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German court pushes Apple's slide-to-unlock lawsuit back

The regional court in Mannheim said that it would wait for proceedings in the German Patent and Trademark Office to be completed before it hears the case.

Apple's iPhone is caught in the middle of a host of patent disputes.
Apple's iPhone is caught in the middle of a host of patent disputes.

Apple and Samsung are locked in a slide-to-unlock dispute in a Mannheim court, but neither side should expect a decision anytime soon.

Mannheim regional judge Andreas Voss today said that the court would wait until the German Patent and Trademark Office hears Apple's case before it continues. According to FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller, which first reported on the news, the patent office proceeding could lead to "the revocation, in whole or in part, of Apple's slide-to-unlock utility model."

As Mueller points out, Apple is staking its claims against Samsung on that utility model, which is not as iron-clad as a standard patent and is only valid for a period of 10 years. According to Mueller, in Germany, utility model owners must "bear the burden of proof," and unlike a standard patent, the models, which are much easier to obtain, "don't enjoy a presumption of validity." It's now Apple's job to prove the utility model is valid.

Slide-to-unlock functionality has become a major sticking point across Europe. Apple has charged both Motorola and Samsung with violating patents related to the functionality. Exactly one month ago, a Munich Regional Court offered Apple a permanent injunction against several Motorola mobile products, after ruling that they violated the iPhone maker's slide-to-unlock patents. The Motorola Xoom, which uses a different slide-to-unlock mechanism, was not found to be in violation.

Just a few weeks later, Judge Voss threw out an earlier claim Apple brought against Samsung over slide-to-unlock functionality. And although the Judge hasn't gone that far with this most recent case, according to Mueller, Voss was not sold by Apple on its utility model's validity.

Looking ahead, there's no telling what Voss might rule or how the patent office might interpret Apple's utility model. If anything is certain, however, it's that these cases between Apple, Samsung, and Motorola aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Neither Apple nor Samsung immediately responded to CNET's request for comment on today's ruling.