Apple Secures Exclusive License To Use Liquid Metal Technologies

NEW YORK | Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 10:35pm EDT

Apple has obtained exclusive worldwide rights to use a new patented metallic glass substance in consumer electronic products, a SEC filing uncovered by the Baltimore Sun has revealed.

Apple licenses liquid metal technologies 1

LiquidMetal is made by cooling molten metal rapidly to prevent the creation of crystalline structures. It stores energy much better than stainless steel or titanium and can be made very elastic, in which case it absorbs just a small amount of energy when hit. Photo: LiquidMetal

Apple Inc. has obtained exclusive worldwide rights to use a new patented metallic glass substance in consumer electronic products, a SEC filing uncovered by the Baltimore Sun has revealed.

The metal alloys owned by Liquidmetal Technologies, a Caltech spinoff in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., were developed by a research team at the California Institute of Technology, and their amorphous, non-crystalline structure makes them harder than alloys of titanium or aluminum.

And the company has reportedly signed a deal with Apple on August 5 and transferred all of its intellectual property assets to a new company which has in turn licensed the technology to Apple on an exclusive worldwide basis for use in consumer electronic products while extending the license back to Liquidmetal Technologies for use in all other fields.

Apple isn’t saying anything about the deal, and it’s far from certain that the material will ever make it into its products. Though it matches the sleek Apple aesthetic, it’s prohibitively expensive.

The name “Liquidmetal” brings to mind the silvery, shapeshifting villain of the “Terminator 2″ movie, but the company’s products are somewhat less dramatic.

Introduced for commercial applications in 2003 through Liquidmetal corporation, the product has been used to create technology for the U.S. Department of Defense, has been found in medical equipment, luxury watches and phones, and is even used to create sporting goods like tennis raquets and golf clubs.

LiquidMetal is made by cooling molten metal rapidly to prevent the creation of crystalline structures. It stores energy much better than stainless steel or titanium and can be made very elastic, in which case it absorbs just a small amount of energy when hit.

The LiquidMetal features an amorphous atomic structure and includes a multi-component chemical composition that can be further optimized for various properties. Even though it has more than twice the strength of titanium, LiquidMetal still possesses the processability of plastics.

The high strength allows LiquidMetal to store and retrieve very high density of elastic energy in a mechanical device. It has been used in a number of products, ranging from tennis rackets, golf clubs, and bouncing steel ball bearings to a Vertu cellphone and a SanDisk USB memory stick. And now, only Apple can use this technology in gadgets.

Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Liquidmetal 2 570x379

Last year Omega announced the launch of the Seamaster Planet Ocean Liquidmetal Limited Edition, the world’s first watch to bond ceramics and Liquidmetal. The company has created a striking ceramic diving bezel whose numbers and scaling, made of the Liquidmetal alloy, appear in stunning silvery contrast to the black ceramic background. Photo: Omega

Apple is big on using metal in its designs – virtually every Mac is clad in aluminum, except for the cheapest MacBook. It’s even started making the bodies for its laptops and Mac mini desktop computers out of single, big chunks of aluminum that it then hollows out.

With Liquidmetal, that time-consuming process could conceivably be replaced with casting. Aluminum is also a relatively soft metal, prone to denting, scratching and scuffing.

However, Liquidmetal is still very expensive because it needs exotic raw materials, including beryllium. Some Liquidmetal alloys contain large amounts of platinum, which costs $1,500 an ounce.

Cult of Mac editor Leander Kahney observed that LiquidMetal alloys go hand in hand with Apple’s love for materials: “It’s unclear what Apple might do with the Liquidmetal license, but a good guess is for casings in future iPhones, iPods and iPads.”

“Because of the alloys’ high strength, iPhone and iPad cases could be super thin and very light. They would be scratch-proof and corrosion-resistant. Plus, they could be molded into intricate and unusual shapes,” he added.

The Liquidmetal Technologies spokesman said he could not say what Apple might use the materials for. Neither company disclosed the value of the deal, but Liquidmetal seems to have gotten a shot in the arm from it.

It hasn’t filed a financial statement since last year, but Steipp, an experienced technology executive, was appointed five days after the deal was announced.

“I believe there’s an opportunity for Liquidmetal to be a catalyst for changing the way that product designers think about building their products. It’s that different,” Steipp said.

“We have to prove that, but certainly from what I’ve seen as a technology executive evaluating the technology before I came in, we’ve made a lot of progress over the last eight years.” [Liquidmetal Technologies Inc via Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and Apple Insider]

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