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Tuesday, April 19, 2011, 10:00 pm PT (01:00 am ET)

Apple awarded patent for RFID tag reader in touchscreen devices

A patent recently granted to Apple detailing a method of incorporating a Radio Frequency Identification tag reader into the screen of a portable touchscreen device in order to save space has furthered speculation that Apple plans to add RFID features to the iPhone.

The patent, entitled "Touch Screen RFID Tag Reader," describes "the efficient incorporation of RFID circuitry within touch sensor panel circuitry. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published the filing on Tuesday.

RFID allows devices to sense embedded chips in nearby objects without the requirement of contact or a visible line of sight.

In the filing, Apple documents a process by which the touch sensor panel of a device can be modified to double as an "RFID transponder," thereby eliminating the need for a "space-consuming RFID antenna."

According to the invention, loops for the antenna of the RFID circuit can be formed from "metal on the same layer as metal traces form in the borders of a substrate" without requiring a separate metal layer.

RFID patent


Michael Nathaniel Rosenblatt and Steve Porter Hotelling are listed as inventors of the patent.

Apple's method for employing RFID tag reader technology within a touchscreen joins a growing collection of RFID patent applications, which include the invention of a mobile "ID App" for reading RFID tags and a method of using RFID to sense and connect to WiFi networks.

The proposed "ID App" would utilize an RFID reader, camera and an IR image capture device to identify objects, such as a painting in a museum, and search a set of databases to gather more information.

Patent Example


In August last year, rumors emerged that Apple was planning to bring near field communications technology, such as RFID, to the next-generation iPhone. Further evidence of Apple's alleged plans for an RFID-capable iPhone came in October of last year when reports suggested that an Apple partnership with chip manufacturer Gemalto could pave the way for contactless transactions on the iPhone via RFID.

In January, AppleInsider discovered a job listing for an iPhone hardware engineer with RFID experience. It has been suggested that Apple will implement an e-wallet feature to take advantage of the rumored NFC-capabilities in future iOS devices.

Analyst Brian White with Ticonderoga Securities claimed in February that the next iPhone will utilize NFC for a 'unique' twist that would go beyond just e-wallet functionality. After a suprising contrary report suggested that NFC would not make it into the next iPhone, Forbes reported in March that, according to a trustworthy source in the NFC market, the iPhone 5 will indeed have NFC contactless capabilities.