Monday, June 26, 2006

Is Apple's MagSafe Connector Safely Patented?


* Picture from Apple.com


A DIGG.COM submission seems to have found a prior patented magnetic "safe power cord" used on deep fryers:

From the CNN article:

The standard, developed by Underwriters Laboratories, was announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission Wednesday. The "break-away" standard also applies to electric fondue and electric multi-purpose pots.

The new cord is connected to the fryer by a magnet. If the cord is pulled, it will break away from the fryer, preventing it from tipping over and reducing the chances of spilling hot grease.


Full story from 2001 can be found here.

MagSafe is Apple's new power adapter technology found on MacBook and MacBook Pros that safely disconnects if pulled quickly - saving the power connector port from damage.

[UPDATE] Hard to know whether or not the "body" that developed the "break away" magnetic cord, Underwriters Laboratories, actually has a patent on the technology or simply developed it to be used by electrical device manufacturers "free of charge". A comment noted that the word "patent" does not appear to be associated within the CNN article and I went to Underwriters Laboratories website where the word patented or licensed doesn't seem to appear either.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hear Edison patented the electric cord.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure whether your comment was sarcasm towards the article or sarcasm towards the potential of a patent problem. Either way the MagSafe connector is NOT a standard power cord, in fact it's very advanced. If its patented it should be licensed by Apple or protected if owned by someone else.

It won't look favorable for Apple vs Creative if small things like this keep popping up for Apple.

Anonymous said...

I read the article. The word "patent" doesn't appear.

fixyourthinking said...

I updated the story a bit

Sam said...

It's not that hard to do a patent search. uspto.gov has a reasonably usable interface, and articles like this could actually be (gasp!) researched.

There are several patents that could be read as covering this technology going back decades. Patent 5873737 in 1999 covers a magnetic-coupled power connector. Patent 6988897 in 2006 explicitly mentions using the magnetic couple to prevent tripping causing problems. I'm not sure how the 2006 patent could stand up to challenge if UL had already released a specification 5 years previous, but the patent is available for perusal on the US patent site.

fixyourthinking said...

Well ... I didn't write the article so I hope your talking about the DIGG submitter ... I just thought it was interesting.

Anonymous said...

Whether the prior art was patented or not, it still remains prior art and a future challenger could invalidate Apple's patent based on it's existence.

On the other hand, a magneticly coupled cord is not a new idea. That's not really what the issue would be before the court, but whether Apple's technique or design of a magneticly coupled cord was novel or non-obvious.

For example, I have a friend whose dad worked on patenting a method for making wood shavings for packing material. That's not at all a new idea, but the patentable part was the design and arrangement of blades and the way the good stuff was separated from the bad. It was patentable. Unfortunately he found out because his partner (without his knowledge) took his design and filed the patent herself one day before he did.

You want to be first to get the patent. You can shut out your competition (and your former partners). You can even make it on an old idea. It's just that there has to be something novel and non-obvious about the way you achieve your result.