsuits.

Neonode claims that it has successfully marketed and sold licenses of other touchscreen patents to to a number of "tier-one" OEMs and ODMs, with the technology being used in devices such as e-readers from Sony and Barnes and Noble, according to TechCrunch.

The '879 patent is meant to complement the Swedish company's other U.S. Patents, No. 7,880,732 and the relating No. 8,068,101, which cover tech for small to midsize touchscreen devices. In addition, Neonode reportedly has similar patents pending in other undisclosed countries.

Patent drawings illustrating Neonode's swipe gesture UI. Source: U.S.P.T.O

If Apple is indeed sued over the '879 patent, it wouldn't be the first time the company has seen Neonode in a court hearing. In August 2011, Samsung trotted out a relatively obscure device made by the Swedish company in defense of an Apple suit regarding "slide to unlock" functionality.

A European Windows CE handset, the Neonode N1m was shown as evidence that Apple's claims were not inventive as the device was manufactured before the iPhone maker filed its "slide to unlock" U.S. Patent No. 7,657,849 in 2005. The Apple complaint was ultimately dismissed.

Most recently, however, Apple was successful in winning a German injunction against Motorola' use of gesture-based device unlocking after leveraging a European counterpart to its '849 patent.

Despite the European win, the Neonode IP could prove disruptive to Apple's continuing legal battle against Motorola and Samsung if the Swedish company forces the Cupertino, Calif., company to pay licensing fees or takes the matter to court.