Apple got its first slide-to-unlock patent back in 2010. It got a second one in 2011, and now a third one has just been granted according to documents that surfaced online last week. The latest patent, called US patent number 8,286,103, has even broader claims than the ones that came before it. With it, the unlocking movement no longer needs to be done on a predefined path, nor does it need to be done towards a predefined location. Instead, the patent claims simply talk of continuously moving an image to a general area that will then cause the device to be unlocked.
Under this new patent, Apple could file a lawsuit for pretty much any and all slide-to-unlock methods on touchscreen-equipped mobile computing devices, now and in the future. The two previous versions of the patent used limiting language that allowed the likes of Google to create workarounds for the patented methods, but this new one uses broader claims and has caused tech pundits to suspect that it might stifle innovation at some point in the future.
It’s clear that Apple simply wants to protect its highly valuable intellectual property. However, there’s no denying that the broader claims in its latest slide-to-unlock patent could seriously affect how other companies deal with this fundamental feature in devices that will be released in the future.