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Apple Patent Application Addresses Use of Ambient Light Sources for Notebook Backlighting

A rather strange patent application published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (via Patently Apple) reveals that Apple has looked into the possibility of using reflecting "light harnesses" as a means to gather ambient light for backlighting purposes in notebook computers. In particular, the patent application proposes harnessing sunlight while the user is outdoors on a bright day and the device's own backlight is overwhelmed by the incoming sunlight.

In some embodiments, external light may be collected to illuminate a display screen of an electronic device. The external light may originate from any source or combination of sources sufficient to at least partially illuminate the display screen, such as an accessory light bulb, the centralized illumination system in a vehicle cabin, or the sun. The electronic device may be any device capable of presenting information to a user on a display screen. The display screen may include any suitable screen, such as a liquid crystal display ("LCD") screen, that may present visual information to a user of an electronic device and, in some instances, accept user input information (e.g., a touch screen).

The patent application describes several implementations of the "light harness" concept that would serve to focus or route light from an exterior source to the display, including what appears to be a bulky reflector that would sit on the back of the display and could be rotated to an "open" or "closed" position depending on whether it is gathering light from an external source such as the sun or an internal source from the device itself.


Notebook computer with light reflector shown in closed (left) and open (right) positions

The patent application was filed in September 2008 and is credited solely to Pete Mahowald, a member of Apple's illumination group.