The United States Patent and Trademark Office has rejected several Apple patents in recent months, and today it added one more to the list — but that doesn't mean the patent is no longer valid. Earlier today the USPTO rejected US 7,844,915, a patent that covers the ability of a programming interface to determine whether one finger initiates scrolling, or a different number of fingers perform another action. It's the same patent that was repeatedly referred to as the pinch-to-zoom patent, even though its real definition is much, much narrower than that. The invalidation of the patent would cause considerable consternation for Apple when it comes to its $1.049 billion infringement win over Samsung — so much so that Samsung brought the decision to the attention of Judge Lucy Koh in a court filing today — but that critical step of invalidating the patent hasn't actually happened yet.
It's the same situation that we saw with Apple's bounce-back patent. The whole discussion is part of an ex parte reexamination; that means Apple is the only other party talking to the USPTO about the patent, and it will still have an opportunity to fight for keeping the patent valid or to amend its language so that it will stay relevant in the Samsung case. It's also important to note that while 21 individual claims within the patent were rejected, only one — Claim 8 — was used in the trial, providing Apple a very specific target when working with the Patent Office.
Of course, there are still several decisions left on the table for Judge Koh after the Apple vs. Samsung hearing earlier this month, and this patent rejection could affect how she moves forward with her decisions on damages in the short term — but for the moment, the '915 patent is still very much alive and kicking.