The United States Patent & Trademark Office on Christmas Day granted Apple a key patent detailing a SIM tray solution for mobile products which incorporates connectors that “may allow SIM cards to be easily removed and replaced”. The invention – which also may be resistant to damage by an improper insertion of a SIM card and may provide reliable mechanical performance – is viewed as a strategically important patent grant “in light of the battle between Nokia and Apple over the design of future miniature SIM cards for mobile devices”, explains the PatentlyApple blog that tracks Apple’s trademark and patent filings…
The iPhone maker also owns an important Nano SIM patent. Back in April we learned it was researching a universal SIM card connector solution that has now been approved as a patent, much to Nokia’s horror.
The USPTO patent No. 8,337,223 titled “Mini-sim connector” provides an example mentioning a plunger system (read: SIM ejection tool) where a user can push on a plunger rod and eject a SIM card. It’s been implemented on all iPhone models. By contrast, most other handsets typically require users to insert a SIM card beneath the battery, offering little or no protection.
Image via AppleInsider.
“Another example may provide contacts that are not damaged by improper insertion of a SIM card”, Apple wrote in the patent filing. “Another example may provide a plastic housing, the housing reinforced by a metallic shield and having a relatively uniform thickness”.
PatentlyApple points out that an electronic device mentioned in the filing could be a tablet like the iPad, a MacBook, or other type of electronic device – even a monitor (and quite possibly a TV).
The SIM card itself can be regular-sized, mini-SIM card, micro-SIM or other type of card or electronic device. Therefore, Apple’s SIM connector could work with Micro SIM, Mini SIM, Nano SIM and even Integrated Circuit Card (ICC) used, for example, in Visa credit cards.
Apple originally filed this patent application in the third quarter of 2010. The invention is credited to engineers Zheng Gao, Benjamin Rappoport and Steve McClure.
The European Telecommunications Standards Institute in June accepted Apple’s 40 percent smaller Nano SIM proposal as an industry standard. The first device to incorporate Nano SIM was the iPhone 5, which was released in September.
Nokia, however, has been fighting Apple’s Nano SIM proposal fiercely, at one point even threatening not to license essential patents should Apple “impose” its Nano SIM solution. Nokia was proposing a SIM card of the same length as the width of the Micro SIM.
Unlike Apple’s solution, Nokia’s proposal didn’t require a drawer, with the Finnish company arguing it might jam if users tried to force it into devices, leading to card and product damage.
Behind all this hoopla: licensing revenues.
Nokia, Research In Motion and others didn’t like that Apple was pitching its Nano SIM as a royalty-free solution in exchange for any Nano SIM-related patents held by other companies.
Nokia and other companies filed rival SIM card-related patent filings that remain pending. Still, even though Apple’s SIM connector patent is a key win, Nokia and others could seek to invalidate it.