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Apple, Samsung eye RPO patents for new touch tech, more ammo in patent wars

Zach Epstein
October 28th, 2011 at 2:25 PM

Apple and Samsung are among the companies expected to take part in an upcoming sealed-bid auction of RPO’s manufacturing assets and patent portfolio, which covers technology surrounding the company’s Digital Waveguide Touch (DWT) solution. California-based RPO Inc. filed for bankruptcy in April of this year, and an auction to liquidate its protected manufacturing processes and IP portfolio will take place on November 3rd. The company’s DWT technology, which is touted as a superior touch solution that eliminates the need for a touch-sensitive layer, is seen as appealing to Apple, Samsung and other vendors seeking new methods to improve their smartphone and tablet displays. Read on for more.

RPO’s DWT technology records touch input from a finger or stylus by registering interruptions in projected beams of light that are invisible to the naked eye. Because it eliminates the need for a touch-sensitive layer, the technology is said to be more power efficient than current resistive and capacitive touchscreen technologies. RPO also claims its technology makes displays brighter than competitive offerings, with better contrast as well.

“Apple is expected to emerge as a top contender for the DWT patents and manufacturing equipment,” technology research firm iRunway wrote in its analysis of the auction. “The absence of a touch overlay would allow Apple to show off the full capability of their Retina display screens, which are currently produced by LG Display.”

IRunway notes that the capacitive technology currently used in Apple’s iPhone and other smartphones was initially developed for use by graphic artists. “As revolutionary as the iPhone’s retina display is, it is at best a close second when compared against to the new Super AMOLED display sported by the latest Samsung smartphones,” the firm wrote. “A DWT touch screen in place of a traditional semitransparent capacitive touch overlay can give Apple back its competitive advantage at least in the display area. Apple’s motivation will be particularly acute, considering that Samsung recently showcased its own Retina resolution display.”

Samsung also stands to gain from the technology according to iRunway’s report, but not necessarily for the same reason. While DWT might offer benefits for Samsung’s entry-level displays, implementing DWT into its line high-end of Super AMOLED displays is not seen as a cost-effective option. Instead, Samsung could step in and acquire RPO’s patents to block its competitors from purchasing the technology, iRunway says.

“The RPO auction will undoubtedly fuel the ongoing smartphone/tablet wars and is set to be highly contested not only for its technology but also for the strategic and legal advantage it will provide for the winning bidder,” RPO’s report concludes. “Even though it will not hugely upset the playing field, the importance of even incremental improvements in an instantly gratifying spec can never be undermined.”

Zach Epstein

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than 15 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications in the US and around the world. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.

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