back to article Magnets to stick stuff to tablets: Yup, there's an Apple patent application for that

Apple has filed a sweeping patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office for a "magnetic attachment mechanism" that allows two electronic components to be attached to one another to "augment the functionality of usefulness" of the primary electronic device. Examples of devices that could be magnetically attached to …

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The USPTO

How does it work?

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Confused

I have a Tom Tom Go 600, it is seated and held in place on its car mount by a magnet. This allows the unit to be removed without having to remove the sucker pad off the windscreen, or in my case where it is attached to a Brodit mount.

Oh DID I say it was held in place by a strong magnet? I did.

So how can Apple patent this?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Confused

Because, Apple are patenting being able to stick the tomtom directly to the car, what you described has a third item between the two. And of course, the tomtom is the accessory, and the car is what it's being stuck to. The car is not a mobile device (it is, but it's not) while the ipad is. Therefore completely different patents.

It's still a daft patent, I mean honestly, it's magnets. "Yeah we took two things that naturally do something, and put them together. Give us money!"

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Re: Confused

Not only that, but Apple's patent covers the two devices communicating with each other, which your TomTom isn't doing.

Not saying Apple's patent isn't silly, but it isn't something your TomTom is prior art for.

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Re: Confused

I always liked the idea of having it so your GPS would link to your cars speedometer, and then feedback whether you're going above the speed limit. Perhaps in a future of electric cars having it so that it automatically caps your top speed to 5mp above the speed limit. At least it would kind've eliminate some of the stupidity you see on the road, even if a lot of drivers would hate it.

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Re: Confused

You are aware that GPS allows measurement of speed as well as position? Not only that, but most widely used road databases include speed limit information and that car speedos are typically inaccurate by about 10%?

What you're suggesting was common 5 years ago.

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Re: Confused

"..The car is not a mobile device (it is, but it's not).."

Heck.. it is.

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Re: Confused

What about Android devices that know they have been docked into a car holder, switching to "car mode", based on sensing a magnet in the right position in the dock? Let's extend this - if the device and car use Bluetooth for Media playing and the device attaches to the car using a (partially) magnetic dock that, as a side effect notifies the device it is in car mode, automatically enabling Bluetooth, does that constitute prior art?

I hate the apparent failure to engage any sort of intelligent thought within the US Patent Office prior to the rubber stamping of applications from any US company... twats.

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Stop

Re: The USPTO

It's very simple

- US Patent Office grants obvious/ridiculous patent to a US Company.

- US Company enforces said patent world wide ensuring US interests are protected and non-US company cannot secure it for themselves.

- US Company collects worldwide patent licence fee.

- US Company pays(in theory) tax on profit from patent to US Government.

- US maintains signficiant worldwide IP control and secures profit flow into the US.

So its all about both control and profit.

Suddenly it all becomes clear

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jai
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Re: Confused

@wowfood

I always liked the idea of having it so your GPS would link to your cars speedometer, and then feedback whether you're going above the speed limit

I had a GPS app on my phone for navigation, and it would do exactly that.

it's SO annoying - constantly pinging, especially on the motorway when I was in fast moving traffic that every 5 minutes would be changing from going 65mph then up to 85mph, then down to 75mph then up to 80mph then up to 90mph, then down to 50mph etc etc

so in the end i switched off the speed limit alert. i'm not sure that was the intended end result when they implemented that feature

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Re: Confused

No but it is an awful lot like the pre/touchpad, which has been using magnets for stuff like this for a *long* time.

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Re: The USPTO

Work rules:

Evaluate examiners on applications completed, keeping mindful that denying an application will likely lead to refiling with amendments, possibly many times. Of course, the application is incomplete until either the patent is granted or the applicant exhausts all options for amending it, something that might take years. An examiner who acts deliberately will act less quickly, receive a lower appraisal rating, be less likely to receive awards, pay raises, and promotions, and in the end, more likely to seek more rewarding and remunerative employment elsewhere. One who completes applications quickly after cursory review to ensure proper spelling and grammar will receive outstanding appraisals, performance awards, pay raises, and promotions. The "best" eventually will fill the top level executive positions. The USPTO is a bureaucracy, and Imhoff's Law applies.

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Re: Confused

>>"..The car is not a mobile device (it is, but it's not).."

>Heck.. it is

Not like a bicycle, anyway.

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Re: The USPTO

> It's very simple

It is even simpler:

> - US Patent Office grants obvious/ridiculous patent to a US Company.

- USPTO collect application fees and renewals.

- Patent is challenged as being obvious and/or prior art.

- USPTO collects patent review fees.

The USPTO neither knows nor cares about how companies sue each other, collect licence fees, or whatever.

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Re: Confused

My HTC Advantage (released before the iphone) looks exactly like the ipad/keyboard. It connected magnetically, holding the phone part at a comfortable angle, keystrokes were transmitted via contacts on the two. When not in use it acted as magnetically attached screen protector. The only difference is that the cover had a Perspex window that showed on screen notifications (the phone knew when the cover was in use)

I can't see how HTCs superior device is not prior art.

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@TimNevins

US Patent Office grants obvious/ridiculous patent to a US Company.

The patent office is an equal opportunity grantor of obvious/ridiculous patents. Can you point to cases where they've denied obvious/ridiculous patents on a repeated basis to non-US companies?

US Company enforces said patent world wide ensuring US interests are protected and non-US company cannot secure it for themselves.

Having a US patent does not allow the company to assert its patent worldwide. That's why they have patent offices in other countries. Having a US patent that's filed before the date of a competing patent filed elsewhere gives it precedence, but the reverse is also true (at least for countries the US has a patent treaty with, which is most of the important ones)

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Linux

Re: The USPTO

Didn't you know Jobs invented magnetism before he died? So it's only natural that Apple should get the patent. Screw all those people who claimed to have something to do with it - Ampère, Coulomb, Faraday, Gauss, Heaviside, Henry, Hertz, Lorentz, Maxwell, Tesla, Volta, Weber, Ørsted - they had no clue.

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Re: Confused

@jai:

changing from going 65mph then up to 85mph, then down to 75mph then up to 80mph then up to 90mph, then down to 50mph etc etc

----

So it worked then? Oh, how annoying...

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Re: The USPTO

If Apple were a manufacturer of toilet paper, I wouldn't put it past them to submit a patent application for that product. And the USPTO would no doubt grant it.

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Re: Confused

@wowfood

What you are suggesting is just downright dangerous.

While most people seem to think that the brake is your safety device, there are times (just occasionally) when your accelerator is the most appropriate safety device, as I have experienced myself on a wet motorway in a borrowed car, when a car (a Porche as it happens) 100 metres in front without warning, turned right into the central armco barrier, then started slowly moving backwards towards the near side, by which time I had no wish to test out my brakes and tyres on a wet motorway so I dropped down a gear and accelerated - hard!

I think I missed him by mere inches but if I had attempted to use my brakes I would have probably have t-boned his driver's door.

Now I have no idea what my top speed might have got to during the manoeuvre but I certainly wouldn't want some clown trying to limit my top speed in those circumstances.

Would you have wanted to use that moment to see if the car you were driving was equipped with ABS?

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O look at this, Another inventsion that at least MS had on surface 1 that apple is gonna try to claim it came up with.

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Check the patent date, January 2012, months before the Surface was announced. Apple and Microsoft have a patent cross licensing deal in place so I doubt there will be any problems there.

The other Apple item, on which this seems to be based, is the MagSafe power connector which dates back to 2006. Prior art doesn't seem to be as easy to find as you think.

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Prior art easier than you thought

'Jupiter' by Ben Bova had magnetic fastening connectors, and was first published in 2000. I would be shocked if it was the first example. If only non-obvious did not mean non-obvious to a pickled porcupine.

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Yes the Apple MagSafe power adaptor was an example of a very good hardware invention and has saved many a MacBook getting dragged to the floor. The iPad Smart Cover was also excellent, and this is a continuation of that work, filed before the MS Surface was released and filed during the period when the initial Smart Cover patent application was still secret. The initial filing is kept secret precisely so such continuations can be worked on.

The Reg's interpretation of the first independent claim is also wrong. All clauses if the independent claims need to be read like a logical AND. So the claim isn't just for two magnetically attached devices communicating with each other, but where each device is also actuated based on the moment of attachment (e.g. Wakes up, comes out of standby etc.). The Register just like to moan about anything with Apple and patent in the title.

Patented inventions are always small steps on from the state of the art. It is the easiest thing to claim a patent is obvious after the fact. The black and Decker Workmate, one of the best Everyman patents ever filed also seemed obvious after the fact (a table top combined with a clamp). In recognition of this the hardest criterion on which to get a patent overturned, is obviousness.

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Remember the patent on the thermos flask?

The judge said that although it was obvious in hind sight, looking at a delicate piece of laboratory equipment like a Dewar flask and thinking "That could be made robust and portable enough to take on a picnic" was not obvious before the patent. The judge included a picture of a Dewar flask to underline his point. In the background of the picture was a small, robust Dewar flask that the lab technician had assembled to show off to friends and family at picnics.

The ideas comes early and often, but do not instantly become reality. In this case it was because rare earth magnets were not always so cheap. Apple can often beat competitors to market because Apple's customers are willing to pay more.

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So you've never used an Apple iPad with a Smart Cover then? They've been doing this for years already.

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So it's a combination of a fridge magnet (a magnetically attached accessory) and say any USB device. At least the Workmate is an inventive combination - it's more than "a device with feature A and also feature B".

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Re: Prior art easier than you thought

How the F**K did you get 7 Thumbs up! HOW THE FLYING F**k IS A BOOK PRIOR ART!!

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And how many months did it take MS to come up with the design, test it, refine it and put it into production, so that it was available in high enough numbers for the launch? You can't do that all in a couple of months.

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What really narks me is that adding "on a mobile device" to any existing invention seems to make it unique enough to repatent.

What does it matter, if the device is mobile or not? If I connect a peripheral to a desktop PC, a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone and it can communicate with said host, what makes it connecting to a tablet unique over a laptop or a desktop?

So many of the patents I see coming up are not only obvious, but were common practice when I started programming in the early 80s, only we had mainframes and micros at the time. One I read was for a menu list on a mobile device. How is that unique or obvious, how is having that same menu list taken from a 15" monitor and displaying it on a 4" display making "displaying a menu list" unique?!?!?!

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> What really narks me is that adding "on a mobile device" to any existing invention seems to make it unique enough to repatent.

Can't agree more. I'm going to patent this but on all specifically silver and white mobile devices.

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Anonymous Coward

"How is a book prior art"

"How is a book prior art". I agree, the written documents in the patent files cannot be considered "first", they should MAKE a device. ;)

On a serious note, it's the first idea, if in written form or not, that usually constitutes prior art I guess. If Apple wish to patent a specific mechanism, clip and latch then fine. If they wish to patent "any device with magnets that connects and uses communication" then they can get lost.

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Google the 2007 HTC Advantage, a 5" Windows Mobile with a magnetically attached keyboard come cover.

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Re: Prior art easier than you thought

"HOW THE FLYING F**k IS A BOOK PRIOR ART!!"

If it isn't prior art, it certainly drives a coach and horses through "non-obvious". Historically, a published description of an idea has always been something that would invalidate a patent. Even today, I think most lawyers would advise you to file the patent application *before* submitting that paper to Nature.

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FAIL

Re: Prior art easier than you thought - @Ken Hagan

So you're saying that if anyone ever manages to invent a warp drive then it isn't patentable because it was in StarTrek and it's therefore obvious as to how it would work? Interesting brand of logic you have there (certainly not as we know it).

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Gimp

@ Steve Todd

I think you dropped this...

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"the iPad Smart Cover was also excellent"

You obviously have never used one of those shitty magnetic iPad Smart Covers. Because if you did, you would've noticed that:

1. offers zero protection for your shiny, at least not much more than a film screen protector

2. they come off all the time, so if you happen not to be holding the case and your shiny at the same time, your shiny will fall to the floor unprotected (see 1.)

3. they don't even work well as a stand, and hold your shiny in a way that it becomes too top heavy and fall over

But, it's awesome for Apple. Because of all the above, lots of new shinies can be sold to replace the the broken ones.

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MagSafe is daft too. I have a circa 1980's deep-fryer that has magnetic power attachment cord.

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Re: Prior art easier than you thought

But, as Arthur Clarke used to complain, you can't Patent an idea in an SF Novel, otherwise Clarke would have been a Multi Billionaire because he "invented" the Geosynchronous Orbiting Communications Satellite years before anyone ever launched Anything.

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Devil

Activated magnets...

I like the idea of activated magnets. Maybe they really invented some kind of switchable permanent magnet -- that would be cool! It would also be very very improbable, but who knows what those lawyers came up with!

I am a little disappointed with the limitation to i-things with "a first side, [and] a second side opposite the first side". Does this mean that any type of Moebius object will circumvent this patent? Let me then be the first to suggest a magnetically attached galaxy device with a single side parallel _and_ opposite to the first side and all the required magnets to hold it to another galaxy device, blablabla. I described it first, no one can patent that now (you're welcome, unnamed producer of galaxy devices).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Activated magnets...

a bit like were used here?

http://www.decadecounter.com/vta/articleview.php?item=977

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Re: Activated magnets...

Electromagnet have the tiny disadvantage that they eat electricity. I am not aware of any portable device (portable as 'in my pocket') using an electromagnet. To get to the magnetic field strength trivially available with a permanent magnet, you need some serious power. Unless you got some superconductor at hand and then you have to think about liquid nitrogen cooling.

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We have shipping product that does this

It's been advertised for a few years, and I'm sure we weren't the first.

Where do we send the evidence of prior art?

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I have been using blu-tak to do the same job for years.... can I sue??

(Where is the "Money Grubber" icon when you need it??)

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Strictly speaking, all attachments are electromagnetic bonds even if two bits of wood glued together.

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My favourite was the new paint for the high speed trains in the UK wich was advertised as bonding to the metal by 'quantum forces'. (At a stretch, it could have been Van Der Waals forces.)

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"augment the functionality of usefulness"

How much training do you need (or what do you drink) to come up with phrases like that?

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Re: "augment the functionality of usefulness"

Just wait until they file the patent for whatever follows this. In that they will "enhance the functionality of augmented usefulness." Then they will "Aggrandize the enhanced functionality of augmented usefulness."

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Gav

Re: "augment the functionality of usefulness"

It's not just anyone that's allowed to wield the power of such expressions.

There are extended periods of structured knowledge reception, followed by formal evidencing of your acquired skillset, before you are allowed to publish on a open platform this level of corporate bovine waste product.

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Unhappy

Oh Dear My Fridge Door Must pay a license fee?

Many burglar alarms, proximity pads, pet door openers, etc. are suddenly apple matters; there might even be a few more examples.

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