back to article Apple files chip block stack patent

Apple has filed a patent application that supports the stacked-component design of its A4 chip used in the iPad and iPhone 4, and points to further future integration of multiple system components on the same die. The filing, "Systems and methods for providing a system-on-a-substrate," describes methods for reducing the size …


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  1. Chronos


    Patenting the non-patentable. For those in Blighty who think this doesn't matter, wait until ACTA arrives.

  2. ilikejam


    First, they'll make a quick chip brick stack.

    Then they'll make a quick chip block stack.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "all of the components of the system on the same microchip."

    it isn't, by Apple's own admission. At best it's a collection of bits attached to the same substrate. At best, that's just a tiny realisation of a pcb.

  4. Herby

    Good, or Bad...

    At least it isn't a silly software/process patent. This is actually something you can see (assuming you have proper magnification), and possibly touch/feel.

    Not some silly "if not..." thing like Microsoft!

  5. Matt Davies

    might just have a point...

    We've had stacked wafers for years, but the issue with them is loosing heat as they tend to bend when getting hot, causing problems with the contacts between the layers and thereby limiting the speed you can run the components at.

    My guess is that the novelty they are trying for is the 'flexible plastic pcb' (aka 'flex') which might be better at keeping in contact allowing parts to run hotter and therefore faster. I guess the issue then becomes the thermal conductivity of the 'flex'.

    I'm far from being an expert about these things, so someone will probably chip in an tell me I'm all wrong.

    1. Tim Parker


      "My guess is that the novelty they are trying for is the 'flexible plastic pcb'"

      Mmm yeah - maybe. Certainly the initial claims section of the application, oddly enough, seems to just read coupling two sides of a substrate with a bit of flexy PCB (at least at first glance). Weird, and it's all rather sad (in the pathetic sense).

      I've not read the patent application fully, so this is really supposition, but from the reported bits it sounds like they're trying for pretty much everything Matt (which is absolutely normal in patent applications).. and everything i've seen here is prior art and/or obvious.

      As far as per-face connections go - similar stuff is seen in lay-up technology for multi-chip modules (MCM) and they were old before I was.

      It'll probably get granted however.

    2. Leigh Brown


      ""I'm far from being an expert about these things, so someone will probably chip in an tell me I'm all wrong.""

      I'm sorry that doesn't stack up.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      "the issue with them is loosing heat"

      Coo, thermal bondage?

  6. SkippyBing


    they're trying to patent stacking things? I think my office may count as prior art...

  7. JaitcH
    Jobs Horns

    Damn me, more bloody prior art!

    Seems like Apple is trying to patent yet more prior art.

    I recall memory chips having stacked sub-chips piggy backed inside the outer chip package.

    Some analog devices I dealt with at one time were actually a number of interconnected sub-chips which were all covered with the device packaging.

    So what IS the difference, other than they are pinching other peoples ideas, AGAIN?

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Even if invalid it can stop others

      The US patent office has gone back to granting every bit of toilet paper that passes its way, with the view ''let the courts sort it out, meanwhile I want my productivity bonus''.

      This means that apple can hit small guys over the head with its parasites^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H lawyers. The small guys cave in because they cant afford the crippling costs -- another megacorp wins again and innovation is lost.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    I think I've seen this somewhere...

    Specifically, the TI OMAP3530 processor used on the BeagleBoard uses a package-on-package (POP) stack of processor and memory. Unless Apple is being VERY clever and innovative about what and how they're stacking here, they'll run afoul of tons of prior art.

    OK, given how the USPTO works in practice, Apple will probably get the patent even if they copy the TI data sheets verbatim, but this doesn't look like that kind of clever based on the diagrams (presumably from the patent application) that you show. Package-on-package isn't anything new or ground-breaking. I recall stacking 16-pin DIP SRAM chips way back in the 80's; that was package-on-package, too.

  9. Mage Silver badge

    Prior Art

    Samsung SC6400 family

    This idea was around even before that. I spec'd a design 3 years ago with ARM, FLASH and RAM stacked in single package. Samsung.

    Apple are trolls.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Jobs Horns

      Re: Prior Art

      Samsung make the "Apple A4" CPU which is just another ARM variant, probably drawing extensively from Samsung's considerable experience in this very business. Just like with PowerPC, Apple are probably just making the tea for the people doing the work and giving their opinion of how many such Apple-branded units they can sell.

  10. Steve Dulieu

    Hang On...

    That photo, That's no substrate, that's a frogger screenshot that is...

    Cheers, Steve.

  11. raving angry loony


    USPTO seems to have given up "obvious to a skilled practitioner in the art" as a criteria for patents. They seem instead to just approve anything that comes their way, then expect folks to fork out the 5 to 10 million (minimum) it costs to get a patent invalidated through a court trial. Rather than doing their fucking job and invalidating the patent on application.

    Broken system. Very, very broken system.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      New definition of 'obvious'

      Judges in the US have decided that if something is obvious then someone will have written about it, so if there's no written prior art the idea can't be obvious. If we're charitable we can assume they never encountered professors whose explanations would go so far, then conclude with 'and the rest is so obvious I don't need to explain it.'

      1. Hud Dunlap

        Things have changed since I was in school.

        Companies used to publish tech magazines with various designs just to prevent this nonsense. These were circuits or other ideas that weren't considered patentable but they didn't want anybody else to either.

        When this stop?

  12. Anonymous Coward

    More Design Posing As Invention!?!?!?!

    When will this end...

  13. S 15

    Food for thought

    mmm....chip sandwich...

  14. Eddy Ito

    Uhh, ok.

    Prior art abounds since this really isn't any different from a voltage divider, comparators, reset and a flip flop all on the same substrate. Oh, they went up in a stack, BFD watch me dead bug a pair of triple nickle timers with some hot glue. Be careful, it's a bit astable.

  15. SlabMan

    Here we go

    Company submits patent covering specific innovations to an existing technology

    Story over-simplifies patent application so that it appears to cover the existing technology

    Readers react to the story, without having read the patent

    Cue anecdotes about the technology having first been implemented in the head gasket mountings of the 1948 Austin Seven, and in the canibulating flanges of Gutenberg's original printing press

    Cries of 'the patent system is broken'

    Repeat as necessary.

    - Having described the process, can I now patent it?

  16. CheesyTheClown

    Original IBM AT motherboard stacked memory chips

    Yep, you couldn't use 256Kbit (bit not byte) chips in the IBM AT type 1 motherboard. Also, there was no such thing as 128Kbitx1 chips. So, to get at least some memory into it, IBM stacked two 64Kbitx1 RAM chips on top of one another. They appeared to be 4164 compatible, however the pinout of the top chip rerouted the RAS line (speculation, might have been something else, there's no documentation on this anywhere), internally. So, you had a normal 4164 chip and a modified 4164 chip soldered on top of one another.

    This article is a little weak since it doesn't clarify what makes this patent special. Is it possible the patent actually pertained to HOW the stacking was being done. The method of stacking could be considered unique if there is in fact something special about it. The only method I see really is LEGO like, basically making the top part of each chip a female and the bottom of each chip male (to use connector terminology). I haven't looked over the patent, I simply lack the patience for patent lawyer crap. I'll read the cliff notes instead.

  17. Tom 13

    The concept of the stack should not be patentable.

    What ought to be subject to making a patent claim is the process by which the stack is built. Assuming of course it truly is novel and not obvious and spelled out in sufficient detail so that someone with the appropriate engineering background could make one based on the patent application.

    Not that that seems to mean anything to the courts here these days.

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