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Apple Files Patent For "Active Stylus" For Use With Capacitive Touchscreens 112

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the smells-like-teen-wacom dept.
MojoKid writes "Apple may be looking to improve upon the stylus as we know it today. The Cupertino company filed a patent application with the USPTO for what it calls an 'Active Stylus,' which can be used on capacitive touch sensor panels like those found on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices. 'Unlike conventional styluses which work passively by blocking electric field lines between the drive and sense electrodes of a capacitive touch sensor panel, the styluses disclosed in the various embodiments of this disclosure can either act as a drive electrode to create an electric field between the drive electrode and the sense lines of a mutual capacitive touch sensor panel, or as a sense electrode for sensing capacitively coupled signals from one or more stimulated drive rows and columns of the touch sensor panel or both.' According to Apple, active styluses allow for more accurate input without driving up cost."
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Apple Files Patent For "Active Stylus" For Use With Capacitive Touchscreens

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  • I remember those (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:17PM (#42452929)

    When my grandparents were alive they had a box with one of those.
    It was made for teaching people traffic signs. You put an overlay on it and used the active stylus to touch one of the alternatives and the box would indicate green or red light depending on your answer.

  • Call me dumb... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mlts (1038732) * on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:17PM (#42452935)

    This reminds me of the old IBM light pens of yore... I really don't see much difference between this and those, or the wired pens that were used on old Gridpads in the early 1990s.

    What is old is new again, I guess.

    • Re:Call me dumb... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Reverand Dave (1959652) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:22PM (#42452997)
      Not so much want it old is new again as much as what was already invented has been slightly modified and swallowed by the patent glutton that is apple. Let the lawsuits begin!
    • by Firethorn (177587)

      This actually reminds me of a decade old piece of military equipment- think of a ruggedized, 2" thick tablet with a 3" screen. The 'neat' thing with the stylus for this device is that it doesn't actually have to touch the screen to work. Note: It's completely insensitive to fingers and such, you have to use the stylus, but that might be some sort of sensitivity setting.

      Plenty of prior art, I think.

      • by Synerg1y (2169962)
        Maybe not... I remember the first palm pads and such requiring a stylus, I think somewhere along the evolution of touch screens, fingers started working. I also remember owning a tablet much more recently that let me choose between finger input, stylus pen, or a compromise of both, but the only thing I ever found different between those 3 is trying to use a finger when it's set to stylus sensitivity, led to poor accuracy.
        • by mikael (484)

          Touch tablets have been around for ages. 8-bit home computers could always be connected to an RS-232 graphics tablet.
          Atari 800 had a touch tablet with Atari Paint. Wacom tablets have a stylus systems that is pressure and tilt/orientation sensitive.

          Palm pilot allowed you to enter letters using a unique shorthand squiggle shape for each letter. It was quite effective and allowed you to take notes as
          someone was speaking. Though, these days it's quicker just to record audio.

      • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:57PM (#42453375)

        This actually reminds me of a decade old piece of military equipment- think of a ruggedized, 2" thick tablet with a 3" screen. The 'neat' thing with the stylus for this device is that it doesn't actually have to touch the screen to work. Note: It's completely insensitive to fingers and such, you have to use the stylus, but that might be some sort of sensitivity setting.

        Plenty of prior art, I think.

        It reminds me of a centuries old piece of equipment called a "Pencil". They were heavily used while I was in school before being replaced by newer, sleeker technology. It was pressure sensitive, and though it would work on a multidue of surfaces, it worked best only on a specially formulated screen that we called "paper". Different styluses could be used for different effects (colors, darkness/thickness of lines, etc), but most people used the plain old #2. By inverting the stylus, it had some limited "undo" capability, but there were some ghosting artifacts left behind and excessive undo use could lead to screen damage.

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          It reminds me of a centuries old piece of equipment called a "Pencil". They were heavily used while I was in school before being replaced by newer, sleeker technology.

          They were replaced by newer tech because the price of the batteries you needed to keep them running was much higher than a complete new pencil. That meant most people simply threw them away when they were "empty". With newer LiPo batteries and lower power devices, it might be interesting to recreate these devices in rechargeable versions.

        • by nojayuk (567177)

          "It reminds me of a centuries old piece of equipment called a "Pencil"."

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_Pencil

      • by Scoth (879800)

        You're thinking of what was called an "active digitizer". It seems to have mostly been used by older Wacom tablets and Kurta. It was used by a lot of the older tablet PCs, such as the Fujitsu Stylistic and Toshiba Dynapad lines. The pen would have a battery (AAAA usually) and it'd work through some kind of electromagnetic thing. Was much nicer than the "passive digitizer" used by resistive touchscreens as it was a lot more accurate and allowed multiple buttons easily, pressure sensitivity, etc.

        It's rather d

      • I did capacitive coupling work with the intent of being able to reliably reproduce gestures.

        Google ended up building a robot which could do this.

        I wrote a small article about it prior to the Apple patent filing in a prosthetics forum.

        The article contents used to implement capacitive coupling for a gentleman in Germany with two Bochs brand artificial arms who had never been able to use the capacitive touchpad on his Thinkpad because of lack of capacitive coupling with the artificial limbs.

        I'd be willing to b

    • Re:Call me dumb... (Score:5, Informative)

      by alen (225700) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:38PM (#42453197)

      this is for capacitive screens

      you seem to not get the concept of patents. you can't patent an idea of a stylus but a specific implementation of it. in this case using a different type of stylus on a specific type of screen

      yes we have had these before, but this one is different. just like we've had 100 years of the combustion engine but car makers still get patents every year because they find new ways to squeeze more efficiency out of them.

      • I stand under correction here but I'm under the impression that the motor industry doesn't bother with patents much. I don't remember who told me that or where I heard it so I can't really substantiate it...
        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I know for a fact that the more significant motor industry inventions are patented. That's why there are more than three different implementations of each of variable valve timing and variable valve lift. Honda's VVTL mechanism is simplest and oldest, combining timing and lift adjustment in one mechanism, the others add lift adjusters onto existing VVT systems.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Theaetetus (590071)

          I stand under correction here but I'm under the impression that the motor industry doesn't bother with patents much. I don't remember who told me that or where I heard it so I can't really substantiate it...

          Not sure who you heard it from. It's false. [iptoday.com]

          In fact, one of the biggest Supreme Court decisions on patents in recent years, KSR v. Teleflex, was about patents around gas pedal sensors.

      • Re:Call me dumb... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by AmiMoJo (196126) * <.ten.3dlrow. .ta. .ojom.> on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @05:54PM (#42454709) Homepage

        So it is either too specific to be worth anything (since there are already lots of capacitative styli available for phones and tablets) or the patent office granted yet another overly broad patent on something that was invented years ago.

        Either way we lose.

      • Re:Call me dumb... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Shagg (99693) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @05:55PM (#42454723)

        you can't patent an idea

        That's the theory, but it doesn't seem to be enforced much.

    • No. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:39PM (#42453211)

      Did those things have an Apple logo on them?

      Nope.

      Therefore, they are NOT the same.

      Were the light pens called "iPen" or "iGridPad"?

      Nope.

      Therefore, they are NOT the same.

      Were those things stole....created with the divine direction of St. Steve Jobs?

      Nope.

      It's NOT the same!

      It's new and different.

      • by Quila (201335)

        Did those things "either act as a drive electrode to create an electric field between the drive electrode and the sense lines of a mutual capacitive touch sensor panel, or as a sense electrode for sensing capacitively coupled signals from one or more stimulated drive rows and columns of the touch sensor panel or both"?

        Nope. It's new and different. This is what patents are about. Apple's not claiming the stylus, but the specific technology that makes this stylus different from previous ones.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Do you actually understand what you're quoting at all?

          That quote you so nicely cherry picked is so ridiculously broad (and not to mention obvious) implementation of any sort of object to manipulate a capacitive touch screen.

          A capacitive touchscreen essetially creates a uniform electro-static field. Any sort of charged conductor (i.e. your finger) or "drive elctrode" has an electric field so that when you touch the electrostatic field, you essentially form a capacitor which is then measured by some sensor co

          • by Quila (201335)

            First, a capacitive screen only requires a conductive stick with a tip big enough to trip sense lines. This one generates a field to trip sense lines so the tip can be much smaller, which also prevents accidentally tripping multiple sense lines. Let's see, it has a method to allow more accuracy by having more sense lines (rows and columns), and a method to have multiple signals to allow the display to detect angle and roll. It also has a method for multiplexing the lines and stylus, so it will recognize a

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Did those things "either act as a drive electrode to create an electric field between the drive electrode and the sense lines of a mutual capacitive touch sensor panel, or as a sense electrode for sensing capacitively coupled signals from one or more stimulated drive rows and columns of the touch sensor panel or both"?

          Nope. It's new and different.

          As far as the first 1/2 of that quote is concerned that's pretty much how styluses for capacitive panels work, care to explain the second 1/2? You seem pretty convinced this is new and different so I assume you actually understand it.

          • by Quila (201335)

            As far as the first 1/2 of that quote is concerned that's pretty much how styluses for capacitive panels work

            No, it's not. Styli are normally a conductive stick when a tip that trips the sensors just as your conductive finger would. This one has a non-conductive tip and emits an electrical field that trips the sensors.

            The second half is that it can actually sense the capacitive sensors being tripped, so it has feedback.

        • by Richy_T (111409)

          I remember one exactly like this. You could even see the bumps of the sense lines embedded in the plastic. Damned if I can remember what it was or was attached to though.

  • Samsung sues Apple for capacitive stylus. Wouldn't Sammy win just based on prior art?!

    • No (Score:5, Informative)

      by oGMo (379) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:32PM (#42453107)

      The Galaxy Note [wikipedia.org] series use Wacom technology [wikipedia.org] which, according to Wikipedia, was patented and is now expired. This is separate from the touchscreen, and provides stuff like pressure, tilt, and multi-device support (though I'm not sure if the latter is supported on Samsung devices). In short, it works really well, it's well-proven, and it's not patentable.

      • After all these years, I thought I'd finally get a digital sketchbook that didn't weigh a ton like my (very very old) Stylistic tablet. And it turns out there's no decent sketchbook Apps. The closest would have been Sketchbook Pro (Autodesk) which was the first I looked at, since the windows version was great, but for some reason, it didn't even support little "features" like adjustable orientation (landscape only, nonetheless, making it fun to hold steady in one hand....)

        It was ridiculous. And without my s

      • The Galaxy Note [wikipedia.org] series use Wacom technology [wikipedia.org] which, according to Wikipedia, was patented and is now expired. This is separate from the touchscreen, and provides stuff like pressure, tilt, and multi-device support (though I'm not sure if the latter is supported on Samsung devices). In short, it works really well, it's well-proven, and it's not patentable.

        ... not patentable using the specific implementations used or disclosed by Wacom (or others). Other implementations that are new and nonobvious in view of the Wacom stuff are still patentable.

  • by swschrad (312009) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:21PM (#42452979) Homepage Journal

    (6951a) Application also defines a new stylus feature, in which the apparatus for holding stylus will either randomly release the stylus, or actively eject the stylus, depending on how important it would be in selection of one of the next features of software (see 976 d,e,g,zz et al) that may come up. Application claims trademark on the definition of this feature, Auto-Loss (tm), which is filed under separate registration for protection.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:23PM (#42453009) Homepage Journal
    I would say that St. Jobs must be rotating furiously in his grave by now, but I think the fact that this "innovation" is yet another example of Apple patenting stuff that already exists is probably enough to ease his restless spirit...
    • and they'll come up with the "iPalm iPilot". It will be all the rage. Every corporate slave will want one. Until Apple invents something even cooler - the "iBlackberry". Your iFuture will make the past look like the dark, dark ages, my friends.
    • I would say that St. Jobs must be rotating furiously in his grave by now...

      I don't know about that, but for sure he can't blush or try hard to keep a straight face about his "Who wants a stylus?" [youtube.com] remark from Macworld 2007!

      RT.

    • by gnupun (752725)

      I would say that St. Jobs must be rotating furiously in his grave by now, but I think the fact that this "innovation" is yet another example of Apple patenting stuff that already exists is probably enough to ease his restless spirit...

      Current styluses are passive (like your finger) and therefore require a fat tip to register on the display. Apple's active (generates electric field) stylus is an improvement so the tip can be much narrower than passive styluses making it more accurate for things like sketching on a touchscreen.

      Any improvement of existing technology can be patented, so this patent is valid and Apple can sue Samsung if they copycat this stylus.

      • Current styluses are passive (like your finger) and therefore require a fat tip to register on the display. Apple's active (generates electric field) stylus is an improvement so the tip can be much narrower than passive styluses making it more accurate for things like sketching on a touchscreen.

        Sooo.... something like this? [kickstarter.com]

        Looks like Apple's about a year too late to the game... that is, assuming this is not one of those times when "innovation" == "buying out a small company in order to claim their invention as our own."

        Of course, no American corporation would ever do such a thing, right?

        Any improvement of existing technology can be patented, so this patent is valid and Apple can sue Samsung if they copycat this stylus.

        Where the fuck does that come from? What, are you one of those fanboi's who just can't resist an opportunity to bash Samsung?

        If not, apologies for the misunderstanding (although I still don't get why you

  • by howardd21 (1001567) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:27PM (#42453051) Homepage
    I am bundling up and heading out! Which line do I stand in to buy one?
    • The one marked "people who could not be bothered to order online stand here".
      • by roc97007 (608802)

        ....which is a disturbingly large group, if the crowds at the store next to the Starbucks on the way to work are any indication. When Apple comes out with a new product, I have to skip coffee that morning.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In a third embodiment, in-phase/quadrature (IQ) demodulation at the sensor can be performed to circumvent the synchronization issue in a touch sensitive system where the stylus can act as a drive electrode. FIG. 6 illustrates exemplary sense circuitry 610. The sense circuitry 610 can sense a capacitance from conductive elements of a touch sensor panel that are capacitively coupled to the stylus. The stylus sensing circuitry 610 can include amplifier 670 to receive the capacitance reading from the panel, clock 640 to generate a demodulation signal, phase shifter 645 to generate a phase-shifted demodulation signal, mixer 633 to demodulate the capacitance reading with an in-phase demodulation frequency component, and mixer 687 to demodulate the capacitance reading with a quadrature demodulation frequency component. The demodulated results (i.e., the in-phase component 643 and the quadrature component 697) can then be used to determine an amplitude proportional to the capacitance. Essentially, IQ demodulation can eliminate the need to phase-synchronize the drive signal from the stylus and the output signal from the touch sensor panel. However, frequency matching may still be required in this embodiment so that the stylus can be driving at the same frequency at which the touch sensor panel is listening.

    Did they really just sneak a claim for IQ mod/demod in there? Something just about every single SDR uses and I'm sure plenty of other active receiver transmitter architectures use.

  • cost not going up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by P-niiice (1703362) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:30PM (#42453087)
    "According to Apple, active styluses allow for more accurate input without driving up cost."

    Yes, cost, but not price. That's going to be driven up quite nicely, thank you.
  • protecting the inventor yet again! Attaboy USPTO!
    Whoda thunk you could put circuitry in a stylus? NOT ME!!
    http://www.c64-wiki.com/index.php/Light_pen [c64-wiki.com]
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/electronic+stylus [thefreedictionary.com]
    http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=4gpN4EILwz8 [youtube.com]
    etc
    etc
    etc

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      Two minor points. By "minor", I really mean "critical".

      The USPTO doesn't control whether you can file a patent. You can file pretty much anything you want, even if there's blatantly prior art. They're only in charge of whether you're awarded the patent. Check the summary to see which one this is!

      The claims are not for any stylus containing circuitry, but for a much more specific invention.

      • The claims are not for any stylus containing circuitry, but for a much more specific invention.

        Not that much more specific:

        1. An active stylus, comprising: an electrode at a tip of the stylus; and powered circuitry coupled to the electrode and configured for capacitively coupling the electrode with a capacitive touch sensor panel.

        Of course, this is just the initial application, so Claim 1 could be changed or dropped, leaving only some of the more specific dependent claims.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      You have to make sure it is usable on a portable device.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_SX-64 [wikipedia.org]
  • Look, we've had a good technology that produced fairly precise readings for years. It's called (...drumroll...) "resistive touchscreens". Unfortunately, Apple made capacitive touchscreens trendy & cool, and left those among us who need higher-resolution input handicapped and crippled.

    Why, for the love of God, Xenu, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, can't someone like Otterbox just laminate a resistive touchscreen onto the Defender's screen guard, add some active electronics & an independent small ba

    • They make resistive screens that aren't complete shit?
      • by aXis100 (690904)

        They are often great with a stylus, it's just that they have poor sensitivity when used with fingers.

        So keep both - capacative for low accuracy sensitive finger control, and a resistive screen for accurate stylus control. It's not rocket science.

        • ^^^ Exactly. Capacitive is ok for blunt selections, but are pure agony for precise selection. Personally, I used to solve both problems by slightly shaping my right index finger into a subtle, blunt point so it worked nicely as an adhoc stylus.

          OK, I'll be honest... I'm a hardcore Graffiti user, and the official version for Android seems to be getting worse and worse by the year... partly due to apps that try to do Ajax lookups after each stroke, partly due to over-aggressive CPU governors that treat the app

  • okay so you have 40cents worth of "stuff" in a stylus which means exactly WHAT?

    1 you can fake pressure sensing by turning up the gain

    2 you can do a 1 "finger" pinch/zoom by slewing the "clock"

    3 you can get down to Retina Pixels

    or what exactly??

  • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:47PM (#42453289) Homepage Journal

    One of the nice things about the Wacom tablets (typing this while looking into a 21" Wacom Cintiq) is that the stylus doesn't require any power. A quick glance at the patent application above has me seeing "power source" in the pen. I'm not that enthused.

    I realise my Cintiq is damned expensive so the criticism above might not apply fully, but I don't feel I'm losing out on accuracy with my non-"Active Stylus" device.

    • by jepaton (662235)

      The pen for Wacom tablets is powered from the tablet itself. This is how pressure detection and buttons can work on the pen.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wacom#Technology [wikipedia.org]

      The Apple patent states:

      "Additionally, the sense circuitry 704 can be connected to a power source 706, such as a battery, built in the stylus. In another embodiment, power can be supplied from a power source in another electronic device, such as a touch sensing device, via a cable connecting the stylus to the device, or via inductive coupling.".

      • by FrankSchwab (675585) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:14PM (#42453545) Journal

        A company I used to work for lost a patent battle with Wacom about those self-powered pens. We ended up having to use powered pens to avoid their patent.

        The whole field of digitizers - which grew up in the '70s and reached it's peak in the '80s and is used now in devices like the Smart board (http://smarttech.com/smartboard) - explored active stylii extensively. RF, Capacitive, and Resistive digitizers were all invented, explored, patented in those eras. It would be very surprising if this invention doesn't duplicate patents that issued thirty years ago.

        Innovation, indeed.

        • by nuonguy (264254)

          Hey! No one cares!

          We're here to hate on apple. Keep your history and information to yourself. Unless you can use it to make us hate on apple some more.

          • by Raenex (947668)

            Unless you can use it to make us hate on apple some more.

            Got blinders on? He said, "It would be very surprising if this invention doesn't duplicate patents that issued thirty years ago."

    • I realise my Cintiq is damned expensive so the criticism above might not apply fully, but I don't feel I'm losing out on accuracy with my non-"Active Stylus" device.

      Really? I see lots of ways that my current non-"Active Stylus" could be improved, though I'm not sure if this "Active stylus" addresses them all. Being able to measure pressure angle would be helpful. I suppose "pressure" could be measured by having a smooshable tip and having the touchscreen be able to measure the surface area of contact, but that could still run into problems if you're using fingers/styluses of varying sizes and smooshiness.

      I've been thinking, though, that there's potential in even ge

      • by Rakishi (759894)

        Huh? The Cintiq can measure pressure, angle of contact, if a button on the pen is pressed and which end of the pen is used with a resolution that is damn near unbeatable.

  • Yes Steve Jobs, Apple has been blowing it since you left the world.

  • HTC [cnet.com] is priming it's legal team as we speak
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hasn't WACOM done this for years with their pens?

    Perhaps the only thing changed in the patent is capacitive instead of inductive?

  • by ichthus (72442) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:57PM (#42453373) Homepage
    Prior art here [wikipedia.org]

    The uDraw is capacitive, not resistive. I know, because I work for the company whose capacitive ASIC is in the uDraw.

    Also, anyone who's signed their signature at a point of sale terminal (credit card swipe machines in grocery/hardware stores) that isn't resistive, has seen prior art.
  • by ByteSlicer (735276) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:05PM (#42453445)

    iLiner

  • The 1990's called and want their stylus's back, they also thought touchscreen was the rage now, you were lording over it during the 2000's.

    • And if the MS surface steals market share, Apple will hastily develop an iPad/MacbookAir hybrid looking eerily similar to the eMate 300.

      An Apple product with a stylus - we're back to where we were 15 years ago with the Newton. Sculley was right after all?! :-)

  • Active styli are hardly new. There are many good active styli, mostly for serious artists. [nytimes.com] The best sense both pressure and angle. Some have buttons for airbrush-like use. Some come in groups, so you can have a different stylus for each color.

    The i[Phone|Pad] is poorly suited for stylus use, because it's intended to sense fat fingers, and there's a minimum contact width of about 4mm. So the business ends of Apple-compatible styli are blunt instruments, more like erasers than pen points.

    • Personally I like the graphics tablets best for precision work. I got one for my wife a couple of years ago (for doing quilt design) and they are great little devices but a bit on the spendy side ($50 to $100 for a decent one). For what they are meant to be used for they are awesome devices and I have taken to using it when I am touching up photos or doing GIS work as it makes things easier.
  • This doesn't sound like an original idea at all! At best this is an incremental upgrade to a stylus, easily foreseen by earlier 'real' inventions. Eliminate all patents, the system just isn't working. The only people who think the system is working are patent lawyers because they've never been busier! Of course they love the current system, they're all getting rich on it!
  • The wife of a friend of mine has been using one of those on the iPad 1 for a few years now. She doesn't like touching the screen with her fingers.
    Oh and see here: http://www.theverge.com/2012/4/10/2925937/best-stylus-ipad-review [theverge.com]

  • This is probably part of the wearable device Apple is working on. Most likely believed to be a watch. I had a Citizen Calculator watch a long time ago that used a stylus. As I understand it Apple and Intel are working on this watch or wrist device together.

  • When you can just use a sausage [tomsguide.com].
  • How is this different behind the tech used in the Galaxy Note, which is also an "Active Stylus", in that it is not just one of those imprecise capacitive-pen things, it is actually very precise with a fine tip?

For God's sake, stop researching for a while and begin to think!

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