U.S. patent office declares Apple multitouch patent invalid… non-finally

Patent guru Florian Mueller reports today that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has tentatively declared one of Apple’s key multitouch patents invalid, marking the second patent-related setback for Cupertino in two months. The USPTO issued a “first Office rejection” of all 20 claims of the so-called Steve Jobs patent, which covers the method and user interface for navigating a touchscreen.┬áThe decision follows October’s reexamination proceeding that resulted in the preliminary conclusion that all 20 claims of Apple’s rubber-banding patent are invalid.

Those two actions in no way signal the death of either patent — Apple has multiple opportunities to argue its case to the USPTO, and could eventually appeal to the Federal Court (or ultimately even to the Supreme Court. But as Mueller notes, ┬áthe fact that all 20 of both claims have been rejected on a non-final basis doesn’t bode well for Apple.

But I think the fact that the USPTO so completely declared those patents invalid (on a non-final basis) underscores how broken our patent system is. It reminds me of NTP Inc.’s notorious lawsuit against Research In Motion, which RIM was forced to settle to the tune of $612 million even as the patents in question were being reexamined and may eventually have been rejected. If patents were more difficult to obtain in the first place, some of these reexaminations wouldn’t be necessary at all.