Why is Apple starting to patent light fittings?

Apple has been granted a patent for the ceiling lighting system it has developed for its new-look stores in a move that has again raised the issue of the company’s intentions in the lighting market.

The US Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple US Patent No. 9,217,247 for its new illuminated ceilings, which will be the showpiece feature of its next-generation stores. One of the first in the world to sport the new look is the company’s outlet in Brussels. The fully-illuminated LED ceiling is interspersed with narrow linear lighting troughs which include spotlights and other services, a design that is not wholly unfamiliar to lighting professionals working in the retail sector.

Apple’s retail team believes uniform lighting offers the best way to showcase its technology products. The troughs can accommodate cameras, speakers, alarms, fire suppression systems and, it’s speculated, the company’s iBeacon Bluetooth transmitters, which would allow customer tracking, in-store location, payments and marketing push notifications.

While it’s not unusual for Apple to patent innovations outside its core computer technologies – after all, the stores’ famous glass staircases are protected by copyright law – the patenting of a luminaire design raises fears in the lighting industry that Apple has long-term ambitions for the sector.

It’s known that the company has a lighting research team for instance, and lighting control firms are fearful of being disintermediated in a world dominated by the so-called ‘Internet of Things’, where connected IP-enabled devices such as luminaires and lamps can be controlled by smart phones, smart watches and tablets.

  • Internet of Things-based lighting control, data capture and security will be a key theme of LuxLive 2017, which takes place on Wednesday 15 November and Thursday 16 November at ExCeL London. For more information, and to register for free, click here.

Picture: Julian Vanbelle

Comments 9

With long association with manufacturing luminaires, i found nothing great in the look or concept. Was appreciating the smooth construction. Is it that execution that has been patented!

What preparations do they have for a power failure?

"Beacon" is the brand name of M/s Best & Crompton Egg Ltd, INDIA (1889)

The lighting industry has very little to fear from this patent, for reasons already pointed out by the other commentators. But if you make a search in any publicly available patent database by giving H05B as CPC (Cooperative Patent Classification) and Apple as assignee, you get over 51 hits, among which are some that may give the other players something to think about (H05B is the general class for electric lighting and heating). Try EP2473004 for example - Apple has a patent for changing lighting intensity so that you start slowly, then increase the rate of change and eventually slow down again before reaching the target intensity.

If one reads the actual patent, it is for a complete ceiling system, not just a luminaire or fitting. Many of the claims are hardly new or novel. Not sure how this actually made it through the patent process except via examiners with no familiarity with lighting systems. And, the configuration is not new or novel, except perhaps in a very narrow embodiment. It seems more intended to dissuade someone from copying the look of an Apple store ceiling than a patent aimed at protecting intellectual property related to a possible product. In that regard, it is more akin to a design patent. Not sure it was really worth all the effort to patent it at all, any more than it would be to try to patent the layout of wooden tables and products displayed on such as are in many Apple stores. I do not think the lighting industry has any need to worry about it....

Luxian, you're right, to an extent, however, patents are for HOW something is achieved, and what you're talking about is about what it LOOKS like. Your thought is on design registration, trademarking or other visual design protection. It may be that the lawyers decided that this is easier to protect than the look and therefore the look indirectly. Trying to protect the pure aesthetics would put them in competition for the design rights with MAC (ironically) makeup and many others for the visual style question. Their conclusion may be that it empowers them to be threatening to others using the look: "Prove you achieved it a different way, and prove it in court, with expensive lawyers, otherwise, cease and desist".

I agree with much of what Thomas states above plus the Patent is US only and not global. With regards the impact of new players because of the IoT and their challenge to the traditional players, that's been well underway for the last 9 years.

This patent seems more like a way of protecting Apple's unique store design from copy cats. We all know how precious they are with their brand identity. ''Raising Fears'' in the lighting industry seems a little alarmist.

It is interesting to see a luminaire such as this being patented, clearly as a function this is hardly new stuff, so the question would be whether there is an innovation in how the luminaire is constructed that is genuinely eligible for patenting. If not, one wonders if this is patent trolling - will they pursue payments from manufacturers of similar products, just as ColorKinetics/Philips demands for mixing Red, Green and Blue light. Courts are often unable to identify a true novelty (in the legal sense of the word) and therefor create ownerships where none is merited. While it would be relatively easy to undermine in court the concept (if not the technical methodology, depending on how it is done), who would want to take on Apple's lawyers. This also comes at a time when Apple's store designs are beginning to look stretched. The diffuse light and large luminous areas looked great initially, but in territories where energy code is pulling LPDs down, the stores look grey, flat. The are sliding off the Kruithof curve, and the lack of modeling becomes a problem as sexy veiling reflections lose their intensity. This patent may be arriving after the design is passing its prime.

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