As Apple Patents Flexible Glass, Is Bendable iPhone Coming?

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(CNET) – Apple has patented a method that could help propel traditional glass screens into a flexible future.

The new patent, first discovered by Wired, was awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. U.S. patent 8,336,334 details a method of using heat while bending glass over a mold in order to encourage a particular shape — and so who’s to say that Apple’s iPhone and iPad might not one day sport the curved equivalent of a traditional, straight glass screen?

Apple’s not alone in exploring the possibility of flexible screens for gadgets. Samsung, for instance, plans to show off at CES 2013 next month a 5.5-inch flexible phone screen. Nokia has also toyed with flexible phones in its research labs.

As part of the “slumping” process, the way glass is bent over a mold, Apple’s new patent explains how the method can be used to dynamically change glass shapes to create a bend or curve without overstretching the glass or causing cracks created by air vacuums. In addition, Apple’s patent focuses on the method, system and tools needed for this kind of high-temperature processing which can be applied to “small factor electronic devices,” including mobile phones and user input devices — which may suggest a curved mouse or touchpad for the iPhone and iPad could be a future prospect.

Apple is well-known for the vast amounts of patent filings it tends to submit. Recently, the company secured a patent that covers the design of flipping pages on a digital screen, as well as a filing a patent application that could result in near-field communications technology becoming integrated with its Passbook app.

And of course there’s no guarantee that a patent for a particular technology will ever lead to a commercial product using that technology.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Interactive, Inc. and CNET, a CBS-owned company. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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