The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which often seems content to grant patents willy-nilly and let companies fight out their validity in court, has just ruled that Apple's massive multi-touch patent is invalid. At least for now. They approved it before and may approve it again. But they're invalidating their previous validation unless and until they validate it again. Yeah, it gives me a headache as well. Here's what Florian Mueller of Foss Patents has to say:
I have said on various occasions that first Office actions and other non-final Office actions are just preliminary. Many patent claims that are rejected at this stage do ultimately survive. There are many steps inside the USPTO, followed by a potential appeal to the Federal Circuit (and in a few cases even the Supreme Court). Some people say that first Office actions are partial because they are based only on submissions made by those challenging the patent, and many examiners like to take a tough position early on in order to enable and require the patentee to present the strongest arguments in favor of validity. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of a first Office action. Also, a complete rejection of all claims of a given patent is potentially more devastating than one affecting only some claims.
The mega-multitouch patent is something called the Steve Jobs patent, and Apple has asserted it in litigation before. How and if this affects current and future litigation remains to be seen. All that happened, it seems, is that the patent was challenged and now Apple gets to respond.
The Verge's Nilay Patel reacted on Twitter with the following:
A first office action invalidating a patent means kind of less than nothing.