Apple lays groundwork for bendable iPhone

By

Martin Hajek
A curved iPhone would be just a first step toward a bendable iPhone.
Photo: Martin Hajek

Apple today received a patent for a device with a bendable display. Sadly, that doesn’t mean that an clamshell iPhone is right around the corner. The wait for an iPad that be folded up and slipped in a pocket is probably still going to be a long one.

The patent was filed in 2016 because Apple is just preparing for the day when bendable displays are a reality.

The filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is quite generic. “An electronic device may have a hinge that allows the device to be flexed about a bend axis. A display may span the bend axis,” says the description.

Bendable iPhone concept
Apple’s patent filing shows its bendable iPhone concept, if not the reality.
Graphic: Apple

Apple couldn’t get detailed because there are no bendable displays commercially available yet. But the filing is absolutely necessary because we live in a world with patent trolls.

Preparing for trolls

To get a patent, someone doesn’t have a working device. The USPTO will accept drawings as long as they seem reasonable. Doubtless, there are lawyers that have their own patents for devices with flexible screens. And they aren’t basing any products on them because they’re what’s called “patent trolls.” They’re just waiting to sue someone for infringing on their patent.  That’s their whole business.

Someday, when Apple releases an iPhone that can fold up, it’s quite possible that one or more of these trolls will crawl out of the inky shadows to say “Your device infringes on my patent. You owe me millions of dollars.” Apple will then point to its own patent. 

The two will have to fight it out in court, but a solid patent like the one Apple was awarded today should keep the company from having to pay royalty fees to any patent trolls.

The day gets closer 

The day when truly flexible LCDs become commonplace is fast approaching. Chinese company Huawei is rumored to be readying the world’s first commercially-available phone with a bendable display. Samsung supposedly isn’t far behind. Speaking of the Korean giant, Samsung received a patent earlier this week for a tablet with a multi-folding display.

Apple clearly expects to make a flexible iPhone at some point. And likely a clamshell iPad as well. When that’s going to happen is anyone’s guess, though.