10 Crazy Phone Patents

Not all smartphone patents are boring. We've found some with far-out ideas.

Patent Law Isn't Always Boring

When I say "smartphone patent," you probably think "Apple trying to patent thin, rectangular shapes with flat surfaces." But not every smartphone patent is lame and/or boring--the files held by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office also have their wild side.

Amid the patents for boring innovations, such as slide-to-unlock and pinch-to-zoom, you can find patents and patent applications for crash-protected smartphones, phone alerts that ring your skin, and smartphones that look like they can fly.

Amazon Crash

Publication No.: 20110194230

Filed: February 11, 2010

Company: Amazon

Amazon may or may not be working on its own smartphone, but the online retailer definitely has some crazy ideas about how to protect phones from destruction when they accidentally kiss the pavement. Amazon's smartphone-protection scheme would detect when the device is being dropped and then deploy a safety mechanism to protect itself--mechanisms such as an airbag, springs, or jet-pack style thrusters.

Good Vibes

Publication No.: 20120184284

Filed: September 13, 2011

Company: Nokia

When your future Lumia phone rings, you may feel the vibration not in your pocket, but instead on the Tweety Bird painted on your forearm. Nokia recently filed a patent that would allow a phone to alert you using a tattoo or other marking to send a "perceivable stimulus to the skin." One shake means a friend; two pinches, it's your mom.

Seeing Double

Publication No.: 20120139939

Filed: February 15, 2012

Company: Microsoft

Microsoft has some very cool ideas for the future of mobile devices, including a dual-display device about the size of a playing card that can convert into two separate devices when needed. You could use this dual-display handset to talk to a person on one screen, and view a document on the other. Microsoft loves this idea, and you can see this concept in action in a company concept video from 2009.

Samsung Galaxy Wings

Publication No.: 20090170566

Filed: December 24, 2008

Company: Samsung

No, this is not a flying cell phone, but a concept for a mobile device from back when manufacturers hadn't yet given in to the software keyboard revolution that the iPhone initiated. Samsung's dual-keyboard design used springs to flick out of the sides of the device, switchblade style. BlackBerry maker Research In Motion had a similar idea about how to make a fold-out QWERTY keyboard.

Smartphone Cycle

Publication No.: 20070191729

Filed: July 6, 2006

Company: Samsung

A handheld device clearly meant to appeal to women, this phone would be capable of taking a body temperature reading whenever the user held the handset up to her ear. The body temperature data can then be used to help the user chart her ovulation cycle. Interesting idea, just be careful who you lend this handset to, or the phone could really skew your data. Samsung doesn't limit this idea to phones; the patent application suggests that its apparatus for temperature readings could be included in all kinds of devices such as MP3 players and laptops.


Patent No.: 7177604

Filed: December 31, 2002

Company: Nokia

Long before the iPhone and iPod Touch changed mobile gaming forever, phone makers such as Nokia were trying to figure out ways to make cell-phone gaming more entertaining. This patent covers a socket into which you could insert a stylus to create a makeshift joystick. Just don't be too rough or you might snap your stick.

Light Harness

Publication No.: 20100073791

Filed: September 19, 2008

Company: Apple

Sometimes it can be tough to view your laptop screen in direct sunlight. So Apple came up with the idea of using the power of the sun to give your display a brightness boost. To do this, Apple says your notebook could use a "light harness" that collects the light and then reflects it into the back of the screen.

Fold Out Tablet

Patent No.: 6577496

Filed: January 18, 2001

Company: Palm

The USPTO still lists this patent as assigned to Palm, but Hewlett-Packard is most likely the proud owner of this patent after acquiring Palm in 2010 for $1.2 billion. The patent describes a bendable display that could be used in many devices including in a candy bar-style phone that unfolds into a tablet. Note the pre-iPad stylus. Samsung in 2008 came up with a similar idea.

iPhone 3DS

Publication No.: 20120007850

Filed: July 7, 2010

Company: Apple

Forget about touching your iPhone screen; if Apple ever comes out with a 3D iPhone, you may be able to flick and swipe your way through the multidimensional device by just hovering your finger above the display. That would make it much easier to deal with pop-up, notification-style smartphone alerts.

Skin Flick

Publication No.: 20100259472

Filed: November 19, 2007

Company: Nokia

Nokia researchers just might be obsessed with using your skin as a device interface. Along with setting your tattoo to vibrate, another patent application covers a wearable remote control that can interact with your cell phone or other device based on how your skin moves. The remote control could be embedded into a sleeve, glasses, or anything else you put on your body. So the next time your tattoo rings, don't forget: one finger scrunch to answer the call, and two to ignore.

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