Smartphones, Beware: Apple Patents Slide-to-Unlock Feature

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The Apple patent war is going to get a little nastier. We’ve all heard about the patent wars between Apple and Samsung, but Apple now owns the “slide to unlock” patent, available on smartphones almost everywhere.

In particular, Android devices—phones and tablets alike—are running the risk of being sued by Apple for patent infringement. It’s just not Android devices that will be affected by the newest development: several Windows Phone devices also might encroach on the design element.

(MORE: Apple-Samsung Patent Battle: Apple’s Totally Winning)

Apple originally applied for the patent about a year before the introduction of the iPhone. It was only yesterday that the patent was awarded to Apple, which means you can start to expect to see substantially less slide-to-unlock devices on the market from now on.

The patent diagram shown by 9to5Mac displays a left-to-right motion, so it is unclear if a top-to-down motion or other finger swipes are affected by the patent. However, the patent could spell trouble for manufacturers and designers: should Apple resort to legal action, it is more than likely the courts would favor the iPhone maker.

(MORE: What a Patent War Means for South Korea’s Samsung)

Perhaps the worst case of Apple patent wars can be best exemplified by its conflict with Samsung within recent years. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab has been pulled off of the shelves in some countries, while in others its launch has been delayed. It was also rumored that Samsung’s flagship Galaxy Nexus was purposely built to avoid patent infringement given Samsung’s recent difficulties with Apple.

This latest patent hangs over the heads of more than just Samsung, though. HTC, Motorola and many other Android manufacturers could be aversely affected. Maybe it’s time to push out some face unlock options ASAP, eh? Unless Apple’s already got a patent for that, too.

Erica Ho is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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