The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 18 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. In our second report of the day we cover Apple's granted design patents relating to their polycarbonate MacBook and the user interface for their "Maps and Compass" application. More interestingly we cover Apple's data center call queuing system as well as a very interesting and detailed patent revealing Apple's service provider activation system used by AT&T, Verizon and others. This is a first-time peek at Apple's system and so we try to provide you with a detailed overview to help you better understand the scope of this system.
Granted Patent: Service Provider Activation
Apple has been granted an important patent that relates to methods and systems for service provider activation in mobile iOS devices.
According to Apple's patent, mobile devices that are manufactured for use with the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) digital cellular phone technology are designed to work with any mobile communications network service provider. The device requires the use of a subscriber identity module (SIM), referred to as a SIM card, which must be inserted into the GSM device to sign on to the subscriber's service provider network. The SIM card is a small circuit board that contains, among other things, an identifier that identifies the service provider with which the SIM card is allowed to be used. Typically, each service provider, such as AT&T, or Verizon, is assigned their own range of SIM card identifiers for use with their networks.
Most GSM devices are manufactured with a service provider lock that restricts the device to SIM cards for a particular service provider. For example, a mobile device manufactured by Nokia that is marketed by an AT&T service provider may have a lock that restricts the device to SIM cards encoded with identifiers falling within the range of SIM card identifiers assigned for use with the AT&T network.
The method of enforcing the service provider lock may vary from one manufacturer to the next. When a device is manufactured with a service provider lock, the lock is usually based on a code that is stored in the device or derived using an algorithm. However, the codes and/or algorithms may be compromised such that the device may be unlocked and used with SIM cards having identifiers assigned for use with other service providers. This results in a loss of revenue for the original service provider, since the device is, presumably, no longer being used on their network.
From the GSM device manufacturer's point of view, there are other drawbacks to manufacturing devices with service provider locks. For example, manufacturing a device with a particular service provider lock may require the manufacturer to maintain different part numbers for the mobile devices manufactured for the different service providers, since the locking codes and/or algorithms will vary depending on the service provider. This can add to the logistical complexity of manufacturing the device as well as add significant inventory cost.
From the consumers' point of view, most would likely prefer the freedom of purchasing a mobile device without being restricted to one particular service provider. For example, it may be desirable to switch to a different service provider when traveling abroad or to different parts of the country.
According to one aspect of Apple's invention, a mobile device operates in limited service mode until activated for use with a particular service provider. The mobile device may be prepared for activation through the use of a service provider signing process, and subsequently activated for use with a particular service provider through the use of a service provider activation process. The service provider signing and activation processes are performed in accordance with embodiments of the invention.
According to one aspect of the invention, the service provider signing process prepares the device for activation by causing an activation ticket to be stored on the device that securely incorporates information from both the device and the SIM card that is inserted into the device during the signing process.
According to another aspect of the invention, the service provider activation process verifies that an activation ticket previously stored on the device is authentic and corresponds to both the device and the SIM card currently inserted into the device prior to activating the device for use on the service provider's network.
According to one aspect of the invention, when a new SIM card is inserted into the device, or when the device is re-booted, the service provider signing and activation processes are repeated as necessary to activate the device for use with the service provider identified in the currently inserted SIM card. For example, when the currently inserted SIM card has already undergone the signing process during a previous insertion into the device, then only the activation process is needed to activate the device. When the SIM card is new to the device (i.e., has not yet been through either the signing or activation process on this device), both the signing and activation processes are repeated to activate the device for use with the service provider.
According to one aspect of the invention, the service provider signing process may be repeated for different SIM cards such that more than one activation ticket may be stored on the device. Each activation ticket stored on the device corresponds to one of the SIM cards that were inserted into the device during the signing process. In this manner, the mobile device may be prepared for activation with different service providers corresponding to the different SIM cards used during the signing process (as long as the subscriber accounts with those service providers are still valid at the time of activation).
According to one aspect of the invention, the service provider signing process includes generating an activation request into which information is bundled from both the device and the SIM card currently inserted into the device. The bundled information includes, among other data, the Integrated Circuit Card ID (ICCID) and International Mobile Subscriber Identifier (IMSI) of the SIM card currently inserted into the device, the International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI) encoded on the device, and a hardware thumbprint of the device.
According to one aspect of the invention, the service provider signing process further includes receiving the activation request in an activation server, where the activation request is typically relayed to the activation server via an activation client in communication with the device. The activation server generates the activation ticket based on the information that was bundled into the activation request. The activation server, in communication with backend servers for the service provider, may first verify whether the subscriber specified in the IMSI is associated with a valid account. In some embodiments, the activation server may perform other policy determinations that govern whether to generate an activation ticket, including such things as confirming whether the mobile country code (MCC) and mobile network code (MNC) specified in the IMSI is consistent with the expected distribution channel for the device, based on the device's IMEI.
According to one aspect of the invention, during the signing process, the activation server generates a signed activation ticket using an activation private key that is stored on, or is otherwise accessible by, the activation server. The generated activation ticket is formatted to include not only the information that was bundled into the activation request, but also an activation public key that will later be used on the device to validate the signature of the ticket. As a further security measure, the content of the activation ticket is obscured using encryption before sending the activation ticket back to the device. Encryption may be performed using a per-device symmetric key that is stored on, or is otherwise accessible by, both the device and the activation server. This key may be referred to as the shared obfuscation key.
According to one aspect of the invention, at the conclusion of the signing process, the generated activation ticket is received in the device from the activation server, typically via an activation client in communication with the device. The device stores the activation ticket for use during a subsequent service provider activation process.
According to one aspect of the invention, the service provider activation process queries the ICCID of the currently inserted SIM at startup and uses this value to determine whether an activation ticket has previously been stored for this SIM card. If so, the service provider activation process issues a command in the device to verify the activation ticket, including but not limited to, decrypting the activation ticket using the shared obfuscation key, validating the public activation key supplied in the ticket by the activation server, and using the validated key to validate the signature of the activation ticket.
According to one aspect of the invention, the service provider activation process verifies the content of the activation ticket against the device and the SIM card currently inserted into the device, including verifying that the IMEI and hardware thumbprints match those in the device, and that the ICCID and IMSI match those in the currently inserted SIM card. If the content of the activation ticket cannot be verified as matching the device and SIM card, then the activation ticket is treated as invalid, and the device is not activated for use with the service provider's network. If the content of the activation ticket is verified, then the device is activated for use with the service provider's network.
Apple credits Dallas De Atley, Jeffrey Bush, Jerry Hauck Ronald Huang and Brainerd Sathianathan as the inventors of Granted Patent 7,929,959. The inventors are all new identities to Apple and their locations may suggest that Apple acquired this patent at some point in time. Our cover graphic is FIG 1 of this patent.
Granted Patent: Data Center – Queuing Calls for Distribution
Apple has been granted a patent relating to queuing calls for distribution in a data center. Apple's system generally relates to an automated call distribution system that routes calls between a network and call center sites.
Apple's patent states that in a virtual call center environment, call center sites may be located in multiple locations across the world, operating as a single entity. Most call center sites are built on a model of very high cycle time with large volume of calls. In a medium call center environment, however, where call durations may be on average fifteen to twenty minutes each, agents talking with the customers for longer times while some customers may be waiting for ten minutes to half an hour to talk to a next available agent, a non uniform distribution of calls occurs when routing calls across multiple call center sites. In other words, a call routing system may send a large volume of calls to one call center site and cycle back to send a large volume of calls to another call center site. As a result, the agents at various call center sites may not be efficiently utilized to answer calls by the call routing system. For example, overloading of one call center site may occur while underutilization of another call center site occurs. This may cause various problems including loss of efficiency, higher costs, and customer dissatisfaction.
If this subject interests you, then Apple's invention is directed to overcoming or at least reducing one or more of the problems noted above. For details about this system, see granted patent 7,929,685.
Apple credits Robert Boyet, Theresa Beloin, Seth Willis, Roger Meador and Marcus Ward the inventors of Granted Patent
Granted Design Patent: Maps + Compass GUI
Apple credits Mike Matas as the sole inventor of Granted Patent D636,398 relating to the GUI for the iPhone app known as " Maps + Compass," originally filed in Q4 2008.
Update: as we could see by yesterday's latest lawsuit filing by Apple against Samsung, Design Patents matter. Apple is suing Samsung on a number of grounds including patent and trademark infringements. A number of Apple's icons being used as exhibits in the case include the following: 1) Phone (2) Settings (3) Photos (4) iTunes (5) Contacts, and (6) Notes. The lawsuit even touches on touch patents like 7,812,828 that we covered in October 2010.
IP attorney Matthew Macari commented on this current case in general by stating that "Design patents can be a very powerful litigation tool - the "wiggle room" of interpretation is much greater than many think and can provide a powerful enforcement tool for a Plaintiff in an infringement case." For more specifics about this case, check out both posts by Floriian Mueller and Nilay Patel.
Other Granted Patents Published Today
Apple was granted a 2006 patent titled "File systems for data processing systems" that covers the latest advances relating to Apple's HFS + file system. They've also be granted a patent relating to iMovie. The patent covers technology that enables users to perform non-linear editing techniques on video footage such as cutting segments of the footage, re-arranging segments of the same video clip, re-arranging and combining segments of multiple video clips, and/or modifying the captured content by adding or substituting other content including audio tracks, voice-overs, titles, and transitions between frames.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application and/or Granted Patent is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application and/or Issued Patent should be read in its entirety for further details. Patents shouldn't be digested as rumors or fast-tracked according to rumor time tables. Apple patents represent true research that could lead to future products and should be understood in that light. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.