Apple Digital ID functionality is based on a government patent reassigned to the iPhone maker

We saw yesterday how Apple can make it difficult for competing smartphone makers to replicate the satellite communications feature of the iPhone 14, and now we’re learning that the same is true for Apple digital IDs, like credit cards. state identity and driver’s license.

Details are emerging about Apple’s partnership with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). These reveal that the iPhone maker not only secured a deal giving it the first chance to test the technology, but also had a key government patent for the system reassigned to Apple…

Apple digital IDs

The launch of Apple Pay signals that many of us no longer routinely carry physical payment cards, relying instead on contactless payments with our iPhone or Apple Watch. Many of us look forward to the day when we can do the same with official documents, like driver’s licenses and passports.

In June of last year, Apple announced its intention to start bringing this vision to life. Apple Digital IDs were officially launched in March in Arizona, allowing residents to store digital copies of their ID card and driver’s license in the Wallet app. About 30 states are considering adopting it, but rollout so far has been slow, with Maryland added in May.

Apple’s partnership with the TSA

FinTech Business Weekly reveals that Apple has created a partnership agreement with the TSA to implement digital ID functionality.

Documents obtained exclusively by Fintech Business Weekly show that Apple entered into a cooperative research and development agreement, known as CRADA, with the TSA, beginning in March 2019.

The research agreement facilitated collaboration between Apple and the TSA to develop technology that would “read” a mobile driver’s license at airport checkpoints when shared from an Apple device.

The government agreement appears to give Apple control over key intellectual property and patents resulting from the research collaboration. Although this is a common feature of CRADAs and the government itself retains intellectual property rights, it could put Apple’s competitors at a disadvantage in the race to develop a digital identity identifier. native and mobile first.

Other patent filings suggest that the collaboration between Apple and the TSA produced intellectual property related to the use of Mobile Identity Credentials (MICs) in “Know Your Customer” checks, in merchant or peer-to-peer transactions, to secure medical records, and even for use in voter identification – all of which could end up being controlled by Apple.

Government patent awarded to Apple

One of the characteristics of CRADAs is that they allow commercial enterprises to benefit from the intellectual property created through them. This may include the re-attribution of government patents to affected companies. The article reports that it happened in this case.

The key patent resulting from the collaboration, “Checkpoint Identity Verification on Validation Using Mobile Identification Credential”, was first filed in April 2020. In the initial versions of the filing, the applicant was listed as the US government and all inventors listed were employees. of TSA.

However, in August 2021, the government ceded its rights to the app to Apple. When the patent was granted in December 2021, the applicant was listed as Apple Inc., rather than the US government, and five additional inventors – Apple employees – were added to the patent.

The article speculates that the deal could require additional government patents to be awarded to Apple – but key parts of the CRADA are redacted, making verification impossible.

If the patented technology proves essential to the implementation of digital government documents, then Apple will be legally obligated to offer licenses under FRAND terms: fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory. Google, Samsung and others will thus be able to take advantage of the technology.

However, we know from past and present FRAND disputes that these can sometimes involve protracted legal battles, which could further strengthen Apple’s lead.

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