A London High Court has invalidated Apple's key slide-to-unlock patent in the country, in a hailed as a major victory for Taiwanese manufacturer HTC, Bloomberg reported.
The patent, and similar filings like it, has been used by the iPhone maker in its ongoing global legal battles with rivals over claims they "slavishly copied" the US company's design.
In England, Apple had accused HTC of contravening the same patent in its phones as a means to access the main screen on its phones.
Apple had alleged the Taiwanese company infringed on at least three patents relating to the slide-to-unlock patent, scrolling through photos on the phone, changing alphabet types, and a further one for multi-touch.
But Judge Christopher Floyd invalided three of Apple’s four patents completely, and one in part. The photo scrolling patent was held not to be invalid, but the court said HTC’s devices did not infringe on it.
As a result, Apple will not be able to ban HTC devices in the UK, a sudden turn from recent victories against Samsung devices in the US.
According to intellectual property lawyer Peter Bell of Stevens & Bolton, the High Court ruling is a “considerable defeat for Apple in the smartphone patent wars".
The invalidation of the slide-to-unlock patent is also held as a key loss for the company, after US Judge Richard Posner rubbished Apple's attempt to equate a tap or touch on a smartphone as "a zero-length swipe".
However, Apple will use the same four patents against HTC in Germany, in a hearing later this year.
The US company is embroiled in a global patent war spanning four continents, suing competitors it says has copied designs and technologies in mobile devices.
At stake is a $US220 billion smartphone market.
That market is far from saturated according to analysts Asymco, who cited ComScore figures for the US indicating smartphone penetration there is only 47 percent of users.
More than 50 percent of Australians now have a smartphone.
Asymco says there is no sign of market saturation yet, with even the troubled BlackBerry platform showing a gain. Although Android has not grown for two months, it is yet to cede market share in the country.