Apple's Rumored Reversible USB Connector Supported by Patent Filing, but Likely to Face Challenge

Several leaked photos in recent days have suggested Apple may be looking to move to a reversible USB connector for its next-generation Lightning cables, making it easier for users to plug the cables into their computers, chargers, and other equipment with standard USB ports.

As noted by Patently Apple late last week, the idea is actually supported by an Apple patent application filed in January 2014 covering just such a design. The application was published just a few weeks ago and cites as priority a provisional patent application filed by Apple in January 2013.

Apple isn't the only company with this technology, however, so it is unclear exactly how this situation will play out given that Apple's patent application was only assigned to an examiner ten days ago. A California company by the name of UltraTek already holds a patent for the reversible connector and is selling cables through major online retailers.

FLipper-FRONT-L
UltraTek first filed a patent application for its "User-Friendly USB Connector" technology in 2009 and was awarded the patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2010. In the patent, the company describes a cable with two sets of conductive contact pins that allow it to be inserted into a USB port in either orientation.

A new user-friendly USB (Universal Serial Bus) male connector is physically and functionally compatible to the existing and future USB female connectors. Unlike the conventional keyed, polarized and position dependent USB male connector. The new user-friendly USB male connector provides spare connections, eliminates potential connector damage and allows normal and opposite insertions to the USB female connectors.

More than just a patent, UltraTek is marketing its reversible cable under the brand name, Flipper, with distribution through TrippLite. Different configurations of the reversible USB cables can be purchased through retailers such as Newegg, TigerDirect and others for less than $10.


Given its resources, Apple would undoubtedly be able to overcome the existing patent protection on the concept of reversible USB connectors, either through licensing/purchasing the existing patent or finding a way to work around it. The existing patent is, however, rather broad in describing the concept of a reversible "Type A" USB connector of the sort apparently being considered by Apple.

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Top Rated Comments

AngerDanger Avatar
129 months ago
1st World Problems: Can't put the effort to see if you're plugging in the USB correctly... :rolleyes:
Yeah, I cannot wait for MacRumors to finally get back to reporting on plague and famine.

Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
thekeyring Avatar
129 months ago
Was plugging in usb cords difficult before?

Most people get it right on the third attempt.

----------

I'm confused as to how Apple's patent got approved when there was already a company selling the product?
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
autrefois Avatar
129 months ago
I have to say that UltraTek has sunk to a new low. Some companies patent ideas with no plans to implement them just so they can demand royalties or sue later.

But UltraTek not only came up with how to implement a reversible USB connector and patented it, they actually have been producing and selling a reversible USB connector for several years.

They did all of this just so that they could milk money out of Apple later. Man, they've really taken patent trolling to the extreme!

:p
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
SgtPepper12 Avatar
129 months ago
Was plugging in usb cords difficult before?

Plug in – doesn't work – turn around – plug in – doesn't work – turn around – plug in – does somehow work.

That actually happens a lot to me and others I know. And sure, it may not be a lot of time that a new connector saves, but why should we put up with this in the first place when it's technically perfectly feasible to build a reversible one? Also, it's really not about the time, it is about the unnecessary frustration. I swear, there's at least one person on this planet that's dead because of this.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
luckydcxx Avatar
129 months ago
Was plugging in usb cords difficult before?

i know its a 50 - 50 chance of getting it in the correct way but i always seemed to get the wrong side. I will welcome this new version with open arms.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
dlewis23 Avatar
129 months ago
Was plugging in usb cords difficult before?

Yes... Lots of people have trouble with it. When its dark is almost impossible. :D
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)