Apple Suppliers LG InnoTek and Corning Share Patents on a next-gen "Liquid Lens" that could replace the need for a Periscope Zoom Lens
In late March Xiaomi unveiled its first foldable smartphone branded the Mi Mix Fold to take on Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2. One of the unique aspects of their phone was the introduction of a "Liquid Lens" which uses a motor to precisely manipulate a packet of fluid, in order to switch between telephoto mode (3x optical zoom or 30x hybrid zoom) and macro mode (down to 3cm). The Liquid Lens is used in place of a periscope zoom folding lens currently used by Samsung.
In January Patently Apple posted a report about Apple patenting a periscope camera lens. It was rumored by Ming Chi Kuo in 2020 that Apple was lining up periscope lens suppliers. A Liquid Lens could be a viable alternative to a periscope lens. Below is a video of Xiaomi's Liquid Lens.
We're learning today from The Elec that Apple suppliers LG InnoTek and Corning are collaborating in the research of liquid lens and their patents prove that out The pair have reportedly decided to share 50/50 stakes in nine US patents related to liquid lens on April 5, 2021.
Corning decided to share stakes in six of its patents with LG InnoTek: the South Korean company shared stakes of three of its patents with the US firm.
In South Korea, LG InnoTek had six of its patents registered as co-owned with Corning; the US glass firm made one of its patents co-owned by the South Korean firm.
Out of the sixteen patents now co-owned by the pair, the core technologies listed on them include liquid lens system, how to control a camera lens that include a liquid lens, and lens curvature varying instrument.
Liquid lens fill vinyl bag shaped lens with liquid material. The lens goes in and out of focus by manipulating the curvature of the liquid lens with current or voltage.
Unlike current lens that made out of glass or plastic, the lens itself doesn’t have to move to control the focal length.
If liquid lens are commercialized, this could reduce the number of lens and the size of the lens in camera modules.
Current camera modules on smartphone use multiple lens with different curvatures. Around six to seven lens are stacked together. Some of the lens in the stack could be replaced with liquid lens, which will make overall lens thinner. The number of other accessory components to activate the lens and power consumption also decreases. This also allows camera lens design to become simpler and easier to manufacture.
LG InnoTek and Corning has been filing for patents related to liquid lens since 2017. According to Kipris, a patent portal run by the Korean Intellectual Property Office, there were a total of 131 patents related to liquid lens in South Korea __ 85 of them were owned by LG InnoTek. All of LG’s patents were filed since 2016. LG InnoTek and Coring had 30 and 11 related patents, respectively, in China as well.
liquid lens could see applications in smartphones, wearable devices, automotive cameras, virtual reality and augmented reality, among other areas.
Alternatively, a person familiar with the matter said LG InnoTek could be researching liquid lens to overcome its weakness in folded zoom. Samsung subsidiary Corephotonics currently owns multiple patents on folded zoom, which uses prism to bend the light. Currently, it is difficult for LG InnoTek to develop its own folded zoom technology that workaround these patents. For more on this, read the full report by The Elec.
The use of a "Liquid Lens" developed by Apple suppliers LG InnoTek and Corning could be an ideal solution for future iPhones and a means of sidestepping any potential legal confrontations with Samsung or Corephotonics that sued Apple back in May 2018 over the iPhone's dual camera lens.
At the very least its an alternative lens solution that Apple may consider using in the future.