Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Apple in the metals business?

Announced back in August of 2010, Liquidmetal Technologies licensed its future patent rights for consumer electronics to Apple (see, e.g. http://www.mobilemag.com/2010/08/09/apple-to-make-liquid-metal-iphones/).  Fast forward to July 16, 2013, and U.S. Patent No. 8,485,245 (‘245 patent) issues to an assignee named Crucible Intellectual Property (CIP), LLC., titled “Bulk Amorphous Alloy Sheet Forming Process.”  The link?  You guessed it.  CIP is a subsidiary of Liquidmetal Technologies and “liquidmetal” is another name for amorphous alloy.

First, a “liquidmetal” is not “liquid” at room temperature, but the material does have an amorphous atomic structure (like water) at room temperature.  Also, liquidmetal alloys can have increased strength, excellent corrosion resistance, very high coefficient of restitution (things bounce off it really well) and excellent anti-wearing characteristics.  Naturally, such properties would be useful for components such as cell phone casings, computer casings, covers, etc.

Review of the ‘245 patent shows that Liquidmetal has developed, and now patented, a method for producing thin liquidmetal sheet in a manner similar to how glass sheet, window panes, etc., are produced.  Glass windows are typically produced by pouring molten glass onto a liquid bath of tin.  Tin is liquid at temperatures above 232oC, while typical glass used for window panes, containers, etc., is liquid at temperatures above 550oC.  Therefore, liquid glass can solidify while floating on a bath of liquid tin.  In addition, the liquid tin provides a nice smooth and level surface for a piece of glass floating on it.

Using the same concept, Liquidmetal has developed technology to produce thin sheets of iron- and zirconium-base alloys that will be used by Apple.  Furthermore, and via the ‘245 patent, Liquidmetal (and Apple) has a monopoly on the process until May 14, 2032.  So stay tuned for an upcoming Apple advertising campaign on liquidmetal iPhone covers, iPad covers, etc.  What exact term, work, or phrase they will use to market the covers is not known, but you can bet it will be trademarked and protected as well.

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