Patently ridiculous: Apple applies for iOS face unlock patent
This isn't the first time we've seen it from any tech company, let alone Apple, and it probably won't be the last, but Apple has put in an application to patent a technology which some of us are already using: face unlock. As we all know, face detection is nothing new, and anyone with a Galaxy Nexus knows that unlocking your phone with face detection certainly is nothing new, but luckily the US Patent Office doesn't bother with trivial things like that, so Apple applied to patent it anyway. Yes, Apple applied for this patent in 2010, before Google put out ICS with Face Unlock, but Google's facial recognition software came from the PittPatt acquisition. PittPatt has been working on this since 2004, and was issued a patent for facial recognition (though not for mobile devices) in 2007. This is how the patent system works, even if two identical technologies exist, but one is on mobile devices and one isn't, both get the patent.
Of course is that Google's Face Unlock is not perfect. It can be fooled by a photo, or even a pair of glasses or a beard. Apple's patent is designed to use your mouth, the tip of a nose and eyes, and the distances between your facial features to analyze whether or not you are the owner of the iOS device and unlock the device. Of course, given how the facial recognition in Android can do all of those things in order to morph your face in the new camera app, none of this seems particularly new, or if Apple's way will be any more secure or reliable than how Android does Face Unlock.
Either way, there is no reasonable way that this patent should be granted, but no one ever said the USPTO was a reasonable organization, and it certainly wouldn't be the first time Apple or any other company were granted a patent for something that already exists. We'll try not to get too worked up as this is just an application, but the fact that Apple even applied means it knows there's a chance it could be granted. Of course, there's very little likelihood that the patent would stand up in court, but there would almost certainly be a wasteful lawsuit following this patent around.
Update: We felt it necessary to add this addendum to the article, because as usual the fanboys on both sides of the aisle have missed the point completely. We are not annoyed at Apple applying for this patent, because that is Apple's right within the system. It is merely a symptom of the problem. We are annoyed that the system allows for patent applications like this, and that often these sorts of patents are accepted, regardless of prior examples.
It is the US patent system that is horribly broken, especially in regards to technology patents. Apple didn't come up with this technology, and neither did Google. Intellectual property laws and patents stifle innovation by producing incredibly wasteful lawsuits because the USPTO doesn't know how to deal with technology patents. We don't blame Apple for using the system the way it is designed. We blame the system for being broken.
Ideas cannot and should not be patented, because ideas are all built on what came before. Apple and Google built their mobile platforms on the ideas of Nokia, RIM, Palm and the other companies that came before, and Nokia, RIM, and Palm built on the work done by companies before them, and on and on and on. That's how innovation works. No one owns knowledge or ideas. No one owns innovation. It's just how evolution works, and all patents do is slow down evolution.