|When the iPhone 6 Plus was released, Apple faced criticism from users who said the phones easily bent when placed in pockets. But now the company has created a new patent for the very first ever “flexible electronic device” — which could become a new kind of iPhone in the future.
The patent was granted Tuesday, Jan. 6, by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and it states that the device would contain flexible components inside and out, including a flexible display cover and housing on the outside, and flexible batteries, circuit boards and electronic components on the inside.
“On January 6, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awarded to Apple Inc. a patent on ‘Flexible Electronic Devices’, U.S. Patent Number 8,929,085. According to the claims of the patent, everything about such a future iPhone would be ‘flexible’: a flexible housing; a flexible display; a flexible battery; and a printed circuit having at least one flexible portion. The components are ‘configured to permit deformation’. This is an interesting claim since the USPTO usually frowns on terminology such as ‘flexible’ or ‘hot’ or ‘hard,'” said Ben Klosowski, U.S. Patent Attorney at Thrive IP® in Greenville, SC. “Defining the limits of such terms is difficult in ordinary conversation, but it is especially challenging in light of the patent law.”
The device would be able to bend in half, and users could squeeze the phone in order to perform certain functions, like launching an app or turning the phone on or off.
One of the biggest advantages, especially for clumsy smartphone users, would be the decreased risk of having the phone smash after a fall.
According to Apple’s U.S. Patent No. 8,929,085, “Rigid electronic devices may be vulnerable to damage in the event of an impact such as a drop of the device on a hard surface,” and the new design would help the brand “be able to provide improved electronic devices.”
Apple has many different types of patents out there, but this represents the first fully flexible phone of its kind.
“A claimed invention must be explained in ‘full, clear, concise, and exact terms’ to enable a person skilled in the art to ‘make and use’ the invention; otherwise, a claim may not be ‘enabled’ and may be declared indefinite and unenforceable. Is it possible for Apple’s competitors, for instance, to know whether ‘flexible’ and ‘deformation’ encompass only a one degree bend or an ounce of compression? Or do these terms mean something like 90 degree angles?” said Klosowski.
Electronics maker LG has already created a flexible smartphone, in fact, though it’s not quite as bendy as what Apple plans to make in the future. LG’s G Flex bends slightly when under pressure, and the more flexible G Flex 2 will also be released soon.
“One of the patent claims tells the public that a ‘first stable position to a second stable position’ is involved. So, if an Apple competitor can make an electronic device that doesn’t involve such positions, Samsung and others might try to make and sell their own flexible smartphones,” said Klosowski. “If so, look for U.S. Patent Number 8,929,085 to be involved in a future lawsuit or a post-grant proceeding at the USPTO where it will likely be attacked for being too vague and unpatentable.”
Samsung also has plans to release a phone that can bend in half by the end of 2015.