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HTC awarded patent similar to Face Unlock

HTC has been granted a patent for a system that allows a phone or other device to be unlocked using facial recognition and other biometric data.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the patent this week and describes the process as: “Capturing an image of an external environment with a camera in the computing device to thereby obtain the biometric information; allowing a user of the computing device to enable specific user authorization; when the specific user authorization is enabled, detecting whether a facial profile exists in the image and matches a predetermined facial profile of an authorized user of the computing device.”

But that’s kind of system has been around on Android for ages, you’re probably thinking. And you’d be right, Face Unlock is one of our top 10 features in Ice Cream Sandwich.

However, HTC applied for its patent back in November 2008 and Android’s Face Unlock system was deveoped after that.

The big question is, what will HTC do now that it has officially been awarded the patent?

On the one hand, HTC is one of Google’s Android partners and might not want to sour that relationship. On the other hand, the simple fact is that a patent allows you to charge a fee to anyone who uses your patented idea. Will HTC try and squeeze some cash out of Google over Face Unlock? If this was a teen movie we’d be shouting, “Awkward!”

One answer may be in the patent itself. HTC’s unlock system uses not only facial recognition but also other forms of biometric data such as thumbprints to access a device. Google could argue that it is sufficiently different from face unlock to mean the patent doesn’t apply.  

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