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back to article Apple extends Liquidmetal sole rights until 2014

Apple has secured exclusive rights to Liquidmetal Technologies' IP, extending sole access to the company's unique metal until February 2014. The original $20m agreement expired in February 2012. However, a new filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) shows the date has been extended by two more years. …

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Colour me confused!

From: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/06/19/microsoft_surface_tablet/

"The tablets come in 32GB and 64GB versions and have a liquid metal 'Vapor-Mag' frame holding a 16:9 widescreen HD Display, a mini DisplayPort, a full-sized USB 2.0 port and MicroSD slot."

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Re: Colour me confused!

I was just wondering the same, is there perhaps a difference between liquid metal and Liquidmetal? Or will we not be seing this new MS tablet until March 2014?

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Re: Colour me confused!

From what I can tell, VaporMg is magnesium so they do something with that to make the moulds, it's also pretty common so shouldn't be much of an issue getting more of the stuff. Maybe they used the term liquid metal to piss off Apple with a "yeah, you wanna come sue us too?" glint in their eye.

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Re: Colour me confused!

Vapor-Mg....

As far as I can make out, it is just moulded magnesium parts with a PVD (physical vapour deposition) process for the surface. You will often see this on expensive watches with black cases, straps or bezels, or on older mountain bike rims that boast of a ceramic coating on the braking surface (because aluminium, like magnesium, is fairly soft).

So, nothing new to see here...

http://www.wpcentral.com/microsoft-surface-tablets-sport-vapormg-casing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_vapor_deposition

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Mushroom

Re: Colour me confused!

Magnesium!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That will add nicely to the conflagration in your lap created by the overheating/exploding battery. See Icon.

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Re: Colour me confused!

Er no, its a surface area relation. Aluminium powder has been used in solid rocket boosters- solid magnesium alloys are already used in ultrabooks and MP3 players, since it is easier to cast than aluminium - and magnesium is often alloyed with aluminium to make complex shapes easier and cheaper to cast. Motorcycle brake levers are an example. It is soft though, so you often see it powder-coated.

Even steel wool is fairly easy to ignite with a lighter- due to the large surface area.

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SIM ejector

I fear T-Unit had it about right in the original SIM ejector non-story comments:

"Are Apple doing it on purpose? It almost feels like they are laying technology traps just so they can keep floating on a sea of law suits. I fully expect some company to make real, beneficial use of this tech somewhere down the line and Apple to spring out and sue them. Perhaps I'm just a big cynical Sally"

Cynical? Or realistic and prescient.

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Anonymous Coward

Refer to the inventor

@David Gosnell: "Are Apple doing it on purpose? It almost feels like they are laying technology traps just so they can keep floating on a sea of law suits"

Go back and read the inventor's appraisal of the likely time, cost, and focus of Apple's efforts to incorporate this technology into a product. Apple's progress to date is in accord with this forecast, so there is no need to start flinging mud around.

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Re: SIM ejector

>feels like they are laying technology traps

C'mon, it's not like it's a radio or software patent... no competitor HAS to use LiquidMetal to make a working product... i.e Its not a trap.

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Stop

So Apple are spending $20M+ on a technology to make SIM removal tools, and maybe hinges ? That doesn't seem right to me.

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JDX
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Maybe to stop anyone else using it?

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Anonymous Coward

R&D cost

@A Non e-mouse: "So Apple are spending $20M+ on a technology to make SIM removal tools, and maybe hinges ? That doesn't seem right to me."

Nothing unusual about that at all - R&D can be phenomenally expensive. It takes time, effort, and persistence to discover how (or if) an idea can be brought to reality.

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IIRC, Apple have to actually use the licensed technology to keep the licence. To use it in, say, a phone casing, they have to develop new manufacturing processes, and test them exhaustively - a non-trivial task.

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I agree

There's hardly any need for some magic material to replace a simple bit of "bent tin".

I surmise that they have a very specific product in mind which will take years to develop, and probably not a mac air housing either, as that's well covered by the current alloy CNC part.

Maybe they are making a combination fridge/toaster. Or a jet pack.

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a53
Alert

Weird

Hmm, it;s a hell of a price to buy something only to use it for making the equivalent of a stretched out paper clip .........

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Re: Weird

Firstly the SIM should be removable without a tool, secondly why not machine a tool if you need one?

It sounds like inventing a biro for use in zero gravity when you could just use a pencil.

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Re: Weird

See the 'SIM removal tool' as a place holder, so Apple can retain the licence on the material.

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Facepalm

Re: Weird

I have a faint memory from the early 80s of a procurement scandal in the US Air force because they buying a radar antenna adjust tool from the manufacturer for $600.

Turns out it was a 7/16" allen key.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Weird

@Giles - Sigh, an urban myth, I'm afraid... The Russians and the US both used pencils to start with, but a conductor, which is prone to fragmenting into powder isn't a good thing in a zero-g environment, particularly if it's wrapped in a fuel.

Both Russia and the US use the Fischer space pen, which was developed by a separate company because of the rather obvious problems with the pencil.

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Hinge & Bracket

That's a lot of money to spend on an old-school cross-dressing comedy duo

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Terminator

Sorely disappointed by the lack of Terminator 2 references on this thread...

... What, you think El Reg have this icon just for fun?

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Trollface

Cameron got there first ;-)

Terminator 2:

The Terminator: "Yes. A mimetic poly-alloy."

John Connor: "What the hell does that mean?"

The Terminator: "Liquid metal."

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Re: Cameron got there first ;-)

Thanks Roger, though before clicking through to the comments I guessed about 7 before the T2 reference showed up. Am I underestimating the hive commenttard mind's collective restraint or cinematic ignorance?

Answers on a postcard...

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Go

Re: Cameron got there first ;-)

Maybe second, if you count William Gibson.

There's a prize for whoever's first to get the reference.

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R&D and payback

A couple of hundred million isn't all that much in the grand scheme of things. Consider that in principle LiquidMetal can be formed more like plastic or sheet metal, yet produces a result probably superior to the CNC machined unibody cases, and $200 million isn't a huge investment. The reduction in unit cost of the product, and yet a serious improvement in that product would, with Apple's volumes, mean the $200M could be amortised almost instantly. From the linked to article:

"Therefore, I expect Apple to use this technology in a breakthrough product. Such product will likely bring an innovative user interface and industrial design together, and will also be very difficult to copy or duplicate with other material technologies."

Think unibody design, but on steroids, and an exclusive right to produce them. Very Apple. Also very forward thinking, with a long game plan. Something else very Apple.

Note that Apple is a licensee, they don't actually sue other users of LiquidMetal, the LiquidMetal company does. If LiquidMetal decide to breach the contract with Apple, and give the tech to someone else, then LiquidMetal get sued by Apple.

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Terminator

Re: R&D and payback

The Vertu Ascent was a liquidmetal device back in about 2007 so prior art may be an issue for our fruity friends.

Liquidmetal was easier to work with than your typical alloy frame and the mechnics guys turned things round fast.

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Re: R&D and payback

Prior art applies to patents, not licenses. (obviously if the patent was ruled void, the license would be too). Whether or not Vertu a) used the same material that b) processed in the same way as that which Apple have licensed, I don't know. But had it been licensed to Vertu for a limited period (and there was another phone manufactuer who used it too, but seemingly only for models released in Russia) and that license expired, Apple would be able to hold the exclusive license for consumer electronics.

Apple's agreement doesn't prevent, say, a manufacturer of medical equipment using the stuff.

That the stuff is easy to work with is telling. The Vertu could have been using the same stuff but processed in a trickier, more expensive way. And being a Vertu, it would spin that into a virtue - as it does its sapphire screen and jewelled button bearings.

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Tecchie bit

"liquid metal" is a term of art. Refers to the ability to cool a metal fast enough so that it remains amorphous, does not have crystals in it. Pretty much the same as "metal glass".....although all glass is really metal oxides in an amorphous state.

The trick is in finding an alloy or process by which you can do this (and thus make mouldings etc) at reasonable rates of cooling. First attempts required millions of degrees of cooling per second.

"LiquidMetal" is a trademark (erm, patent maybe?) on a specific alloy or specific series of alloys that have been developed. "LiquidMetal" really appears to be just a more efficient method than others of making "liquid metal".

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