Thursday, April 5, 2012

HTC Granted Face Unlock Patent

One of the features that Ice Cream Sandwich brought to Android and the Galaxy Nexus was Face Unlock. Although not very secure, it did provide a fun, additional method to unlocking the phone. In a curious turn of events, it turns out HTC has been granted the patent behind the technology, which certainly raises some legal questions.

HTC’s patent details “a method for unlocking a locked computing device”, which could be a smartphone or tablet, with biometric information. In this case, that information can include an image of a person’s face, although fingerprints are also covered.

Right now, if Face Unlock fails to work, the user is asked to enter a backup password to gain access to the device. HTC’s patent also describes the same functionality, although they take it one step further: if the user enters the correct password, their face at that moment is saved and added to the “allowed” list. That would work well if the facial unlock failed to recognize you in low light situations, for example. Having said that, it might make it even easier to cheat the system.
If HTC has been granted this patent, what does it mean for Google and Samsung? Right now the feature is found on the Galaxy Nexus, as well as the Galaxy S via the way of Samsung’s Value Pack. If HTC choose to enforce the patent, they could tout Face Unlock as an exclusive feature; or, they could simply sit on the patent for the benefit of Android as a whole, only using it if, say, Apple was to try and implement a similar function.

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