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Apple patents multi-function solar laptop casing

Apple patents multi-function solar laptop casing

Future Apple laptops could have multi-function lids with touch-sensitive screens or even battery-boosting solar cells, according to a freshly-granted patent.

Apple has been formally granted a patent on a new casing for laptops which features external displays which can double as a solar charging system to top-up the device's battery.

Originally filed back in 2010 but only granted by the US Patents and Trademarks Office this week, US Patent 8,638,549 describes an 'electronic device display module' which 'may be formed from electrochromic glass and may cover photovoltaic cells and touch sensors - meaning a double-display, touch-sensitive laptop that can charge itself in sunlight.

The patent describes a portable computer - a laptop, in other words - which includes a traditional clamshell design with a keyboard and front-facing display. The rear of the upper panel, however, is described as being made from a variety of materials ranging from the usual - plastic and metal - to the more esoteric - ceramic, fibre, or glass. ' A two-sided display may be formed in which one display is front facing and the other display is rear facing,' the patent explains - echoing the Asus Taichi, which includs a secondary display on the rear of the lid for use in closed tablet mode. 'The displays may share a common light guide layer.' Coupled with later reference to a touch sensor on the rear panel, it's clear Apple's patent could cover Asus' design - and, given it was filed before the launch of the Taichi, could lead to legal troubles for the company if Apple wants to pursue the matter in court.

The most interesting portion of the patent comes in the next paragraph, however. 'The rear plate may be formed from electrochromic glass. Photovoltaic cells may be located under the rear plate and may produce power when activated by an external light source.' In other words: at the press of a button, the rear panel of the laptop can go transparent and allow the device to charge simply by sitting in sunlight. The result, the patent explains for the hard-of-thinking: 'By charging [the] battery with battery charging power [...] battery charge can be extended.'

The fact that Apple has patent the technique doesn't mean that it will produce such a laptop, of course; the company frequently files patents and then never develops the technology into a commercial product. The efficiency of modern solar cells, especially when limited to a footprint equal to the lid of a laptop, means that charging the battery in sunlight alone would be restricted to only the most sunny of countries. As a means of snagging an extra hour or two of use away from a mains socket, however, the design could have promise.

Apple has not publicly commented on the filing.

20 Comments

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BlackRaven 29th January 2014, 10:40 Quote
How do they give a patent based on a document that keeps repeating the word "may"?
samkiller42 29th January 2014, 10:43 Quote
So, how long before Samsung or another companies develops something similar? Or, Another small unheard of company speaks up and claims they did it first??

Sam
raxonb 29th January 2014, 11:00 Quote
"By charging the battery with battery charging power"...for the hard-of-thinking, fair enough. And for the people who buy anything Apple: "The iBright iLight in the iSky iSends iMagical iInvisible iEnergy iFairies to make your i(Enter product here) switch on and make iSounds and flash iLights"
DriftCarl 29th January 2014, 12:13 Quote
OK so I have never heard of the solar cells being incorporated into a display screen before. So I give apple that. But solar charging portable devices is nothing new. I hope apple don't try and say they have the exclusive patent to solar charge any laptop.
Remember apple, you have patented the specific technology, but you HAVE NOT patented the idea, so please don't try to bully everyone else into paying you silly amounts of money.
Bede 29th January 2014, 12:56 Quote
It's a gimmick until solar tech is vastly improved. I'd love to see solar-powered consumer laptops, but the fact is that good solar panels are expensive, fragile and still not good enough.
RichCreedy 29th January 2014, 13:05 Quote
if they don't produce this themselves within 5 yrs it should be null and void
badders 29th January 2014, 13:16 Quote
Hmm, seems like the Sol Laptop is doing a similar thing, though currently looks like vaourware as nothing's been released to Market yet : http://solaptop.com/en/
rollo 29th January 2014, 13:20 Quote
Welcome to the wonderful world of USA patents.

On a different note Samsung and Apple patent 1000s of things a year are we gonna get updates on each and everyone these days?
Stormwulf 29th January 2014, 13:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichCreedy
if they don't produce this themselves within 5 yrs it should be null and void

Agreed 100%

I've been saying they should add solar tech to portable devices to extend battery life for years. Not a question of how practical the charge would be in everyday life , more to do with people in areas/situations where they can't get to a power supply for whatever reason in an emergency situation having an alternative method of getting some power into a device to call for aid.
If it were added it would also drive manufacturers to invest in producing more efficient photovoltaic cells which could benefit everyone in the longer term.
Guinevere 29th January 2014, 13:44 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by badders
Hmm, seems like the Sol Laptop is doing a similar thing, though currently looks like vaourware as nothing's been released to Market yet : http://solaptop.com/en/

I don't think it is doing anything as anyone can see from that website it's nothing but a rendering of a product that has never and never will reach even prototype stages.

Plus Apple's patent is not for a laptop with a solar panel bolted to it, it's for a crazy gestalt screen combining every bit of tech they have access to at the moment.

They're not going to build this, I don't think they want to even build it. They're just patenting the idea to cover their bases.

Tech companies do this all the damn time. Apple files a lot of 'just in case' patents.

And Apple haters... Apple isn't alone in this! Just because the entire interweb is OBSESSED with Apple and the patents it files and owns, that doesn't mean they are the worst offenders.
Gareth Halfacree 29th January 2014, 14:36 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by rollo
On a different note Samsung and Apple patent 1000s of things a year are we gonna get updates on each and everyone these days?
If they're as interesting and innovative as Apple's proposed multi-function laptop casing, then yes. Yes, you will.

Much like when we told you about Sony's anti-piracy patent, in fact; or Microsoft's AR glasses patent; or its GPU encoding patent; or Apple's anti-jailbreak patent; or HTC's dual-screen patent; or Amazon's boxing videos patent; or Apple's signet patent; or Kaspersky's hardware anti-virus patent; or Samsung's touch-sensitive AMOLED patent; or Microsoft's novel on-screen keyboard patent; or its more annoying advert-based CAPTCHA patent; or Nokia's controller fabric patent; or... Well, you get the idea.
rollo 29th January 2014, 14:44 Quote
Sounds good Gareth.
RichCreedy 29th January 2014, 15:27 Quote
i'm not an apple hater, I think all patents should have a maximum 5yr development stage, after which if no product is forthcoming, the patent is null and void.
schmidtbag 29th January 2014, 16:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichCreedy
i'm not an apple hater, I think all patents should have a maximum 5yr development stage, after which if no product is forthcoming, the patent is null and void.

Good idea in principle but who is going to check up on it? What if the product is still in development, and if so, how do you prove progression?
sakzzz 29th January 2014, 16:30 Quote
Thats the fundamental difference between patents granted in USA vs Europe. USA- you can patent a concept whereas here the claim needs to be backed up by physical evidence.
AlienwareAndy 29th January 2014, 16:33 Quote
Yes I can see laptop users sitting outside in the sun in order to get a little extra battery life...
Gareth Halfacree 29th January 2014, 16:34 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by AlienwareAndy
Yes I can see laptop users sitting outside in the sun in order to get a little extra battery life...
Boosts battery life and helps users get their daily dose of vitamin D. What's not to like? Mind you, Apple better bundle some free suncream with each laptop sold - don't want a class action from melanoma sufferers...
DC74 30th January 2014, 05:14 Quote
Putting Solar panels in the casing of anything isn't an original idea, they've been doing it with Solar powered cars and boats for years. You can hardly patent that as everyone has been doing it. Another idea that apple claims to have invented and will sue anyone to the nth degree to protect.

That company is less about innovation and more about litigation these days. If they spent as much money on R&D as they do on lawyers they might have something more original and inventive to show us.
Gareth Halfacree 30th January 2014, 08:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by DC74
Putting Solar panels in the casing of anything isn't an original idea, they've been doing it with Solar powered cars and boats for years. You can hardly patent that as everyone has been doing it. Another idea that apple claims to have invented and will sue anyone to the nth degree to protect.
Read the patent, or even just the article. Heck, even the title makes it clear that Apple is not simply attempting to patent "a normal thing but with solar panels stuck to it:" "Apple patents multi-function solar laptop casing."

I know it's cool to hate Apple, but this is a genuinely pro-Apple story: the company's come up with an excellent concept. Now, I'm not a fan of patents in general, so there's that, but Apple is hardly alone in patenting every little idea that passes through its R&D department just in case. Hell, I'd buy one - assuming I could afford it, of course...
benji2412 31st January 2014, 07:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bede
It's a gimmick until solar tech is vastly improved. I'd love to see solar-powered consumer laptops, but the fact is that good solar panels are expensive, fragile and still not good enough.

I'm not sure what you've been reading but solar panels aren't that expensive, not all are fragile and what exactly would you consider to be good enough?
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