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Apple's exclusive deal with Liquidmetal extended through 2014

June 19, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
  • Apple says in an 8K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its agreement with Liquidmetal Technologies has been amended to extend the exclusive license "on a perpetual basis to Apple for the field of use of consumer electronic products." Liquidmetal is a shiny yet steely metal alloy strong enough to resist bending, scratching, denting and shattering, according to the scientists responsible.
Apple says in an 8K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that… (Karen Bleier /AFP/Getty…)

As ears are pressed to the ground and eyes to the screen for any hint of the next iPhone, Apple recently re-upped its exclusive deal with Liquidmetal Technologies for an additional two years, according to an 8K form filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

You'll remember, a couple of months ago, there was a flurry of speculation that iPhone 5 -- or whatever it's to be called -- would have its breakable glass back replaced with rugged Liquidmetal. When the iPhone 4 was released, there was a spate of images of shattered iPhones making the rounds.

Liquidmetal is a shiny yet steely metal alloy that incorporates zirconium, titanium, nickel, copper and beryllium, making it strong enough to resist bending, scratching, denting and shattering, according to the scientists responsible.

"It's expensive compared to aluminum and steel," Marios Demetriou, one of the lead researchers on the material at Caltech, told The Times in April. "A little more than titanium, [but] not like silver and gold."

Apparently, under the Master Transaction Agreement from August 2010, Liquidmetal was obligated to contribute "all intellectual property acquired or developed by the Company" to a "special purpose subsidiary" called Crucible Intellectual Property. That's what Apple had exclusive rights to.

In the filing, the agreement is amended to extend the exclusive license "on a perpetual basis to Apple for the field of use of consumer electronic products." The deal, originally set to expire Feb. 5 of this year, extends their relationship through Feb. 5, 2014.

So Apple gets at least a couple more years to build out and use the technology.

"I estimate that Apple will likely spend on the order of $300 million to $500 million -- and three to five years -- to mature the technology before it can used in large scale," Atakan Peker, one of the inventors of the Liquidmetal alloy, told Business Insider in May.

The researchers who spoke with The Times said that fabrication with the material is still in its infancy, though Apple and other manufacturers have been using the technology for small components.

As Caltech's William Johnson told The Times in April, "the bigger it is, the harder it is to get the heat out" and cool it quickly to keep crystals from forming. Something that's no more than an inch thick is ideal for this material.

Could it have a calling for iPhone 5?

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