In another potential legal setback, Apple could be set to lose one of its most iconic design patents. The US Patent Office has issued a tentative rejection of the entirety of patent number 7,479,949, which covers “a touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics” and is widely known as the ‘Steve Jobs patent’.
During his time at the helm of Apple, Jobs was often closely involved in the design of key product lines, and is named on more than 300 of Apple’s patents. But, while the judge in a recent Samsung/Apple court case involving this patent ruled that neither side could refer to patent ’949 as the Steve Jobs patent, it remains his most famous and iconic.
The judgement by the patent office is particularly galling for Apple because of its August victory over Samsung in California, where it was adjudged that Samsung had infringed on this very patent.
It’s worth emphasising, as the ever-capable Florian Mueller explains, that such ‘first Office actions’ by the US Patent Office are not necessarily indicative of the final judgement it makes on a patent, and it’s not uncommon for them to be tougher than subsequent rulings in order to force the patent owner into a sturdy defence. Indeed, many patents that are initially rejected in this way, Mueller notes, ultimately survive. However, he stresses that a judgement that rejects all of a patent’s claims, as in this case, is a particularly significant setback for a patent’s chances.