Apple Wins Surprising Patent for a Future Bendable or Foldable iPhone using Advanced Carbon Nanotube Structures
In July Patently Apple posted two reports regarding Samsung's obsession with bendable smartphones and/or foldable smartphones. Samsung has so many patents on this future direction for smartphones that our other IP site Patently Mobile created a dedicated archive covering all of their concepts. Apple's first patent regarding foldable smartphone form factors was discovered by Patently Apple in a European patent filing in 2013. We discovered a second patent filing in Europe regarding a foldable smartphone in 2014. Today we were surprised to find that Apple was granted their first patent covering a foldable and/or bendable future iPhone that was never published before as a patent application under Apple's name. Apple must have kept it secret by filing it under their engineer's names and not under Apple to avoid detection. As another example of this tactic, here's an Apple engineer who filed a patent under his own name and Apple isn't yet shown on the filing publicly. When filed like this, no one can do a search on Apple patents and find it. It stays 'hidden' on purpose until it's granted because at that point Apple has to take possession of it. In this patent, Apple reveals the possible use of carbon nanotubes to facilitate their new smartphone form factor.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 noted above is a perspective view of an illustrative electronic device such as a future iPhone that bends along a flexible portion such as a flexible seam associated with a hinge.
Apple notes in their granted patent that one of the materials that could be used in this foldable/bendable iPhone form factor is ceramic. The first time that Apple considered this material for a future iPhone was discovered and published in our September 2016 patent report titled "Revealing Apple Patent Covers Ceramic Apple Watch and All-New Ceramic iPhone."
Apple notes in today's granted patent that "Electronic devices may be provided with carbon nanotube structures or other structures based on carbon (e.g., graphene structures, carbon-fiber structures having carbon fibers other than carbon nanotubes, etc.). Configurations in which the carbon-based structures are carbon nanotube structures are sometimes described herein as an example.
Carbon nanotube structures may include single-wall carbon nanotubes, multiple-wall carbon nanotubes, or mixtures of single-wall and multiple-wall carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes can form conductive paths for printed circuits or other flexible substrates such as substrates associated with touch sensors and displays and can form structural components in an electronic device.
Conductive carbon nanotube paths can form signal paths that are flexible and resistant to cracking.
The carbon nanotube structures may be incorporated into signal cables such as flexible printed circuit cables, rigid printed circuit boards, printed circuits that include rigid portions with flexible tails (sometimes referred to as "rigid flex"), portions of display structures, portions of touch sensors such as capacitive touch sensor arrays for displays or track pads, camera structures, antenna structures, housing structures, internal device structures, electrical components, substrates, brackets, housing walls, other structures, or combinations of these structures.
To help prevent cracks in the signal lines traversing bent portions of a flexible substrate from disrupting signal flow, some or all of these signal lines may include carbon nanotubes. The carbon nanotubes may be patterned to form carbon nanotube traces 62' as described in connection with FIGS. 11 and 12. Carbon nanotubes may also be combined with metal lines. Consider, as an example, the configuration of FIG. 17. As shown in FIG. 17, flexible substrate 182 may have a bend where flexible substrate 182 traverses angled edge 174 of support structure 180 between planar upper surface 176 of support structure 180 and planar side surface 178 of support structure 180. Flexible substrate 182 may be a carbon nanotube flexible printed circuit, a flexible substrate in a display, a flexible touch sensor substrate, or other suitable flexible structure. Flexible substrate 182 may have signal paths formed on a flexible polymer layer such as polymer layer 186 (e.g., a polyimide layer, etc.). A dielectric cover layer may cover the surface of substrate 182.
As shown in patent FIG. 17 above, flexible substrate #182 may have a bend where flexible substrate #182 traverses angled edge #174 of support structure #180 between planar upper surface #176 of the support structure and planar side surface #178 of the support structure. The flexible substrate may be a carbon nanotube flexible printed circuit, a flexible substrate in a display, a flexible touch sensor substrate, or other suitable flexible structure. The flexible substrate may have signal paths formed on a flexible polymer layer such as polymer layer #186 (e.g., a polyimide layer, etc.). A dielectric cover layer may cover the surface of the flexible substrate.
In the example of FIG. 17, carbon nanotubes #172 form a line segment that covers metal signal line #170 in a portion of the line that crosses over bent edge #174 of the support structure and the corresponding bend in flexible polymer layer. Configurations of the type shown in FIG. 17 may be used to allow signal lines to traverse a hinge or other flexible joint as illustrated in patent FIG. 2 above.
Apple's patent FIG. 9 is a diagram of illustrative equipment involved in forming carbon nanotube structures for an electronic device; FIG. 10 is a diagram of illustrative operations and equipment involved in forming carbon nanotube structures for a flexible substrate such as a flexible printed circuit.
Apple's granted patent 9,485,862 was filed in Q3 2014 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of granted patents with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each Granted Patent is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any Granted Patent should be read in its entirety for full details. About Making Comments on our Site: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit any comments.
II just wanted to take a moment to thank the many Twitter fans who supported this report.
Clarification to a few who are very confused: A flip phone folds vertically. A notebook folds horizontally. Apple's patent is not for a flip phone.