USPTO Preliminarily Rejects Apple’s ‘Pinch-to-Zoom’ Patent

Another Apple patent is in the spotlight tonight, after the United States Patent and Trademark Office has preliminarily rejected all 20 claims of Patent No. 7,844,915, or the so-called “pinch to zoom” patent.

Patent ‘915 deals with technology that discerns whether a user is scrolling with a single finger or accessing several touch points at once, as in a pinch-to-zoom action. Apple successfully used Patent No. ‘915 against Samsung in its court battle earlier this year, and 21 of 24 Samsung devices in the lawsuit were found to be infringing on the patent.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Samsung brought the invalidation of the key patent to the court’s attention in a Wednesday afternoon filing.

The agency declared invalid the entirety of Apple’s so-called “pinch-to-zoom” patent on Wednesday, according to a court filing from Samsung. The Korean electronics giant said in a statement to the court that the patent had been struck down on re-examination due to previous patents on record.

Samsung said the development supports its request for a new trial.

Samsung has been fighting for a retrial in recent weeks, after Apple was granted more than $1 billion in damages when a jury decided that Samsung had willfully infringed on Apple’s patents. Part of Patent No. ‘915 was an important factor in the calculation of the payment.

On Monday, Judge Lucy Koh, who has been presiding over the Apple vs. Samsung trial denied Samsung’s motion for a new trial on the basis of juror misconduct.

As The Verge points out, however, the decision is preliminary and isn’t yet the same as “invalidating” the patent. Its effect on future decisions in the Samsung vs. Apple trial remains unclear.

The whole discussion is part of an ex parte reexamination; that means Apple is the only other party talking to the USPTO about the patent, and it will still have an opportunity to fight for keeping the patent valid or to amend its language so that it will stay relevant in the Samsung case. It’s also important to note that while 21 individual claims within the patent were rejected, only one — Claim 8 — was used in the trial, providing Apple a very specific target when working with the Patent Office.

The decision comes just weeks after the USPTO preliminarily rejected Patent No. 7,479,949 or the “Steve Jobs” patent.