We’ve all heard how the U.S. patent system can be incredibly frustrating, but it’s probably worse than you think.
What was the great inventive step that convinced the patent examiner to finally issue a patent, the inventive step that is apparently worth hundreds of millions of dollars from Samsung? Apple added the word “continuous” to the patent claims: To unlock the cellphone under Apple’s patent, the user’s finger had to maintain continuous contact as it moved across the touch screen. It appears that Apple had worn the patent examiner down. Of course, the prior patents implicitly involved continuous motion without explicitly using that language. And people using Neonode’s phone had kept their fingers continuously in contact with the touch screen. But this language tweak gave the examiner a fig leaf to cover his weak justification for granting the patent. This was still a patent that should not have been issued. But the grant had consequences: Four months after the patent was issued, Apple sued Samsung.