updated 03:15 pm EDT, Wed April 4, 2012
HTC granted patent for biometric device unlock
What appears to be a US patent for a Face Unlock feature for smartphones has been granted to HTC. This is odd because we first experienced the feature on the Galaxy Nexus late last year, and it's one of the standard features found in Android 4.0. Since then, a number of other phones from various makers that sport a front-facing camera and were updated to Android 4.0 got this feature as well. How this new patent grant will affect the future of handsets not made by HTC but sporting Android 4.0 remains to be seen.
The possibility of HTC licensing the use of the technology covered by patent to Google, the maker of the Android OS, can't be ruled out, though this is unlikely. The description of the patent is also ambiguous, as it references only biometric information. This could include an image of a face or even a fingerprint. If the industry more widely brings fingerprint sensors to portable devices, manufacturers may need to pay HTC for their use.
The patent description is said to be a near exact copy of the Face Unlock feature found in Android 4.0. One key difference is that HTC's technology will retain the face that wasn't initially recognized when a correct entered password is subsequently entered. This could presumably be a user's sleepy face or someone else who might know the numerical password.
HTC filed for the patent in November of 2008, or about three full years before Face Unlock appeared on an Android 4.0 phone. [via Unwired View]