Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 69 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. In this particular report we cover two patents relating to possible future foldable device systems. And as always, we wrap up this week's granted patent report with our traditional listing of the remaining granted patents that were issued to Apple today.
Patent: Devices with Flexible Displays & Hinges
Apple notes in their granted patent background that electronic devices often include displays for presenting image to a user. Displays are typically formed from rigid planar substrates. Although satisfactory in many situations, rigid displays such as these may be difficult to integrate into certain devices, such as devices with bendable housings.
Apple's granted patent covers an electronic device that uses a flexible display. The display may be mounted in a foldable housing that can bend about a bend axis. In a first configuration, the display may be supported by the housing and may be held in a planar state.
In a second configuration, portions of the housing may be rotated about the bend axis with respect to each other, so the housing and display are bent.
A hinge mechanism may be used to ensure adequate separation between first and second portions of the housing when the housing is bent. This ensures that the flexible display can maintain a desired minimum bend radius in the vicinity of the bend axis. The hinge mechanism may be based on a rack-and-gear arrangement or other arrangement that maintains the first and second housing portions at a desired distance from each other.
In another arrangement, the housing may have movable flaps that extend parallel to the bend axis. The movable flaps may be placed in a planar configuration to support the display when the housing is in its unbent state.
The movable flaps may be retracted when the housing is placed in its bent state. This creates room for a bent portion of the display along the bend axis.
Apple's patent FIG. 33 below is an exploded perspective view of an illustrative electronic device housing having movable flaps. Flexible displays may contain materials that stretch over time, so it may be desirable to provide device #10 with biasing structures that help maintain display #14 in a planar state whenever housing #12 is unfolded.
Apple's patent FIG. 20 below is a perspective view of structures assembled to form an electronic device hinge; FIG. 21 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative electronic device having a hinge structure of the type shown in FIG. 20; FIG. 22 is a cross-sectional side view of the electronic device of FIG. 21 in a folded configuration.
Apple's patent FIG. 30 below is a front view of a foldable device in an open position; FIG. 31 is a side view of the hinge structures; FIG. 47 is a front view of an illustrative electronic device.
This is Apple’s second granted patent for this invention. Apple added 20 new patent claims to support this invention. Below are just three of the new patent claims:
Added Patent Claim #1: “An electronic device operable in folded and unfolded positions, comprising: a housing that folds along a fold axis, wherein the housing has first and second housing portions on opposing sides of the fold axis and wherein the first and second housing portions respectively comprise first and second slots; a flexible substrate that overlaps the first and second housing portions and that folds along the fold axis; a pixel array on the flexible substrate that overlaps the first and second housing portions and that extends across the fold axis; and a hinge coupled between the first and second housing portions, wherein the hinge comprises a first gear that rotates the first housing portion about the fold axis, a second gear that rotates the second housing portion about the fold axis, and a third gear coupled between the first and second gears, and wherein the first gear is coupled to a first pin that slides within the first slot during rotation and the second gear is coupled to a second pin that slides within the second slot during rotation.”
Added Patent Claim #13: “An electronic device that folds and unfolds along a fold axis, comprising: a flexible substrate that folds along the fold axis; an array of organic light-emitting diode pixels on the flexible substrate; a metal backplate that supports the flexible substrate; a metal stiffening plate coupled behind the metal backplate, wherein the metal stiffening plate only partially overlaps the metal backplate; and first and second housing portions coupled by a hinge having a first gear that rotates the first housing portion about the fold axis and a second gear that rotates the second housing portion about the fold axis.”
Added Patent Claim #18: “An electronic device operable in folded and unfolded configurations, comprising: first and second housing portions that rotate about a fold axis; a hinge coupled between the first and second housing portions, wherein the hinge comprises a gear system that rotates the first and second housing portions by equal amounts when the electronic device transitions between the folded and unfolded configurations; a flexible display mounted to the first and second housing portions and overlapping the fold axis; first and second overlapping metal plates attached to a rear side of the flexible display, wherein the first metal plate is interposed between the flexible display and the second metal plate and wherein the second metal plate spans only partially across a lower surface of the first metal plate; and a spring-based biasing structure that holds the flexible display in a flat position when the electronic device is unfolded.”
For more details and to review the other 17 new patent claims, review Apple’s granted patent 11,385,686.
Patent: Electronic Device Foldable Cover and Display
The U.S. Patent Office also published Apple’s fourth granted patent for a foldable cover and display for a possible future foldable device such as an iPad that could double has a hybrid tablet-notebook.
Key Granted Design Patents
Today’s Remaining Granted Patents