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Apple wins patent on unlocking phones with a gesture

Apple has won a patent for unlocking phones with a movement of your finger, which means trouble for Android and Windows Phone.

Uh-oh -- Apple has won a patent for unlocking phones with a movement of your finger. That means only one thing for Android, Windows Phone and any phone that unlocks with a touchscreen gesture: fiiiiggghhhhttt!

Apple applied for the patent back in June 2009, claiming the exclusive rights to unlocking a touchscreen device by tracing a preset pattern or gesture with your finger.

The patent specifically describes how, "A device with a touch-sensitive display may be unlocked via gestures performed on the touch-sensitive display. The device is unlocked if contact with the display corresponds to a predefined gesture for unlocking the device."

The Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod touch are unlocked by swiping a finger across the screen, then putting in your passcode if you have that security measure enabled. Android phones are unlocked by swiping, and entering a passcode or tracing a pattern, again if you have the option turned on. Windows Phones are unlocked by swiping up from the bottom to reveal the keypad for a password.

Apple is aggressively fighting rival phone makers over what founder Steve Jobs saw as "stolen" features, especially in Google's Android software for phones and tablets. The company is locked in tit-for-tat legal battle with Samsung over claims the Galaxy Tab and Galaxy phones steal their look and feel from the iPad and iPhone, and the unlocking patent only adds to Apple's ammunition.

That's not to say that Android and Windows Phone will have to come up with a new method of unlocking. Google and Microsoft can challenge the patent and argue it's undeserved, or too broad.

They could argue that a gesture on a touchscreen is an obvious way to unlock a phone, and can't be claimed by any one company.

One thing's for sure: the legal scrap will run and run.