Apple Watch auto-unlock feature targeted by patent troll

A patent troll who bought a patent in 2016 filed an infringement lawsuit against Apple for the Auto-Unlock feature, originally designed to allow an Apple Watch to unlock a Mac using the same Apple ID.

This despite the fact that the patent application has been dropped after Apple has announced the automatic unlocking…

Background

Apple first announced auto-unlock at WWDC in June 2016. Users must enable two-factor authentication for their devices. Once this is set up, you can enable the feature in System Preferences.

Step 1: Make sure a passcode is set on your Apple Watch running watchOS 3

Step 2: On your Mac running macOS Sierra Developer Preview Seed 2 or later, open System Preferences → Security & Privacy → General, then check the box next to Allow your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac.

Step 3: When prompted, enter your Mac password. Once the password is successfully entered, you will briefly see an “Activation” message.

Step 4: Lock your Mac, then wake it up while wearing your Apple Watch. For my MacBook, I simply closed the lid with the Require Password setting under System Preferences → Security & Privacy → General set to Immediately.

Step 5: You should see a message saying Unlock with Apple Watch. If successful, your Mac will unlock automatically.

Your Apple Watch can also unlock your iPhone: just put on your watch, wait for the PIN prompt, then unlock your phone. Because you can do it with Face ID or Touch ID, it’s easier than typing in the PIN, especially on such a small screen.

In 2020, we asked Apple to allow the reverse: the Apple Watch automatically unlocks the iPhone, just like it does for the Mac. Apple did it seven months later.

Auto Unlock Apple Watch Patent Troll

Apple obviously reports that a clearly trained company purchased a subsequent patent for the same feature and is now seeking royalties from Apple.

Apple was sued by SmartWatch MobileConcepts for patent infringement. The company states that the infringed patent relates to new and improved systems, methods and apparatus for enabling a portable device user to access secure electronic systems.

SmartWatch MobileConcepts LLC is a patent troll that in 2016 acquired Patent 10,362,480 titled “Systems, Methods, and Apparatus for Providing Users of Wearable Devices Access to Secure Electronic Systems” from members of the Ortiz family.

The complaint alleges in part that Apple operates and administers systems, products and services that allow a portable device user to access secure electronic systems that infringe one or more of claims 1 through 9 of the ‘480 patent. , literally or under the doctrine of equivalents.

The 9to5Mac take

The claim is manifestly unfounded and the patent should never have issued. It’s basically a generalized description Apple’s Auto Unlock feature.

The disclosed systems, methods, and apparatus allow the user of a wearable device (eg, smartwatch) to access secure electronic systems based on at least one of authentication of the user for access to the secure electronic system by the portable device, biometric authentication of the user by a wireless operator, biometric authentication of the user authentication by remote server, location of the user and proximity to the user with a secure electronic system. A portable device may include a carrier identification module (eg, SIM), cellular RF communications, and short range RF communications. A registration module may register secure electronic systems, authenticate a portable device user, and grant the portable device user access to secure electronic systems if the portable device user is authenticated by at least one among the portable device, the registration module, a carrier network, a remote server and the secure electronic system. The authentication may include a biometric measurement facilitated by the portable device.

Since the auto-unlock announcement predates the patent, and Apple is said to have developed and tested the feature some time before launch, there’s no legitimate claim possible here.

Patent trolls file such claims in the hope that Apple will find it cheaper and easier to pay them back than to litigate. Cases like this reinforce the need for patent reform to prevent the granting of patents for pre-existing technology, descriptions of evidence and claims that are too broad.

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