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Apple Patent To Safeguard 911 Cellphone Calls

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the in-case-of-seizure-please-shake-your-iphone dept.

Cellphones 226

MojoKid writes "Engineers from Apple have applied for a patent on an 'emergency' mode for cell phones that would squeeze every last drop of energy out of the batteries. The phone would recognize emergency calls when the user dialed an emergency number, such as 911 in the United States. But another number could also be stored as an 'emergency number' on the phone (a spouse, child, or parent, for example) or the user could manually put the phone in emergency mode. The process would do a variety of things. It would disable 'non-essential hardware components' and applications on the phone, reduce power to the screen and potentially reduce the phone's processor speed. It also would make it harder to disconnect the call and enable 'emergency phrase buttons' on the phone."

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226 comments

Great. Just amazing. (4, Funny)

Deltaspectre (796409) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320187)

Now when I pocket dial 911 there's even less chance of me pocket-disconnecting and more chance of my phone spouting emergency phrases!

Re:Great. Just amazing. (4, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320287)

A big problem for you?

Re:Great. Just amazing. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320673)

Yes, this is a problem. I've known people with non-flip style phones who have accidentally dialed 911 while the phone is in their pocket. Even if you have your keypad locked, you can still dial 911. If the keypad gets hit, bumped, or stressed in the right way while in your pocket, it can manage to dial 911 and connect you without you knowing.

Heaven forbid that you'd find out and try to disconnect the call.

Re:Great. Just amazing. (2, Insightful)

Smurf (7981) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321009)

Mmmmm... Do you realize that pocket dialing on an iPhone is way, way harder?

Hints: The special gesture to unlock the phone. The fact that you normally have to navigate to the phone app and the numeric keypad (easy when you intend to, hard too do by accident. And, specially, the fact that the touch screen doesn't work through cloth.

Re:Great. Just amazing. (3, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321201)

It takes special talent to do it with a normal phone. I mean, shocker of all shockers, I carried a candy bar phone for a couple of years and never accidentally dialed, let alone accidentally dialed 911.

Re:Great. Just amazing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320837)

Egocentric bastard!
I've called 112 once by a pocket call. I sure hope no-one died because of it.

First post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320199)

#srb2fun sucks.

Not too bad.. (4, Insightful)

log0n (18224) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320203)

Actually doesn't seem like that bad of an idea for a patent. Granted the system is full of abuse, but at least this one is well intentioned and could save a life.

Re:Not too bad.. (4, Insightful)

GrpA (691294) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320247)

You mean only save the lives of iPhone users... Everyone who chooses a different phone will be punished to death for their arrogance...

Sadly, this scenario seems more likely IMO given Apple.

After all, if they intended to patent it "to stop others blocking it" they could just as easily have made it into prior art and it would have been cheaper to do.

GrpA

Re:Not too bad.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320317)

I dunno.. OTHER phones have batteries that are easily replaceable by the end-user (almost always way cheaper than Apple's $85.95 per battery change, too; and phone internal memory doesn't get wiped), so they can swap their failing battery for a new one and not end up needing this "emergency 911 mode" because they couldn't afford the new battery (or going without their precious iPhone for a few days).

This "new" development by Apple sounds like a pretty complicated way to fix an easily fixable design flaw in their phones....

Re:Not too bad.. (2, Insightful)

rpopescu (1563191) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320541)

So, like, if you've been injured, the first thing you do before calling 911 is changing the battery in your mobile. Also, your non-Apple phone allows you, like all phones which are not made by Apple of course, to replace the battery during the call, should you notice you're battery's running out...

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

hattig (47930) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320807)

This is absolutely ridiculous.

Firstly, the vast majority of people don't actually own a spare phone battery, those that do are a minority (often business travellers) and they won't have the spare with them on a day to day basis. Therefore the common user benefits from having a larger battery that lasts longer (a LiPo instead of a LiIon for example).

As for the memory getting wiped - you just resync with your computer. Really, how many people end up in life-or-death situations that necessitate eeking the last juice from the phone battery, when they are travelling home from the Apple store?

The other ideas, like "I can't speak" buttons, are genuinely useful for emergency calls.

Re:Not too bad.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28321027)

My phone has run out of juice many times, on the way home at the end of the day. Yes, its an iphone, and the batter is starting to go south, but if I forget to charge it at work, it dies on the way home sometimes, depending on what I have done during the day. Suppose something happens to me on the way home and I need to dial 911.... Something like this would let me still make a 911 call, even if briefly to get help from a phone that is otherwise dead. Its a good idea. All phones should do this. I actually keep a Kensington external battery in my car, pull it out and re-charge every few weeks. If the phone dies, and I need it (and I have on occasion, though not for emergency) I just plug that into the bottom, give it a few minutes, and I can make a call. Charges the battery about 75%, then I just carry it into the house and charge that with the phone that night. Still a good idea

Re:Not too bad.. (4, Informative)

Theaetetus (590071) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320617)

After all, if they intended to patent it "to stop others blocking it" they could just as easily have made it into prior art and it would have been cheaper to do.

(Not that Apple is using this as a defensive measure, but if they were...) what's the easiest way to "make it into prior art"? And before you say "publish it", what's the easiest way to make it into prior art that the USPTO will be guaranteed to search? Easiest way is to file a nonprovisional application, let the USPTO publish it, and then abandon the app. Examiners always search the USPTO database for prior art... They don't always search other journals. So, while publishing it would help Apple invalidate a patent on this if someone else got the patent and sued for infringement, they would still have to go to court and fight an uphill battle - granted patents are presumed valid.

So, other than a Statutory Invention Registration, the next best way to get something to be guaranteed prior art against anyone else is to file a nonprovisional and let the PTO publish.

Re:Not too bad.. (3, Insightful)

TheSambassador (1134253) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320621)

Just because Apple has a patent on it, it doesn't mean that other phones won't have it. They may have to pay royalties, but most things on cell phones are patented.

They're not going to be "punished to death for their arrogance," if their phone didn't have it then they're in the same situation as everybody right now, and probably most of the people with phones. This is an extra feature... if people want it, they can buy phones with it.

I don't think see most people using this as an "emergency" such as a life-threatening situation. I see people using this as an "emergency" as in they're wasted and their phone is dead and they need to call for somebody to pick them up, or the "emergency" of being bored with a dead phone.

Re:Not too bad.. (3, Insightful)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320687)

You mean only save the lives of iPhone users... Everyone who chooses a different phone will be punished to death for their arrogance...

Ah, but we can't assume that such measures would exist without apple. If not having this does so much damage, perhaps we should be thankful that it exists at all, that we even have an option of using it.

Re:Not too bad.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320983)

Non-iPhone users just put in their spare batteries and are good to go.

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

WiiVault (1039946) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320995)

While I see your point. It is important to realize that most successful patent trolls today are able to secure their patents even with existing prior art. Apple would be unwise to rely on that since they themselves have been victims of many trolls who have patented things Apple did years ago like folders, or transferring data over a network.

Re:Not too bad.. (5, Insightful)

MLCT (1148749) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320249)

but at least this one is well intentioned and could save a life.

Not if phone manufacturers are dissuaded from adding this feature because they would either have to pay Apple royalties or risk being sued by them. In that case the fact that it has been patented may actually cost lives.

If Apple came out and guaranteed royalty free licensing for all then it would be a positive move for society.

Re:Not too bad.. (3, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320297)

Not if phone manufacturers are dissuaded from adding this feature because they would either have to pay Apple royalties or risk being sued by them. In that case the fact that it has been patented may actually cost lives.

The obvious counter argument is that it wouldn't have been worked on in the first place because it would have given them no competitive advantage without the patent, so the 'life saving feature' would never have been developed, and those "lives would not have saved".

Re:Not too bad.. (3, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320331)

The obvious argument is that we've had phones that do that, they've just gone out of favor as cell phone companies have largely stopped releasing basic phones.

With the added bonus of not having to pay patent ransom or waste battery with bullshit functions you didn't really want in the first place.

Re:Not too bad.. (3, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320577)

The obvious argument is that we've had phones that do that, they've just gone out of favor as cell phone companies have largely stopped releasing basic phones.

Those aren't affected because they don't violate the patent. The patent covers shutting down extraneous features, not 'not having them to begin with'.

With the added bonus of not having to pay patent ransom or waste battery with bullshit functions you didn't really want in the first place.

So buy one of those phones then, if you want one. They are still out there.

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320783)

The obvious argument is that we've had phones that do that, they've just gone out of favor as cell phone companies have largely stopped releasing basic phones.

With the added bonus of not having to pay patent ransom or waste battery with bullshit functions you didn't really want in the first place.

But we don't have phones that do this. Just because those features are useless to you doesn't mean they're useless to everybody. By allowing a phone to have apps and services with the added bonus of low power mode in emergency situations, Apple is letting you have your cake and eat it too! Your solution equates to: "don't eat cake."

Re:Not too bad.. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28321011)

no, dipshit, his solution equals "buy a slice of bread". It'd be very nice to have a simple, cheap, mechanically sound cell phone. Can I get one? No. I can't. I can get a razr that does all sorts of shit I don't want to pay for. I don't need a VGA screen on my cell phone. Seriously, about 2 lines of characters would do just fine. I don't need java on a cellphone. How about a lighter processor that uses less battery. I don't want to take shitty, grainy pictures with my phone. I want something that can take a drop into a puddle with good call quality. Nothing else. I'm not even that interested in super battery life, or super 911 or any of that bullshit.

Re:Not too bad.. (3, Informative)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321213)

Can I get one?

Of course you can. Try shopping for one.

You could buy a Motorola V180 or a C139 for example.

no memory card slot
no edge (high speed internet)
no wifi
no bluetooth
no camera

Granted both sport a color display, but seriously, who cares? Its not using much juice or adding to the cost. These are both available for under US$50.00 with no contract.

I want something that can take a drop into a puddle with good call quality.

So buy a $20 rubber waterproof case for whatever unit you settle on.

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321221)

What's funny is, Nokia used to make a phone just like that (maybe they still do). Presumably you don't see them around because they don't sell well. Why wouldn't they sell well? Well if a prospective purchaser has to choose between two phones, both of which are "free" with a 3 year contract, it makes more sense to pick the phone that has a larger feature set, on the off chance that you might use those features in the future. Sure, you don't need the crappy camera, but who knows, someday you might be in a car accident and want to take pictures of the scene or something.

Also, don't knock the razr, man. I accidentally ran one through the washing machine, and it still runs.

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320785)

With the added bonus of not having to pay patent ransom or waste battery with bullshit functions you didn't really want in the first place.

It's become quite difficult to avoid adds for the Jitterbug -
at least as you approach a certain age.

But the feature-rich multifunction cell phone sells. It solves too many problems - and eliminates too many other gadgets that you would otherwise be carrying.

The cell phone can be your navigator, your portable radio, your game machine, your video player and your access to the web.

Re:Not too bad.. (3, Insightful)

YourExperiment (1081089) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320437)

"Worked on"? While it's easy to say this with hindsight, all of the ideas that make up this "emergency mode" are pretty obvious. It did not require anyone to "work on" them. The patent covers the fact that the phone will do these things (the easy part), not the technical details of how it will do them (the hard part).

I have no objection to Apple protecting the hardware and software that allows their phone to do these things. I object to them being able to stop others from implementing these obvious ideas without paying royalties, and thereby ensuring that less phones will have these features in the long run than would otherwise be the case.

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

Speed Pour (1051122) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320531)

This is one of the problems with the patent system (yes, I know, everybody likes to say that). They are patenting the idea, not a process or design. For once Apple came up with a legitimately good idea, and they are almost certainly going to abuse it. If they want to patent the process or design, which was the intent of the patent system, it wouldn't be a problem....other companies would certainly develop the same concept with their own handsets (which wouldn't match the iphone design for a number of obvious reasons).

With so many companies backing down on certain patents in the name of not being purely despicable (ie. IBM), Apple should announce this one is a patent they will only hold in name only and demand no licensing.

If they insist on the licensing, I would love to see the hacker communities (xda & android probably the most capable) take a step to duplicate the functions. Even if Apple decides to do the wrong thing, there's no reason to allow them to hold an exclusive.

Re:Not too bad.. (2, Insightful)

DannyO152 (544940) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320565)

I think this is a sensible idea - it is software as is any process where a program assesses a situation, so it shouldn't be patentable in my opinion - and I hope that this is being patented defensively and will be implemented widely.

Can you do that? (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320329)

Can you patent something and then guarantee royalty-free licensing? Maybe even no-need-to-ask, "cite and go" licensing or something like that? If so, we should be cranking these out 24x7!

Re:Not too bad.. (2, Insightful)

whisper_jeff (680366) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320373)

I doubt they'll grant royalty free use but I do suspect they'll assure competitors "you don't get twitchy with your patent portfolio and we won't get twitchy with ours." Sorta like most major companies already do - using patents as defense against other company's patents...

Re:Not too bad.. (2, Interesting)

kelzer (83087) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320593)

There are plenty of patents related to automobile airbags. Hasn't stopped them from becoming pervasive.

These days patents aren't about differentiating your product, they're about protecting yourself from infringement charges from others through cross-licensing agreements. The bigger your patent portfolio, the more leverage you have.

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

adisakp (705706) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320703)

Not if phone manufacturers are dissuaded from adding this feature because they would either have to pay Apple royalties or risk being sued by them.

There are plenty of patents on airbags, stability control, intermittent wipers, antilock breaks, etc. for the safety features on cars. That doesn't stop manufacturers from offering those features.

Re:Not too bad.. (2, Informative)

skroops (1237422) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320719)

If Apple came out and guaranteed royalty free licensing for all then it would be a positive move for society.

Are you serious? Why would apple invest time and money in developing a technology only to give it away for free? The entire submission is a troll. There are literally thousands [patentstorm.us] of patents on 911 technologies. Just because 911 is a public service doesn't mean that it exists in a vacuum of altruism; people still spend money and make money deploying and developing these technologies, so naturally there are patents. And like any other market, if it is useful and desired by the consumer, it should be profitable, and then the company that made it makes money. I know it's trendy to demonize contemporary corporations --especially when it comes to patents-- but this is how capitalism works ... this is the USA.

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

kgruscho (801766) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320869)

It would also be excellent PR for apple to provide this to the community. I could easily see them giving this away. It would be entirely in accordance with their brand that markets itself on: innovation, thinking different, being green.

I do that they would expect to get more iphone sales by adding this feature, but by developing this feature better and before everyone else, their brand looks great.

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

Jamu (852752) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320319)

Unless there's a bug in the system. In which case, your phone stops working when you need it the most. I can't help thinking that better power saving in normal operation might be a better solution. Easier to find bugs in normal operation too.

Re:Not too bad.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320341)

You know, this is a great idea. It's so great, that it should probably be mandatory for all phones.
Yet I was wondering, what if the guy that patented the safety belt would had asked for a substantial fee from all the car manufacturers?

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320461)

What's the discovery, invention, or innovation here? Degraded mode operation has been around for many, many years now.

Seems to fail the obvious test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320511)

My dumber cellphone already has 911 modes. My dumber cellphone already warns me when power is low. My smarter computer already has power failure modes as do so many embedded systems. How is making a cellphone with 911 and power failure modes not obvious?

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

JustOK (667959) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320669)

But, then, they probably have something in the EULA.where you'd probably have to pay some sort of fee to Apple for the rest of your life.

Re:Not too bad.. (1)

iamhassi (659463) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320827)

"Actually doesn't seem like that bad of an idea for a patent. "

As strange as this may sound I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I recently purchased a touchscreen Windows Mobile 6.1 smartphone and shortly after had a dream where I needed to dial 911 but key hitting the wrong touchscreen keys. I have a hard time when it's not an emergency, with the screen not recognizing input, adding or leaving out digits, so I can easily see where it would be very tough during and emergency, even if it is just three numbers.

I'm glad to see someone had the insight to recognize this could be a problem and to try and do something about it. I'm disappointed in both Google and Microsoft for not recognizing the need for something like this, especially Microsoft since they've had smartphones for many more years than Apple.

Re:Not too bad.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28321155)

Yeah, same happens to me.

and sometimes it even gets worse, the phone crashes or something stupid happens.

I patent super emergency mode (3, Funny)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320209)

That would squeeze the last drop of energy out of the batteries, by stabbing them and causing a small explosion to attract help.

Re:I patent super emergency mode (3, Funny)

jo42 (227475) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320235)

That's called "smoke signal mode". I believe indigenous North American peoples have prior art on this...

So people not using an iPhone won't be able to it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320219)

So, if I get this straight, patenting this 'technique' will make sure that people who choose to buy a non-apple phone wont be able to call emergency services untill the last drop of battery power unless the other phone manufacturers break this patent.
Patenting something like this sounds pretty irresponsible to me...

Re:So people not using an iPhone won't be able to (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320527)

You mean other manufacturers phones will continue to work the same way they work today because they didn't spend time thinking about features like this? Sounds pretty irresponsible to me.

Re:So people not using an iPhone won't be able to (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320801)

So, if I get this straight, patenting this 'technique' will make sure that people who choose to buy a non-apple phone wont be able to call emergency services untill the last drop of battery power unless the other phone manufacturers break this patent.

No one has to break the patent.

They only have to solve the problem on their own.

Screams "action movie" (5, Funny)

Norsefire (1494323) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320223)

The protagonist is being tracked using GPS locked onto their phone, they realise this and dial 911 which puts the phone into a low power state and kills the GPS signal.

Trust me, it's a lot more exciting than just turning the phone off.

Re:Screams "action movie" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320313)

The protagonist is being tracked using GPS locked onto their phone, they realise this and dial 911 which puts the phone into a low power state and kills the GPS signal. Trust me, it's a lot more exciting than just turning the phone off.

Trust me, fucking your mother is a lot more exciting than just jacking off.

Re:Screams "action movie" (2, Interesting)

mrstrano (1381875) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321007)

It might be better to keep the GPS on in situations of 'extreme' distress. Let's assume you are so sick you can't even talk. Then when you call 911 the phone might recognize you are not talking and synthetise a message saying for example 'The owner of this phone appears to be in extreme distress and at this moment the GPS says that he is at X address. Please send an ambulance at the address'.

You could apply the same concept to action movies too. Like Jack Bauer being trapped and unable to talk that calls CIA head quarters :)

Re:Screams "action movie" (2, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321193)

Like Jack Bauer being trapped and unable to talk that calls CIA head quarters

Also known as Kiefer Sutherland drunk dialing.

Is a Good Idea = a patent? (4, Insightful)

Teun (17872) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320251)

I have trouble accepting this type of Good Idea needs to be patentable.

But then, when the same institution makes computer algorithms patentable maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

This is very much comparable to the One Click fiasco, you get a couple of desirable but common applications linked to a single action and Bingo!

"Ideas" should not be patentable (3, Insightful)

volpe (58112) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321005)

Patents should cover an apparatus or method (the "how"), not the idea (the "what").

Every patent application should first identify the "what", and then identify the "how". If the "how" is obvious after being told the "what", then the "invention" is obvious, no matter how novel or non-obvious the "what" is.

Don't cry wolf (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320263)

There is a little girl in a red riding hood that needs help. Here is a real life story: http://vimeo.com/3514904 [vimeo.com]

She is under attack from a wolf, and would need a phone, without patent restrictions.

Will Apple's move have that girl killed? What do the iPhone dudes think of, really?

I'm off to patent breathing (1)

youn (1516637) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320281)

sounds like a good business idea too....

are they ever gonna fix the patent system?

Eh.. (1)

rcbuse (669424) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320299)

From a software standpoint, I think the last thing I want my phone doing when I dial 911 is disabling hardware components, killing applications and reducing the phone's processor speed. Seems like thats ripe for the phone just locking up on me. I would much rather it just keep running in the mode it spends 99.9% of its time in.

Batteries only have so much power. (1)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320339)

It is measured in Amps or Milliamps usually in the case of cell phone batteries. Once the juice is gone its gone you can't magically make more through software.
I have a two year old Samsung and when the battery gets low it turns off the little beep when you press a key and it turns down the brightness on the LCD. And how do you make a call harder to disconnect? Does Apple have special cell towers for the I-Phone or are they using the same shitty towers everyone else is. Leave it to Apple to try and sell/patent a feature that other phone companies have incorporated into their phones for years.

Re:Batteries only have so much power. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320363)

The disconnect button will move around on the touch-screen.

Re:Batteries only have so much power. (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320557)

There's 2 (configurable) levels of importance. One level, the disconnect button is disabled (the call won't disconnect until the other party hangs up, you run out of battery, or the connection is lost). The other requires you to confirm after you hit the disconnect button.

Re:Batteries only have so much power. (2, Informative)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320655)

It is measured in Amps or Milliamps usually in the case of cell phone batteries. Once the juice is gone its gone you can't magically make more through software.

Power isn't measured in amps, and also isn't the same thing as battery capacity.

Battery capacity is measured in milliamp-hours (even though does not allow direct comparison, in terms of stored energy, between batteries of different voltages), where 1 mAh would allow one milliamp to be drawn for one hour before the battery dies. If you can draw less current (fewer milliamps), you can get more running time (more hours, making up the same number of mAh), and this is how the software "makes more juice": it turns off various non-vital hardware, and presumably turns off non-vital software, meaning the processor is in power-save mode more of the time.

It's not about getting more power from the battery so much as reducing the amount of power you get from the battery.

Re:Batteries only have so much power. (1)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320867)

Thats funny my truck, boat and camper all have batteries who's capacity is measured by amps. The electric trolling motor uses 250 amps an hour so if I have a battery with 1000 amps the motor will run for 4 hours.
And mAh is a silly measure kind of like a carpenter using board feet ( 1 inch x 12 inch x 12 inch). Board feet come in real handy when you are trying to figure out how many 2x4's you need for a project (2x4 is 1.5x3.5 inches). So while board feet is a technically correct way to measure lumber it is highly impractical.

This should not be exempt from patentability (5, Interesting)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320389)

Many posters have already suggested that this should not be patentable because it's a potentially life-saving feature. Critical reflection shows why that argument does not hold much water.

A new treatment or cure for a fatal disease is also life-saving, but few would argue that drugs should not be patentable.

Alternatively, consider the invention of the automatic external defibrillator. This is also a life-saving device, and much of its utility stems from software and an effective user interface (e.g., spoken commands to the user), but there are no calls to force AED technology into the public domain.

Careful reading of the patent application shows that its essential features could be replicated on any smart phone and a subset could even be implemented on a non-smart phone. The fact that phone manufacturers have not implemented these features in the decade or so that it would have been possible to do so suggests two possibilities: One, that the features are actually not that useful or important; Two, that the features and their implementation here are actually far from obvious.

If the former is the case, then we shouldn't care about the application because it pertains to something of such limited value that the dozens of phone manufacturers and telecom companies never saw fit to implement it. If the latter is the case, then Apple is rightly to be rewarded for developing a useful feature and, presumably, bringing it to market. Without patent protection, Apple is much less likely to invest time and effort developing new features for its products, including potentially life-saving features like this one.

Finally, I think we should withhold our ultimate judgment until the patent is granted or denied. The examination process may turn up prior art that blocks the application entirely or it may cause the claims to be substantially narrowed. Faced with a less than optimal patent, Apple may abandon the application. This story is a bit like judging a piece of software based on an alpha version.

Re:This should not be exempt from patentability (1)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320491)

AED's are not a common device like a cell phone and should only be used by people trained and with a ticket to use them not Joe-blow member of the public. This is not the case with cell phones considering the technology to dim the LCD screen (it's a voltage change, lower the voltage dim the screen duh) has always been around and was not invented by Apple.

Re:This should not be exempt from patentability (2, Insightful)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320671)

AED's are not a common device like a cell phone and should only be used by people trained and with a ticket to use them not Joe-blow member of the public.

Common enough that they are in virtually every mall, casino, and airport in the US. But that's ultimately beside the point: that Apple's life-saving invention can be used by just about anyone actually argues in favor of its non-obviousness because it's harder to develop effective technologies that everyone can use. For example, despite years of development and lots of potential value, no one has yet developed an AED that can be safely used by someone who has no training.

Regarding the screen dimming: the patent does not claim all uses of voltage lowering to dim the LCD. It claims only the use of this power-saving feature when an emergency call is placed.

Re:This should not be exempt from patentability (1)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320981)

It claims only the use of this power-saving feature when an emergency call is placed.
So only apple should be able to dim their LCD when the battery is low. So by your logic if I make an emergency call my phone should not be able to dim the screen if the battery is low? My phone should only be able to dim the screen if my call is not an emergency? So if my battery is almost dead and my phone in power save mode and I call 911 my phone should turn off the power saving features and quickly kill my remaining battery before my call is finished so Apples patents are not infringed upon. Methinks you own an I-Phone.

Re:This should not be exempt from patentability (2, Informative)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321189)

So only apple should be able to dim their LCD when the battery is low. So by your logic if I make an emergency call my phone should not be able to dim the screen if the battery is low?

That's not what the application [uspto.gov] claims. The applications claims "if the phone call is an emergency call, activating an emergency mode of the mobile phone to handle the phone call, wherein the emergency mode prolongs the length of the phone call." It does not claim taking battery saving measures in response to a low battery state, whether an emergency call is in progress or not. It is proactive rather than reactive.

Re:This should not be exempt from patentability (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320717)

Exactly. One of the complaints about one-click is that it's obvious; Amazon has the patent because they were there early. Many companies setting up an online store would independently think to add a one-click buying feature (or think of it and decide it was stupid --- one-click is only useful with downloads, IMO). Well, the iPhone is 2 years old. Smart phones are 17 years old (IBM Simon -- 1992/1993). Seventeen years.

Apple (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320391)

Patenting everything so we can keep control of competition and future. :)

PC.

Prior Art? (3, Insightful)

cnaumann (466328) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320447)

I have turned off the AC in my car and reduced my speed in the hopes that I could get to a gas station before running out of gas. Isn't that about the same thing?

How about a car with an emergency reserve gas tank that is activated by a lever inside the car?

I suppose that running the batteries completely flat may harm them. Basically they are claiming a patent on overriding the shutdown feature designed to protect the batteries and using a low power mode. That does not seem original. Granted, coupling this with a 911 call is kind of clever.

Re:Prior Art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320489)

A lever that activates an emergency fuel reserve? Standard on VW bugs 50 years ago. Last bug I had was a '66 and it still had this feature.

Re:Prior Art? (2, Insightful)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320723)

I think you'll find that most patents are actually ridiculously specific. If you tried to claim prior art with that car analogy, you'd be laughed out of court.

Re:Prior Art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320757)

some pickups have a feature similar to this... dual tanks. You can have the switch set to tanks 1+2, tank 1, or tank 2. In this way, if you ran out on tank 1 somehow, flip the switch and you'll have another 20 some gallons to go

Re:Prior Art? (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320919)

Isn't that about the same thing?

Your car analogy isn't prior art.

It is simply suggestive, it might get someone thinking.

The idea isn't what you patent. It's the machine - or system - that you patent.

Re:Prior Art? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321153)

How about a car with an emergency reserve gas tank that is activated by a lever inside the car?

Prior art. Go find an old Volkswagen Beetle.

Old News and already prior art (1)

loose electron (699583) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320451)

There are many examples of electronics devices being dropped into power save mode for one reason or another. This one can be walked over using prior art examples.

Move on everyone, nothing exciting going on here.....

OOH. Can't wait for the field tests. (1)

dmomo (256005) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320463)

How are they going to QA this in a production setting? Stage kidnappings? Bombings? I'd stay clear of the next Mac World. Shit's going DOWN!

Cellphones already do some of this (5, Informative)

DrDitto (962751) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320477)

I used to work for a major cellphone manufacturer.

Cellphones already go into a special emergency mode. All phones definitely scan for more towers beyond those in the PRL list (preferred roaming list). I believe phones may also increase Tx power if battery is good and the CDMA noise floor is high.

One big problem I recall: it is not as well tested. The Verizon phone guys aren't going to yell "do you hear me now" at 911 operators. We had once instance where it was discovered that the 911 mode had a software bug and caused the phone to crash. That caused an immediate "stop ship". We definitely had to improve the synthetic 911 testing environment...

Mod parent up. (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320675)

Mod parent up. Most of this is already standard, and mandated by the FCC. The new stuff is just some iPhone-specific problems that Apple has to deal with. All the nonessential guck in the phone needs to be switched off during emergency calls.

911 calls have at least the following FCC-mandated features.

  • Billing problems must be bypassed. 911 calls must go through even if the cell phone has no account, the billing system is down, the phone is roaming out of area, or the local provider can't contact the home provider for billing passthrough.
  • Transmit power management is disabled. Cell phones go to full power in emergency mode. (Yes, battery drain goes up.)
  • If the phone cannot connect to a cell site of its own system, after 17 seconds it must try to connect to any cell site of any system it can reach. Phones used to fall over to analog roam when necessary, before analog AMPS went down.
  • GPS information is transmitted.
  • A higher QoS is specified within the cell phone network, so emergency calls get in ahead of non-emergency traffic.
  • The call is not easily disconnected until the emergency operator releases it, although there's usually some way to force disconnect from the cell phone end.

It's not like Apple just invented "emergency mode".

Re:Mod parent up. (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320697)

Most of this is already standard, and mandated by the FCC. The new stuff is just some iPhone-specific problems that Apple has to deal with. All the nonessential guck in the phone needs to be switched off during emergency calls.

... It's not like Apple just invented "emergency mode".

Sounds like they did, to solve those "iPhone-specific problems that Apple has to deal with". But it's not like Apple just invented dialing 9-1-1.

Re:Cellphones already do some of this (1)

Frequency Domain (601421) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320847)

... PRL list (preferred roaming list).

This message was brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

Good idea (2, Interesting)

nightfire-unique (253895) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320597)

No debate on the ethics of patents or patenting a potentially life-saving idea... but, there is a very interesting possibility here.

LIPO/LIION batteries, if fully discharged, cannot be recharged (at least not safely, by an end-user). All modern electronics electronics that use rechargeable lithium include charge controllers which protect the battery from deep discharge, and overcharge. The discharge protection could be disabled in the case of a 911 call, and provide a significant amount of battery life (perhaps 5-10%) at the expense of the battery. The user could be briefly warned on-screen while placing the call that it could destroy the battery, but in a life or death situation, what's $50?

My last (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28320613)

Two second gen. Nokias had this function and one of them was at least 8 years older than iphone or any apple phone.

You can't patent what you do not own Jobs! (or can you?)

It's called a good offense (1)

aarroneous (973056) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320623)

I'm surprised no one has mentioned this yet, but isn't it obvious that Apple has to try to do at least this to build a history to support any case against patent trolls?

R&D costs, solutions are easy (1)

Blymie (231220) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320659)

Come now.

It isn't a big deal that it is a patent. The US government spends billions (trillions?) per year, in R&D, and on everything from warfare to space travel to disease control.

There is no reason the government should not pass a bill, that states that any such patent as this (safety, public good), could have a value assigned to them by an arbitrator. Once assigned, the state would buy the patent, and release it for all phones in the US to use.

Other governments could do the same.

R&D costs, ideas are important, and compensation should be paid. At market value.

Re:R&D costs, solutions are easy (3, Interesting)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320773)

There is no reason the government should not pass a bill, that states that any such patent as this (safety, public good), could have a value assigned to them by an arbitrator.

There are very good reasons why that's a bad idea. First, patent valuation is notoriously difficult. The literature on this is extensive and there are no good solutions, despite decades of research and a small fortune to be made from accurately valuing patents, which has many, many applications (e.g., determining R&D priorities, evaluating mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, etc).

Second, what is well established is that the market is a very effective evaluator of the worth of ideas and technologies. Patents allow innovators to let the market decide on the value of their products and services, which also gives them invaluable feedback on the direction their future R&D should take.

Finally, here is a hypothetical that demonstrates the above:

Consider a world without SMS, circa 1995 prior to the widespread use of cellphones. Some enterprising engineer discovers a slice of bandwidth that can be used for sending short text messages and patents it. Now imagine that the primary use envisioned for this is the sending of emergency messages to a 911-type service, which is very useful for someone who can't hear or speak because of the nature of the emergency or because they are deaf or mute. Under your scheme, the patent is seized and an arbitrator would probably decide that this is worth some modest amount as an emergency service.

Now, fast-forward 10 years and generalized SMS is an incredibly popular technology used for all kinds of purposes. Too bad for the inventor, of course, because neither he or she nor the arbitrator foresaw where the market would take the technology. If the property right had remained with the inventor, he or she could have licensed it to various phone manufacturers and telecoms and made a much more appropriate amount as SMS grew in popularity. Ex ante valuation of patents will always suffer such problems.

power (4, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320689)

The important advantage people seem to be missing is the patent allows extended use of the battery. Li-Ion batteries have a discharge threshold, below which the cell is damaged and can not be recharged. The charge protection circuit usually cuts off the power, to save the cells, when this point is reached. In an emergency, it's a really good idea to be able to bypass this protection. It's an emergency, you're not going to care if you ruin the battery; but, you may care that you can get an extra 10-20% more talk time out of the battery.

Re:power (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321075)

And they get a $90 battery change as a bonus! Who says Jobs wasn't thinking?

(Note: I suspect there will be a couple of orders of magnitude more use of this in either testing, or in cell-phone-addict-abuse, than actual use in emergencies. Serves them right if you ask me.)

Awesome (1)

Mr_eX9 (800448) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320779)

I actually get really infuriated with my Verizon phone for giving me little to no warning when they're going to shut themselves off. What's even worse is that when I turn it on to try to make a quick call, it shuts off again without even letting me dial.

I've been thinking about getting an iPhone next year, and a feature like this is very persuasive. Hopefully Apple will license this technology to other companies, or the competition will copy it.

Why is this only an emergency feature??? (2, Insightful)

booyabazooka (833351) | more than 4 years ago | (#28320833)

The phone's purpose is making phone calls. If a phone is low on battery power, and I'm making a call, by all means, ALWAYS cut power to non-essential components.

Re:Why is this only an emergency feature??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28321119)

Here's an idea: just buy a phone with no non-essential components.

America and its stupid patents again (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28321127)

Sure, one could argue that this is a display of freedom; the freedom to take away this same freedom which allows others to implement these basic ideas. But to me its simply disgusting. To allow a company to patent merely the idea, not even the technical implementations, which allows common people to reach out for help?

I can imagine some business to come up with this idea, after all; its all within the boundaries of the law. But what sick system would grant such a pathetic idea and even grant rights to it? This display makes me really happy to live in Europe. Not just that; I'm close to thinking that the common joke "patenting breathing" might not be so ridiculous after all. I mean; when creating an android you might also want to implement a function simulating breathing in order for the android to look more human. Then; why not patent the idea, and when doing so why even stop at the simulation part?

I'm but an outsider, I'll grant you that, but if the US would really wish to remain capable of claiming to be the land of the free they sure would be smart if they rehauled their patent system so that it would once again help people to protect their ideas, while also making sure that its a genuine idea. Not some easy scam in order to generate lots of cash.

Where will they draw the line?

If I remember correctly... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28321171)

I think there is a key combination on some phones (Nokias I think) that, when pressed, gives the user access to a little extra battery power. It does this by overriding the reserve normally used for maintaining system memory and the clock and such. Admittedly coupling this with an emergency call feature is a good idea, but the 'extra battery' thing is nothing new.

Emergency button (3, Funny)

tsa (15680) | more than 4 years ago | (#28321191)

I have the Chinese takaway programmed in my emergency button. You need that much more than 911 (or 112 in Europe).

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