US Patent Office invalidates Apple’s rubber-banding patent

This is a pretty big deal: the United States Patent and Trademark Office has just tentatively invalidated Apple’s rubber-banding patent. This is the infamous ‘381 patent that covers the ‘bouncing’ effect when scrolling on a touch screen.

Why is this a big deal? Because this was one of the major patents Apple used in its $1 billion victory against Samsung back in August. And if the USPTO’s decision holds true, Samsung could be looking at a much smaller penalty…

Patent expert Florian Mueller (via AppleInsider) reports:

“In a non-final Office action the USPTO has declared all 20 claims of Apple’s rubber-banding patent (U.S. Patent No, 7,469,381) invalid, including claim 19, which Apple successfully asserted against Samsung in the summer trial in California. In fact, claim 19 is one of several claims to be deemed invalid for two reasons, either one of which would be sufficient on its own.

Claim 19 appears on the “Rejection A” and “Rejection D” lists. Both kinds of rejections are for lack of novelty, not just obviousness (which is what “Rejection B”, which does not relate to Claim 19, is about). This means that Apple would have to convince the patent office (or, possibly, the appeals court) not only that rubber-banding was new despite the earlier existence of those documents (a finding of anticipation is a determination that there was no inventive step at all) but also that its claimed inventive step is sufficient to justify the existence of the rubber-banding patent.”

Though this decision isn’t anywhere close to final, Samsung’s already shared the news with US District Court Judge Lucy Koh, and it could hold some serious weight with here as she listens to Samsung’s motions to appeal later this year.

But Samsung’s not the only phone-maker that stands to benefit from such an invalidation by the USPTO. Apple has used the patent multiple times in litigation against HTC, and recently won an injunction against Motorola in Germany with it.

Mueller says that he’s not surprised that the validity of this patent is being challenged, noting that although it’s a great achievement in the realm of user interface psychology, it has extremely little merit when it comes to technological context.

Funny, it seems like you could say that about a lot of software patents. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out.