back to article Apple patents facial recognition tech for mobile log-in

Apple has been granted a patent on techniques for unlocking a device based on facial recognition. US Patent number 8,600,120, "Personal computing device control using face detection and recognition," describes a system in which a device is able to access its camera and authorize access based on recognizing your face. In …


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  1. David Webb

    Next up...

    Apple is awarded a patent for dialling a number using a virtual number pad displayed on a touch screen device or, by using a virtual keyboard filtering out contacts whose name does not begin with the letters being pressed.

    I can see it happening.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Next up...

      Nooo, their next patent will be 'e'. Anything that uses the letter 'e' will be covered by this, as will anything using similar sounding symbols in other languages.

      It's still slightly less broad than this. And has less prior art.

      1. JeffyPoooh

        Re: Next up...

        "...their next patent will be 'e'."

        Well, they've Trademarked i*.*, so perhaps you're not joking.

        1. GumboKing

          Re: Next up...

          i before e except after (c).

          Patent Troll Natch.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Next up...

      I would have thought someone else might have patented the already?

      1. Ragarath

        Re: Next up...

        I just repaired a Toshiba laptop that had facial recognition unlock on it.

        That laptop is at least a several years old (did not catch the model sorry) that I know of.

        Not sure if it was as old as 2008 though.

        1. Select * From Handle

          Re: Next up...

          This tech is currently available on the PS4 with the camera... Would like to see apple start a patent war with Sony over facial recognition log-ins...

        2. Sureo

          Re: Next up...

          "I just repaired a Toshiba laptop that had facial recognition unlock on it."

          How did you do it? Hold a photo of the owner up to the camera?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Next up...

        Considering that most of the functionality described here is already in the Galaxy S4, and the rest of it has been built into Android for over a year, I'd be surprised too.

  2. M Gale

    Right, time to sue the Android phone manufacturers.

    After all, Google must have got a time machine, travelled into the future and stolen Apple's idea, in order to go back again and put Face Unlock into 4.x as a default feature.

    1. OllyL

      Re: Right, time to sue the Android phone manufacturers.

      I never thought I'd be coming to Apples defense on something, but did anyone actually follow the uspo link in the article? The paten was filed in 2008...just like their immigration system, it would appear the patent office is also backlogged...

      1. MrXavia

        Re: Right, time to sue the Android phone manufacturers.

        This IS just an example of an 'on a mobile device' crap that happens for patents.....

        Google brought their face unlock tech from another company, in 2007 I think.. That company had patents, which Google now hold I assume..

        Another example of a screwed up USPTO

      2. Bod

        Re: Right, time to sue the Android phone manufacturers.

        Putting aside any possibility (almost certainly probable) that Google et al obtained/devised their technology before Apple in 2008 or not, in the US as I understand it, patent pending does not technically protect the filer, but regardless of that the intent of patents is that you are to actively develop the product or process or otherwise have a granted patent and/or already a product on the market.

        But even regardless of that, before Google did it, it was a stupidly obvious way to have a phone unlock mechanism.

        Prior art, failure to develop on patent filed and produce a marketable product, patent not granted before competition went to market, blatantly obvious.

        But that all counts for nothing. USPTO will grant it. It will go to court Apple vs Samsung (never Google), Obama will comment that Apple is good for US and Samsung bad, Apple will win, Samsung pay Apple for a feature from Google that was never stolen from Apple in the first place for an obvious idea that wasn't patented correctly and Apple hadn't developed until way after the competition had. All perfectly fair in the land of the free.

        The patent system has its theoretical benefits, but in general the whole system is so corrupt it would be far better to scrap patents entirely until someone comes up with a better one.

  3. Steve Renouf

    Deja vu?

    That's strange. How can they patent something that already exists? This feature came with my Asus laptop that I bought over a year ago!?!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Deja vu?

      "How can they patent something that already exists?" They can't. <according to the patent office>This didn't exist in 2008</according to the patent office>.

      If you have a laptop from pre-2008 with facial unlock then you have a point.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Deja vu?

        "If you have a laptop from pre-2008 with facial unlock then you have a point."

        Alienware/Dell handle this with a piece of software called Aliensense, does 2007 count as pre-2008?

        1. chr0m4t1c

          Re: Deja vu?

          That's fine, 'cos it's not what the patent is about.

          The patent is for a couple of things, first deciding if someone is sat in front of the device but not actively using it (reading a book, watching a movie for example) and having the device not do things like switching the display off and second, if someone is in front of the device then modifying the behaviour depending on them being an "authorised user" or not.

          In other words, if you give your device to someone to watch a movie (or whatever), the device won't then go about showing them all your incoming messages or allow them access to your photographs or the device settings.

          It's quite similar to what the XBOne does with Skype once set up, if it recognises one of the configured Skype users in the room when a call comes in it can bring up an incoming call to be answered, but if they're not present then it doesn't.

    2. zanto

      Re: Deja vu?

      Ya but is your asus laptop a "personal computing" device? As in a tablet or a phone?

      Sounds ridiculous however it isn't when you remember in which country the patent is granted.

  4. nitsedy

    Thank heavens there aren't photos of people on the Internet!

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Goddamit El Reg

    For a moment I was thinking Apple was patenting facials.

    That would have heavily rounded the corners.

    1. Turtle

      Re: Goddamit El Reg

      "For a moment I was thinking Apple was patenting facials."

      The tech companies have been giving facials to end-users for years and years now.

    2. JeffyPoooh

      Re: Goddamit El Reg

      GER: "For a moment I was thinking Apple was patenting facials."

      Unlocking by recognition of that activity?

      It might get a bit tiring after unlocking your gadget for the 12th time...

  6. Andrew Jones 2

    Seriously? How do they get away with this stuff?!

    Android has been using Face Recognition to "log in" to your device for over a year!

    1. Anonymous Coward
    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Way more than a year... and they have patents on facial recognition as well.. I expect google & apple could end up suing each other over this...

  7. bigtimehustler

    Apple gets away with this stuff because the USA does nothing to sort out their patent situations, rather than invent they would rather help their companies sue hundreds of millions out of other countries companies. To be honest, they should be a taught a lesson, its about time UK companies started to get ridiculous patents so that they can sue US companies for hundreds of millions or stop trading the UK. Maybe then they will realise something needs sorting.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      None of this has anything to do with UK companies. In this case it's another US company (Google) they are trying to shaft...

      1. MrXavia

        Re: HUH?

        I think his point was that UK companies need to start taking out ridiculous patents in the US so they can shaft US companies... they can't take out ridiculous patents in the UK because out courts would throw them out, as has been proven with Apples ridiculous design patent, rounded corners? way too much prior art!

        1. bigtimehustler

          Re: HUH?

          Indeed that was pretty much my point, but i was actually saying that the UK should allow those patents here for a while, so that we show the USA how stupid they are when they get sued for millions in our courts, just like the US likes to do with other countries companies.

  8. MrDamage Silver badge


    Despite the fact that patents for this tech already exist, as well as prior art, do Apple still think they can tack "on a mobile device" to the end of an existing patent and have it declared as new?

    Whatever drugs they're on, I want a kilo. As long as I dont get in trouble for using a bong with rounded corners.

    1. BA

      Re: Seriously?


      But it "Must" be new because its a mobile device and that is a new world.


      We had facial recognition for logons to computers in the 1980s (Dec VAX etc...) as well as door entry systems (I know not very secure as they could be easily fooled/spoofed).

  9. Number6

    Scary thought, thief mugs you, grabs your phone, forces you to look at it to unlock it and then quickly disables the facial recognition. I think a PIN is more secure than that.

    1. Thorne

      Do bruises throw off facial recognition?

    2. CmdrX3

      Is a pin more secure though, not really...

      Thief mugs you, grabs your phone, forces you to give him your pin for him to unlock it and then quickly disables the pin. If you are willing to look at the phone for him to unlock it, then you are going to be equally willing to give him your phone.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Simpler solution, snap a photo of the person, THEN steal their phone...

      But the fingerprint login for the iphone scares me more...

      Thief wants iPhone, he takes it AND the finger needed to unlock... so even if you don't use it, a thief might assume you do..

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Filed March 6, 2008

    Clearly others filed for patents on facial recognition earlier, probably not for unlocking a mobile device but perhaps for say unlocking a laptop using the built in webcam.

    No comments on the merits of this patent, but you can't use the "Android phones did it first, that's prior art" as an argument, since there were exactly zero Android phones for sale when this patent was filed, nor can you claim Apple is copying Android if they do choose to implement it someday.

    Seems a bit unlikely they will implement it since they've already thrown in with touch ID, though I suppose doing both facial recognition and fingerprint recognition would raise the bar to some degree for someone trying to bypass the protection since they'd now have to fool two (albeit neither are terribly difficult to fool) separate systems to do so.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Filed March 6, 2008

      "Clearly others filed for patents on facial recognition earlier, probably not for unlocking a mobile device but perhaps for say unlocking a laptop using the built in webcam."

      US8149089 - granted. (Also published as US20090160609). An image clearly shows some sort of mobile device.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Filed March 6, 2008

        The priority date on Google Patents for that one is Dec 25 2007, for Apple's is Jan 3 2008. However, Google says the "priority date is only an estimate", so it isn't clear from the available information which patent would take precedence (if they even have overlapping claims)

  11. SuccessCase

    You've been duped by The Registers default melodrama setting. Reading the first independent claim it is more specific than face unlock. It relates to taking an action in response to incomming communication plus face authentication. So one application is to only show text message notifications, or incomming call numbers on the lock screen, when it can "see" it is the owner's fizzog looking at it.

    Great for cheating spouses, as I understand the number one reason for getting caught is the untimely appearance of text message notifications.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      jealous spouse

      So instead of saying "text message from Jane" or "text message from Bob" it just makes the alert tone.

      Which is worse, the jealous wife saying "who is Jane" and maybe not worrying about Bob, or the jealous wife saying "who the hell was that texting you" after every single text message you get.

      1. SuccessCase

        Re: jealous spouse

        True, I take that back. If a man has his wife sitting next to him watching TV and then a text message comes in and he sidles to one side before looking at his phone, I wouldn't rate his chances too highly.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "It relates to taking an action in response to incomming communication plus face authentication."

      So what? That's an obvious and logical next step. It's a not a new invention or process. I suspect the patent on the two input AND gate has already expired.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm guessing the patent explicitly specifies "for mobile..."

    If not, then AMD already has prior art in the area and may stand to make more by lobbing a sueball at Apple than actually pushing the technology in their own OEM design wins.

  13. BigG


    Getting a patent for something you obviously can't get to work. A parasite on innovation.

  14. MrXavia

    Um... How is this different to the technology that is out there already to do exactly the same thing?

    And secondly, am I glad I am in the EU where a patent such as this can never could pass the 'solves a technical problem' requirement for a software patent....

  15. Crady

    HTC also owns a patent for Face Unlock originally filed in Nov 2008.

    It's just getting silly now.

    1. t.est

      So the chance is that Apple had it patented before HTC is actually 10 out of 12 based on the information you give and is found in this thread.

      Oh wanna bet money on HTC was first with such odds? No, don't look it up... just state your bet...

  16. Sebastian Brosig

    prior "art"

    Randy Waterhouse in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon had that on his laptop in 1999!

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: prior "art"

      The Terminator had this even earlier, and sure as hell that is a "mobile device".

  17. Mookster

    NEC have had this for over 10 years...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That's it...

    I'm going to patent the 'warp core' and when some clever bugger finally invents it and demonstrates it working... I'm going to sue his sorry ass!


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That's it...

      "I'm going to patent the 'warp core'... /getrichquickscheme"

      A 'shake to unlock wrist worn electronic device' patent may see a quicker return.

  19. Falmari Silver badge

    Not prior art

    Apple are not patenting facial recognition to log in.

    What they have patented is when your phone gets an incoming text message, video message or email etc then it will log you in if your ugly mug is stuck in front of the phone so you can view the incoming text message, video message or email etc.

    Patent is not for log in via facial recognition so not prior art because there have been PCs and laptops pre 2008 with Facial Recognition log in.

    That said I don't see how you can patent something as bleeding obvious as if you have an alert that needs you to log in on a device that supports Facial Recognition then it should log you in if you stick your face in front of its camera.

  20. Alan Denman

    Apple get my prize patent award for ' fucked up world'.

    It is all about 'Screw everyone , all the common people belong to us'.

    More drizzle from a Cupertino brain shower session.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Umm, just looking at the lock screen options on my Note II - "Face unlock"... "look at your phone to unlock it"

    Edit: Ah, I see the Apple 'patent' is for using the tech in some other context... obvious but nobody else has thought to patent it yet so they jump in first to claim it as their own...

    1. DiViDeD

      What gets me with all this is the fact that this patent was lodged in 2008, and yet Apple didn't have facial recognition installed in any of their phones. In 2013 they still don't. So basically, a bunch of Apple kruhhative types sat around throwing in 'Wouldn't it be cool if...' ideas and then patenting the idea before anyone at Apple had the remotest idea of how, or even if, the thing was going to be implemented.

      By that token, somebody should be frantically patenting everything from FTL drives to multiply cloned humans for organ harvesting and then sitting back to wait for someone to invent them so they can sue.

      And the USPTO STILL claim the system isn't broken?

  22. Tristan Young

    Prior art. It's time Apple stopped trying to patent the world and everything in it, and actually got back to innovating.

    Stealing other people's ideas, and even patenting ideas which are already in play is generally a bad business model, and one which not only makes me hate Apple, but continues to push me away from Apple products.

    The apple is filled with poison. I'm not a big fan of poison.

  23. Medixstiff

    I'm sorry...

    But the US seriously either needs to take a broom to the US patent service, design some decent laws and get their act together or else the rest of the world needs to tell the US to stick their patents wherever they fit, if they want to sell in their countries.

    It's just getting so ridiculous, I think the next big thing will be a Google for patents, just so you can see if your idea has been taken already, even then, some of the patent descriptions are so open ended you could still be screwed.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "The company notes that its technology could help to eliminate the need for users to constantly "remind" their device that it is in use."

    So basically they're copying the eye tracking tech from the Samsung Galaxy S4?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wouldn't work for my Ex.

    She doesn't look the same in the morning and would never look at a phone without lots of makeup.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This all can be done with an app

    Almost any phone can do this with a front facing camera. It doesn't have to be included at the OS level. Try keeping an app off an Android phone that Apple doesn't want anyone to have.

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