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OnePlus might face a lawsuit over its face unlock feature

A lawsuit does not appear to have been filed against OnePlus just yet, though the company is accused of infringing on at least one existing patent.

Published onDecember 22, 2017

The OnePlus 5T represents the company’s first smartphone to feature face unlock functionality, and in our review of the phone, we found that functionality to have worked extremely well. Unfortunately for OnePlus, its face unlock feature might have landed the company in legal hot water.

Speaking with MySmartPrice, SensibleVision co-founder and CEO George Brostoff claims that OnePlus infringed on at least one of his company’s existing patents. SensibleVision specializes in facial recognition and biometric authentication technology. Thankfully, the company does not appear to be a patent troll — its facial recognition technology is expected to debut in Android smartphones by the end of 2018.

According to Brostoff, OnePlus might have infringed on SensibleVision’s existing illumination patent. Android Central looked into the patent in question, which deals with using the display as a source of illumination for the camera:

A camera is used for providing images to the facial recognition software where the display operates in a first mode for displaying images to a user and in a second mode for illuminating the user’s face for detection by the camera.

Remember that the OnePlus 5T does not use any special hardware for its face unlock feature — it’s literally the front-facing camera and software trickery. Because of that, the OnePlus 5T might have infringed on SensibleVision’s patent, since the phone uses a camera for biometric authentication and its display as a light source.

Brostoff used a few qualifiers in his sit-down with MySmartPrice, though he remarks that OnePlus’ face unlock implementation is “nothing new”:

This is nothing new. We have been doing this for years. It even appears that they may be using several patented technologies.
We have not licensed our patents to OnePlus or their supplier. From the video on Forbes, they are likely infringing at the very least on our illumination patent.

Brostoff’s language implies that SensibleVision has yet to take any legal action against OnePlus. Even so, the illumination patent sounds a bit too broad for it to hold up in a patent infringement case.

This is the OnePlus 5T Star Wars Edition

Speaking to a public policy researcher , MySmartPrice also notes that patents are only valid in jurisdictions where they were granted. In other words, unless SensibleVision filed a patent application or was granted a patent for face recognition in China, there is no infringement, since the company is based in the US.

Even if it’s early days, we’ll keep a close eye on whether a lawsuit eventually manifests itself.