Motorola Mobility is seeking a patent for an electronic skin tattoo that's attached to the throat and can communicate with your mobile devices.
While the Libertyville-soon-to-be-Chicago based company awaits patent approval, it could move ahead with developing the product, said patent attorney David Newman of Highland Park and partner with Arnstein & Lehr in Chicago and Hoffman Estates.
"They probably won't have to wait for the patent to be issued to put it on the market," said Newman, who is not representing Motorola. "They could be testing it right now."
The news comes as wearable technology has been taking off in recent years, including Google's new glasses, called Glass which takes voice commands, record what you see hands-free, share what you see in real time, among other features. Google owns Motorola Mobility. Some of Motorola's earliest devices, about 20 years ago, were worn on the hand and scanned bar codes. Others became more sophisticated through the years and were wearable on the arm or hand and provided more features as technology advanced.
Still, whether the e-tattoo becomes a reality for any consumer to buy is yet to be seen. But the U.S. Patent Office published Moto's patent application last week and, as a result, various tech-related Internet sites buzzed with anticipation.
What Motorola Mobility intends to do with the e-tattoo is still unclear because company spokeswoman Danielle K. McNally declined to comment.
The patent application describes the device as a tattoo that could be applied to the throat region and would include an embedded microphone, a transceiver for enabling wireless communications, and a power supply to receive energizing signals from a personal area network associated with your mobile devices.
The application said that mobile devices are often operated in noisy areas, like stadiums, restaurants and elsewhere, so this system would help eliminate that background noise.
The company applied for the patent in May 2012. Once it was published last week by the U.S. Patent Office, the public can review it. By 2014, a patent examiner then likely will review the application and do searches to find other similar products or systems. If nothing else is like it exists, then Motorola Mobility could get the patent quickly. If there are others with similarities, then the patent office could ask Motorola to provide more details on their product. That exchange of paperwork could take a while and move any possible approval to 2015, Newman said.
The only thing that could be close was published in 2011 by teams at the University of Illinois in Champaign and Northwestern University in Evanston that developed a patch that mounts onto the skin like a temporary tattoo and combines electronics for sensing, medical diagnostics, communications and human-to-machine interfaces, said John A. Rogers, a U of I professor affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at U of I.
"The (Motorola) patent document does not provide technical details on how to build such systems, but we believe that our epidermal electronics technology, published in 2011, provides a vehicle to enable such things," Rogers said. "In fact, in the original 2011 publication, we had a demonstration in which an epidermal device was mounted on the throat to detect electrical signals associated with muscle activity in speech. We used that data to control a cursor in a video game, in which the subject could command motions using voice -- not a microphone in the conventional sense, but certainly foreshadowing such things."
Rogers said that a company that he helped to establish to commercialize this technology, called MC10 Inc. has joint development efforts with Motorola Mobility in this area of epidermal electronics, and interfaces to cellphones.
"Perhaps an interesting coincidence," Rogers said.
Rogers couldn't say how Motorola may have developed their idea for their patent application.
"Anyway, in my view, it's great to see people thinking about things in this general space," Rogers said.
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