wabrandsma writes, quoting Apple Insider "The technology, detailed in a patent awarded to Apple on Tuesday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, deals with so-called 'access inputs' that determine what apps, device services, and functions can be accessed by a user. Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,528,072 for a 'Method, apparatus and system for access mode control of a device,' describes a system that creates user access modes guarded by predetermined gesture inputs."
Reading the patent, it appears Apple managed to patent allowing access to some programs without a passcode from the lock screen of a device while protecting others, so e.g. you can quickly swipe to make a phone call or control your music, but have to enter a code to read your email or access your word processor documents.