Patently ridiculous: Apple applies for iOS face unlock patent

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. 

source: Patently Apple via BGR

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87 Comments

1. israelian

Posts: 12; Member since: Dec 15, 2011

Apple, stop making s**tty steps! The world'd be fine even if without you.

29. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

I seem to recall a similar function being part of Android ICS. I guess Apple doesn't care if their patent is invalid before it has even been awarded.

39. ReturningToNokia

Posts: 130; Member since: Jul 09, 2011

Umm...Apple applied/filed the patent in June 2010. ICS was just released a few weeks ago. Besides, if Google doesn't have a patent on it, why shouldn't another company file for their implementation of the technology?

43. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

And I suppose there was zero development time involved with the facial recognition function in ICS? BTW, for Apple's application to not be subject to an invalidity challenge, there must be no publication of algorithms for facial recognition prior to the filing date.... I rather doubt that test will be met.

46. ReturningToNokia

Posts: 130; Member since: Jul 09, 2011

Then Google should have filed for the patent while this was in development, or once their development was completed. What is so difficult about filing a patent? It's seems others do it quite well; why not Google?

47. sgogeta4

Posts: 394; Member since: Feb 02, 2011

You clearly do not understand anything regarding Google's open source stance. While Apple filed the patent a while ago, none of their products currently use it...

64. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

> And I suppose there was zero development time involved with the facial recognition function in ICS? This coming from Droid_x_Doug (the same guy who was beating his chest exclaiming that ATT will engage in a hostile takeover of TMobile USA). The US patent law has changed -- now, the basic rule is first to file versus the the prior doctrine of first to invent.

73. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Ah... haven't you requested PA to change your ID to strident1, yet? BTW, do you know anything about invalidity? Even under first to file, if publication of the underlying principle occurred more than 1 year prior to the filing, the patent's validity is still open to challenge. Facial recognition has been 'out' for way more than a year before 2010. If you need a referral to competent patent counsel to explain the concept, I can give you one.

40. quakan

Posts: 1418; Member since: Mar 02, 2011

It's the patent office fault. I bet what they do is look through their database and see if something is already patented and if they don't see it, they just award to the first bidder. They should hire some techies in that office so they can actually show them what could actually be patentable. I love apple products but even i agree that these vague patents are ridiculous.

87. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

apple applied for this patent in june of 2010.. it only recently became public... how is that in violation of android? which recently only came out a month ago? yes they acquired a company before, but if we are being true and just, did google do any of the work that apple did?

2. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

----"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."---- I agree totally! If technology proves anything, it does not like to be stifled. It needs to advance by way of leapfrogging on one great idea and move it forward. It does NOT take kindly to being controlled so no other can capitalize on it. Touch Gestures, Face recognition etc, are all technological inventions or discoveries that benefit all of society. It should remain open to every single individual regardless what product or company they choose. Just as Linux has benefit the computer industry. It is imperative that the patent office reviews technological and scientific innovations with care. One controlling entity will provoke a severe slow down, or worse yet, a stale-mate in moving forward. John B.

4. mukrenol

Posts: 92; Member since: Sep 03, 2011

this proves that apple is not innovative as before just find competitor's technology and has been using it for a bit then claimed as their own cheap apple you are just cheap right now

5. ZayZay

Posts: 571; Member since: Feb 26, 2011

Can't teach an old OS new tricks, unless you sue for those new tricks!

6. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

Apple sees a good thing & does 1 of 2 things. #1) They try to patent the technology. OR #2) If the patent doesn't work then they buy the tech or company outright. Apple to me seems to have lost its edge. They clearly don't innovate like they once did & are now releasing sub-par products like the HUGELY underwhelming iPhone 4S. This is just a sad state of affairs for Apple. Their magic is fizzling away & soon people will notice. If Apple doesn't shape up, this could be the beginning of a RIM like fall for them. Apple needs to do more than rest on its laurels.

8. ZayZay

Posts: 571; Member since: Feb 26, 2011

Let me be the first to say this before any iphone lovers say it. NO NO NO NO you suck, android sucks! So since everyone read that, this closes the need to input opinions right here from iphone lovers. Have a good day.

16. fost4real

Posts: 27; Member since: Dec 29, 2011

You are sick in your head.

7. hybris

Posts: 56; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

As ridiculous as this news is, I can't say I'm shocked.

9. mikerouche

Posts: 14; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

are you kidding me? this is a joke right? the almighty innovators at their finest

10. Bluesky02

Posts: 1439; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

Wow that is so lame of Apple, I have the feeling that this patently will be rejected.

34. cheetah2k

Posts: 2256; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

Stranger things have happened. I think its time Google actively patents all its inovative ideas, making the wording as vague as possible so as to cover everything from the kitchen sink to the push buttons on the toilet... Will that be a half or full flush??

12. derricob

Posts: 25; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

This is a bit low for Apple. a face recognition unlock patent? It's funny they didn't apply for this a year ago or so. They chose to do it after Google/Android released their new flagship phone and software that uses it. Also, what happens to the little guys like the devs that made iGotYa and Visidon Applock? Will they be banned or sued if this patent is approved?

51. stealthd unregistered

They did apply for it a year or so ago, 18 months to be exact. The patent was just published.

14. PhoneCritic

Posts: 1354; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

If this is true then I really have lost all respect for Apple! Tim Cook has to reign in these lawerys. This is absoulutley BS. Aagain I am a tech agnostic I favor neither camp I just like what can get the job done I own a ipad and a Xoom I was a iphone 4 owner but have now moved over to a Samsung Galaxy skyrocket since it provides the LTE performance I need. I love all tech gadgets. However, the recent rash of patent lawsuits that Appl has been launching against other device manufactures is very concerning. And this if it is true is probally what will cause me to really double think purchasing anything else from Apple. Please say it aint so!!!!

19. joseg81

Posts: 204; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

honestly if google stepped up and fought back i'd be so happy cuz this is just crap. and if google would only come out with a dedicated music player and accompanying software, n no i'm not talking about google music, i'd get rid of my ipods. google music is great but i want my music without being tethered to the cloud and i didn't buy my phone to turn it into an ipod.

20. PhoneCritic

Posts: 1354; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

Patent office please wake UP!!!! and reject this one out right. This move, The more I think of it, is so Steve Jobs. I hope Tim Cook is not going to carry out his personal vendetta agains Google. No let the old war die with its founder and please move on to new innovative things. This is just to petty.

22. SleepingOz unregistered

This is called INNOVATION!

23. gallitoking

Posts: 4721; Member since: May 17, 2011

"this will change everything again" .- Siri

26. ivanko34

Posts: 617; Member since: Sep 04, 2011

shame to rotten apple

28. bigdawg23

Posts: 467; Member since: May 25, 2011

Apple can file tor this but if they prove there concept is after Google they will never win in court. Apple is the master of invention just look they were the first to add pull down menu with Emails, messages and more, oh wait!!!

30. richardyarrell2011

Posts: 510; Member since: Mar 16, 2011

APPLE is the biggest JOKE in the smartphone industry....GOOGLE nor ANDROID has to much to really worry about the GALAXY NEXUS is simply PISSING all over the iphone...

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