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Google files for slide-to-unlock patent as Apple battle heats up

The search giant's patent application provides for an unlocking method that also lets users perform at least one command, like placing a call or opening an application.

Who would have thought a simple slide-to-unlock gesture would be so important?

Google last week saw a patent it filed for back in 2010 published that describes a manner in which users interact with a smartphone--or PC--to unlock the device and perform at least one command. According to the patent filing, the commands can be anything from placing a phone call to opening an application.

The publication is a key step in Google acquiring the patent, since it establishes full prior art for any other patent applications that might pop up worldwide.

Unlike typical unlocking mechanisms, which bring users back to the last screen they had opened before locking the device, Google's technology immediately brings users to their desired activity. Since Apple already owns a slide-to-unlock patent, it appears that the added functionality might be Google's way of securing this patent.

Google's Android partners are under attack from Apple, which recently hurled lawsuits at Samsung over its alleged violation of the slide-to-unlock patent in its line of mobile devices.

Just yesterday, Apple won a key ruling in a German court that said Motorola Mobility is violating Apple's slide-to-unlock patent in several of its mobile devices. The court offered Apple the chance to enforce a permanent ban on Motorola's devices, but the iPhone maker would need to put up a bond to secure any revenue losses Motorola would incur in the event the ruling is overturned by a higher court.

"Today's ruling in the patent litigation brought by Apple in Munich, Germany, concerns a software feature related to phone unlocking in select Motorola devices sold in Germany," a Motorola spokesperson told CNET yesterday in response. "Motorola has implemented a new design for the feature. Therefore, we expect no impact on current supply or future sales."

Google is in the process of closing its $12.5 billion Motorola Mobility acquisition. So, Apple's continuing battle with Motorola impacts Google far more than it previously has. And now that Google might soon have its own patent, it might respond with a shot over Apple's bow. After all, isn't that how all these patent lawsuits have played out?

"We file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with," A Google spokesperson told CNET in an e-mailed statement. "Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don't. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications."

Update 9:35 a.m. PT to include Google's statement.

(Via Patently Apple)