Arguably no other company has had as great a cultural impact as Apple on our society. After being revived by a sleek-and-simple music player at the turn of the century, Apple is an icon known for its innovation, design, and attention to detail. While these characteristics are known to apply to Apple’s devices, Apple has been placing more and more emphasis on augmented reality (AR) technology in recent years. Around 2015, Apple began acquiring AR startups. Since then, Apple has developed what they call the ARKit API that enables developers to easily create immersive games and apps using Apple’s AR technology. Earlier this year, Apple revealed the possibility of creating AR “smartglasses,” and just this past week Apple was granted a patent that integrates 3D printing into Apple’s AR mix.
Not to be confused with virtual reality, which places individuals in an entirely virtual world, augmented reality presents an altered or modified view of the real world. Apple’s patent titled “Method For Instructing A 3D Printing System Comprising A 3D Printer And A 3D Printing System” (Patent No. 9,776,364) contemplates using AR’s ability to modify the real world to address problems in 3D printing. One of the problems mentioned in Apple’s patent occurs when a 3D printer becomes jammed or when an object being printed is bumped or moved before printing is complete. When this happens, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to determine where the object should be placed or how to adjust the print heads of the printer to resume printing. Apple’s solution to this problem is to use AR to determine the proper alignment between a partially-printed or existing object and the part of the object that has not yet been printed. This ability to properly align real-world objects for 3D printing can also be used to print on the surface or onto a portion of an existing non-3D printed object, such as to print a handle onto a cup.
LexisNexis PatentAdvisor® patent prosecution software allows us to see exactly how patent prosecution played out for Apple’s ‘364 patent. The original patent application was filed on August 9, 2013, after which it was assigned Art Unit 2422 for examination - an art unit that is typically assigned to patent applications relating to televisions. USPTO patent data shows us that applicants who are assigned to Art Unit 2422 can anticipate a 72.7 percent chance of being granted, based on the average allowance rates of similarly-assigned patent applications. Apple had their work cut out for them when they were assigned to a much more difficult patent examiner. PatentAdvisor™ patent analysis software reveals that Apple’s patent examiner has historically allowed only 58.9 percent of his examined patent applications. Apple remained persistent, however, and after waiting nearly three years before receiving their first Office Action (one year longer than usual for this particular patent examiner), Apple faced two total Office Actions before filing an RCE. Deciding between filing an RCE or filing for appeal was likely a difficult decision given that 55 percent of patent applications that went the way of appeal with this patent examiner resulted in issuance and 48.8 percent of the patent applications that filed an RCE were immediately granted a notice of allowance. Apple played prosecution nicely and was ultimately granted their patent on October 3, 2017.