The USPTO has issued a preliminary notice indicating that the famous ‘Steve Jobs’ patent, which describes basic multitouch technology including scrolling, might be invalid, according to a first Office action uncovered by FOSS Patents. The ruling is very early, however, and Apple still has two months to make an initial response and a number of appeals before the patent in question might finally be rendered invalid. Many news outlets are talking about the effect this may have on ongoing court cases, but looking at the details, it’s much too early to even be thinking about the effect such a decision would have on ongoing court battles between Samsung and others.
The patent is an iconic one, but just one that Apple uses among hundreds of others related to multitouch tech in its legal proceedings, including those against Motorola and Samsung. And aside from the fact that it is still only one among a number of patents that Apple claims have been infringed by other smartphone OEMs, it’s also true that, at this stage, a first Office action like the one issued by the USPTO is far from the final word on things. In fact, once a reassessment of a granted patent is allowed — as it was in this case — this kind of rejection of claims is actually pretty common.
This particular reexamination request was rejected once before in 2010, but once granted, chances were in its favor that some kind of rejection of the patent claims would come back. First Office actions often include a rejection of some or all claims asserted in a patent, and some sources suggest that patent examiners tend to favor an approach that errs on the side of the arguments made initially by the party that filed the complaint, since they aren’t getting the original patent filer’s input during their first pass. This is also an ex parte reexamination, which means that the complaining party won’t be involved in the rest of the reexamination process, while Apple will have the opportunity to defend its original claim.
Apple has previously had another patent, related to the rubberband snapback effect of movable content on touchscreens, declared invalid in a similar preliminary decision by the USPTO. In both cases, there are still plenty of steps left to take before any of the ongoing legal proceedings are affected, and even if Apple does lose the patents in question, don’t expect much of a change to its overall patent strategy in terms of court cases related to its remaining intellectual property arsenal.