For Apple, a Victory at Last in ‘Slide-to-Unlock’ Patent Feud with Motorola

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When you place your finger on your smartphone’s touchscreen and swipe to unlatch its multifaceted features, you’re now officially doing ‘The Apple’. Okay, it turns out you already were, but it wasn’t clear whether rival Motorola was infringing on Apple’s patent for “unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image.”

And now it is, or at least it’s clearer. According to patent-blogger Florian Mueller, a Munich-based court ruled that a majority of Motorola’s patents do indeed infringe on Apple’s slide-to-unlock image patent. The other reason Apple legal’s probably celebrating: It’s their first patent-related victory over Motorola ever.

(MORE: Motorola Says Your Ice Cream Sandwich Upgrade Isn’t Coming Soon)

Motorola plans to appeal, no surprise, but told the BBC the judgement would have “no impact” on sales. That, according to Motorola, is because the judgement only pertains to “select Motorola devices sold in Germany.” Further, a Motorola spokesperson says the company’s already “implemented a new design for the feature,” and thus anticipates “no impact on current supply or future sales.”

Since Apple only won on two of three points relating to the patent, if Motorola appeals, Mueller says Apple will probably go for three out of three. But Mueller calls it “largely a win” as-is, and says it “will result in a noticeable degradation of the user experience of Motorola’s products.”

What does all this mean in practical end-user terms? Motorola currently uses a slide-to-unlock circle mechanic — hold, then swipe from the inside of a circle to its outside — and since that was cleared by the regional court, Mueller reasons it’ll be that version it implements across all of its products. Whether that’s a “degradation of the user experience” or not depends on your fondness for holding before swiping, I guess.

The sidebar here is that Motorola Mobility is in process of being snapped up by Google (most of Motorola’s phones already use Google’s Android operating system). Once that deal’s closed, Mueller says the Apple-Motorola feud will quickly transcend the stakes in Apple’s other major global battle: its ongoing arch-patent-rivalry with Samsung.

MORE: After Motorola Deal Approval, Can Google Hardware Be Far Behind?

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