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On February 25, 2010, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals various concepts behind a newly advanced touch screen login system that uses a signet based concept that could take on many shapes – such as a specialized card or cool ring. In fact, it would act very much like a secret decoder ring was supposed to – though you won't find it in your cereal or Cracker Jack box – hopefully, that is. The signet based system could act as a form of security system and the actions could initiate when logging onto your home computer or a computer network so as to permit authorized individuals access to restricted areas of the computer or computer network, loading a user profile associated with a user's preferred arrangement of the computer desktop and so forth. The signet based system would or could apply to all present and future Apple touch screen based systems and the patent in fact makes it clear that that will include the iMac, MacBook, Mac Pro and also extend to public computer systems at schools, libraries, kiosks, gaming machines, restaurant reservation terminals and more. This could and should be a lot easier to use than keying in a sophisticated security password while making it incredibly more difficult for hackers to crack - being that the signet could include patterns and shapes unique to the individual user or institution.

Patent Background

Computer based systems utilizing touch screens have been used in many settings including retail, commercial, industrial, office, hospitality, education, and gaming environments, etc. By way of example, popular applications include information.


In environments utilizing POS machines, it is common practice to assign levels of authority to various individuals on the staff. For example, a sales clerk may be able to enter sales information but does not have the authority to make a refund. A supervisor is generally needed to execute a refund. The sales clerk and the supervisor may use the same POS terminal, but each of them will have a unique login code. Login codes are easily stolen or otherwise compromised. One well known solution to improve security is the use of physical keys. The owner of the physical key will know if it is stolen, whereas a stolen login code leaves no trace if stolen. Typically, physical keys are expensive and the terminals must be equipped with a locking mechanism that serves no function other than security.

Similar situations can be found in industrial settings where process conditions are tightly controlled. For example, an operator may be able to operate industrial machine but does not have authority to make changes to any of the process parameters associated with the industrial machine. In cases such as these, a supervisor is needed to make a change.

Similar situation may arise in work, libraries, and schools where computer terminals are shared by a number of different users. For example, a user may be able to use the computer terminal for general use but does not have the authority to make changes to the configuration of the computer or network to which it is attached. In cases such as these, a network administrator is needed to make changes.

Thus, there is a need for improved techniques to implement different authorization levels or other tasks using touch screens.

Overview: A Touch Screen Signet System

Apple's patent FIG. 1 shown below is a computer system 10, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. The computer system is generally configured to perform actions when a signet 12 is presented to a touch screen. The signet preferably includes a signet pattern that can be acquired by the touch screen when the signet is placed adjacent the touch screen. In operation, the touch screen generates signet data associated with the signet pattern and forwards the signet data to a computer 16. When the computer recognizes the signet data, the computer initiates an action associated with the signet data.



The actions, may for example, include logging onto a computer or a computer network, permitting authorized individuals access to restricted areas of the computer or computer network, loading a user profile associated with a user's preferred arrangement of the computer desktop, permitting access to web content, launching a particular program, opening a file or document, viewing a menu, making a selection, executing instructions, encrypting or decoding a message, operating an input/output device operatively connected to the computer and/or the like.

The touch screen may also be widely varied. By way of example, it may be based on sensing technologies including but not limited to resistive, capacitive, acoustic wave, infrared and the like. In one implementation, the touch screen is configured with plurality of sensor coordinates or nodes that represent different points on the touch screen. When the signet is pressed against the touch screen, one or more sensor coordinates or nodes are activated. The activated nodes represent the signature or shape of the signet pattern.

Apple's patent FIG. 2 is a shape recognition method, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

Signet Shape Recognition System for Home or Public Computer Systems

Apple's patent FIG. 3 shown below presents us with a simplified diagram of a shape recognition system 30. Said system is configured to perform shape recognition, particularly to recognize the shape or signature of a signet. The system 30 includes a touch sensitive area 32 for receiving the signet. The system further includes a detection system 34 capable of detecting the shape or signature of the signet. The detection system may for example include a sensing device 36 configured to register touches positioned over the touch sensitive area, and control circuitry 38 that monitors the touch events and translates the touch events into other events in conjunction with its programming.



Apple's patent FIG. 4 shown above illustrates a block diagram of a computer system 50. Said system may correspond to personal computer systems such as desktops, laptops or handhelds, or to public computer systems such as information kiosks, automated teller machines (ATM), point of sale machines (POS), industrial machines, gaming machines, arcade machines, vending machines, airline e-ticket terminals, restaurant reservation terminals, customer service stations, library terminals, learning devices, and the like.

In one embodiment, the touch screen 70 is based on resistive sensing. The conductive coatings are typically patterned in rows on one surface and columns on opposing surface thereby forming a grid. The signals generated at the sensing points 74 of the touch screen are generally used to perform various functions including but not limited to moving a cursor or pointer (e.g., tracking) or for making selections. In accordance with one embodiment of the present invention, the signals generated at the sensing points 74 of the touch screen are also used to determine the shape of a patterned signet 76.

Signet Recognizing Methodology

By way of example and referring to FIG. 5 below, each portion of a signet 76 in contact with a signet receiving area 78 of the touch screen produces a contact patch area 80. The contact patch area 80 covers several sensing points 74 thus generating several signals. The signals may be grouped together to form a signet signal 82 representative of the pattern of the signet 76. In essence, the signet signal represents a pixilated image of the signet in contact with the touch screen.


The shape recognition program 90 may contain baseline signet signals associated with different actions. The signet signals generally contain shape information of a particular signet while the actions describe what type of action to perform based on the signet signal. In one implementation, the signet signals may be accessed by a user through a signet menu, which may be viewed on the display device 68 as part of a GUI interface. The signet menu may include signet settings pertaining to the signet signals and signet actions. In fact, the signet menu may serve as a control panel for reviewing and/or customizing the signet settings, i.e., the user may quickly and conveniently review the signet settings and make changes thereto. Once changed, the modified signet settings will be automatically saved and thereby employed to handle future shape recognition processing. The signet menu may also be used as part of a training sequence for training the computer to a particular signet.

Furthermore, the shape recognition program may define the signet receiving area of the touch screen. The signet receiving area may correspond to the entire touch screen or some subset of the touch screen. The subset may be a particular region of the GUI where the user places the signet or some other predetermined area of the touch screen where the user places the signet, i.e., right bottom corner. In some cases, the user may select a signet icon that opens a pop window that asks the user to place the signet in a particular area. In other cases, the user is prompted by the system to place the signet on the touch screen based on a previous user action. For example, if access is requested by a user, the system may request that the user place a signet on the touch screen if they in fact want to gain access.

Varied Signet Shapes and Patterns

The signet and its pattern may be widely varied. The signet 12 may, for example, correspond to a ring, a tag, a token, a stamp, and or the like. The signet pattern may be the shape of the signet itself, or it may be a pattern formed on the signet 12. For example, the signet pattern may be formed from a raised or recessed portion of the signet 12. The signet pattern may include one or more simple shapes such as circles, squares, triangles, etc., and/or may include one or more complex shapes such as icons, logos, symbols, text, etc. In some cases, it may even be formed from one or more dots or lines. In any event, the signet pattern is typically configured in such a way so that it can be pressed against the substantially planar touch screen.



Apple's patent FIGS. 7A and 7B are diagrams of a signet card (or tag) 120A and 120B, respectively. The signet card 120A includes a raised pattern 122A of lines 124A and dots 126A. When pressed against a touch screen, the raised pattern 122A forms a contact patch area of lines and dots that is read by the touch screen. The signet card, on the other hand, includes a recessed pattern 122B in the form of lines 124B and dots 126B. When pressed against a touch screen, the surface 128 of the signet 120B other than the recessed portions 124B and 126B forms a contact patch area that is read by the touch screen (reverse pattern of FIG. 7A). Alternatively or additionally, the lines or dots may be replaced by text including letters and numbers. By way of example, the signet card may be a credit card or ATM card that already includes a series of raised numbers.

Patent FIG. 7C is a diagram of a signet ring 120C. Like the card, the ring 120C may include a raised or recessed pattern. In the illustrated embodiment, the ring includes a raised pattern 122C consisting of a letter 130 and a border 132. In particular, the letter "X" is surrounded by a circle "0". When pressed against a touch screen, the raised pattern 122C forms a contact patch area consisting of an "X" surrounded by a circle "0" that is read by the touch screen.

Patent FIG. 7D is a diagram of a signet token 120D; Patent FIG. 7E is a diagram of a signet key 120E; FIG. 7F is a diagram of a signet roller 120F, which produces the signet pattern 120F when rolled along the surface of the touch screen. The signet roller may include a series of raised dots 136 for example in a manner similar to a music box roll. When pressed and rolled along the surface of the touch screen, the raised dots form a contact patch area that extends along the perimeter of the roller. The raised dots may also be lines or other shapes.

Patent FIG. 7G is a diagram of a signet card 120G with a programmable signet pattern 122G. The signet 120G includes a series of chads 140 that may be punched out of the signet card 120G to form a unique pattern 122G. The holes formed by the punched out chads 140 may for example represent a particular code. The chads 140 may be any shape although they typically come in the form of dots, dashes or lines.

Hmm, and what do you do with hanging chads? – Oh no (Ha)!

Signet Shape Recognition & Update Method Flowcharts



Apple credits Peter Kennedy as the sole inventor of patent application 20100045627, originally filed in Q4 2009 – though apparently the documents date back to 2004 – way before touch screens came to the iPhone. So this was an idea long in development at Apple.


Update: On March 23, 2010, Apple was granted this patent.


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 grant is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application and/or grant should be read in its entirety for further details. For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent number(s) noted in this report into this search engine.



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