Apple acquires 26 finger print scanning patents from failed startup

26 of a tiny company’s 31 finger print scanning patents were recently transferred to Apple. How Apple plans to use the invention rights is not clear.

What is clear is that Apple has been watching Charlottesville, VA based Privaris, a biometric security company, for several years and, a company, reports Business Insider, which still exists but has not updated its website since 2009.

Why did Apple wait so long to make its portfolio move? (It had bought three patents from Privaris in 2012.) Did it have to acquire the patents to keep the portfolio out of the hands of competitors or NPEs?

Perhaps the Apple was biding its time to see who else was interested in the technology, or maybe there is know-how (trade secrets) associated with the inventions that it wants to control?

iPhone Improvement?

It has been reported that Privaris’ patents could potentially make the iPhone’s TouchID sensor more useful. For example, one of Privaris’ patents covers the ability to use a touchscreen and fingerprint reader at the same time. Another invention of Privaris’ could allow you to open a door with your iPhone by scanning your fingerprint and holding your phone up to a reader, similar to how you pay for items with Apple Pay.

“Armed with the ability to create a fingerprint scanner that resides beneath the iPhone’s touchscreen, but can still scan your finger through the phone’s display, Apple could finally be able to design an iPhone with logo_privarisan edge-to-edge screen.”

However, Apple doesn’t always create the technology it patents itself or acquires elsewhere, and has previously filed its own patent for a TouchID fingerprint sensor that sits underneath the touch screen of the iPhone or the iPad.

Patently Apple, a blog of unclear origins which usually waxes poetic about Apple inventions reports that, “According to [a] report, ‘Apple acquired its first three Privaris patents on December 19, 2012, and Apple bought most of the other Privaris patents in October 2014.’ Considering their website hasn’t been updated in four and half years, Apple has likely acquired the patents but not the company as the report suggests. It is not entirely clear what the relationship between Apple and Privaris is now, or will be in the future. The last transaction between the two firms closed in October 2014, and Apple bought its first three Privaris patents at the end of 2012.”

A CNN story takes the patent transfer as a sign of a planned acquisition. But why would Apple want the entire company if it has no apparent value? The company’s website also plusID90still lists Authentec, another biometric identity and security firm that Apple acquired in 2012, as a technology partner, Patently Apple reports.

However, MacRumours says that Privaris essentially shut down about five years ago, so Apple could just be buying the firm’s intellectual property.”The news section of the Pravaris’ site hasn’t been updated since 2009, and none of the company’s employees have changed their LinkedIn profiles to indicate that they now work at Apple.

Yours, Mine, Ours

Another possible reason for the Apple purchase: to keep these patents out of the hands of competitors like Samsung or Microsoft who would love to be able to license them to Apple or its competitors.

Should Privaris find itself insolvent and have to file for Chapter 11 relief, a possible scenario, a creditors committee could gain control of the patents (similar to Nortel or Kodak, but on a smaller scale) and either sell them for a good price to the highest bidder, or find an NPE partner to enforce them.

Either scenario could pose a challenge to the iPhone’s current leadership in biometrics. 

Image source: spie.org; prevaris.com

 

About Bruce Berman

IP trend spotter, consultant and author.

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