Nokia’s Magnetic Tattoos Patent — Prior Art? Stupid Idea?

A ton of people have been sending me links to stories (here, here, here) about how Nokia has patented the idea of putting tiny magnets under the skin (generally described as being in the form of magnetic “tattoo ink”) so that they’ll vibrate in response to an EM field and make it easier for you to feel your vibrating phone and create a more intuitive haptic interface…

Um… Hello?

Todd Huffman invented and realized this concept back in January 2004 [edit: not quite true, see the comment from Jesse below], covered first on BME by me in The Gift of Magnetic Vision and then followed up with other articles like So What’s It Like Having Magnetic Vision, and later picked up by Wired (since writer Quinn Norton was an early adopter) and others. Steve Haworth, the 3D artist who along with implant design pioneer Jesse Jarrell, is responsible for taking Todd’s idea and actually making it possible, has a magnetic implant FAQ on his page. So for Nokia to lay patent claim to this concept is, well, patently ridiculous.

Having had magnetic vision for over half a decade now personally (I think I was the third person to get these implants, having been crazy for the since the moment the idea was passed my way), I think Nokia’s vision for them is shallow and, frankly, useless. To do what they appear to be describing, you’re still going to need to have a physical device to create the vibrating field. It seems to me there is absolutely no advantage to using an implanted magnet to pass on the sensation. For starters, it’s needlessly invasive, and most importantly, it’s highly unlikely that any new capability is added by using this interface.

The advantages to having a magnet implanted are much more profound. I am able to feel electricity flowing through cables. I can feel a tiny electric motor spinning through plastic (like a harddrive in a laptop). I can sense the power and frequency of power bubbles coming off transformers and diagnose electrical problems by touch, without the need for voltage meters and other tools. “Seeing” into the electromagnetic spectrum has become second-nature to me. It’s given me access to a richer world than I had access to before. Using it for something stupid like an alternative to a vibrating cell phone seems completely pointless. I’m sure they’ll get lots of press on it, and maybe that’s its real value. I wonder if any mainstream media (or even secondary media) will have the sense to call them on the prior art?

Body modification artists, especially those with transhumanist leanings, need to start filing patents!


  1. For the record, Todd didn’t invent anything, he just got the first one. The concept was discovered by a guy named Mike who, at the time, worked in a speaker shop and got an iron splinter in his finger, with which he could determine which speaker coils were magnetized or demagnetized. I decided on a silicone coated magnet, which was pretty obvious.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 3:21 am | Permalink
  2. I also question the effectiveness of what they have proposed. We had less effect using smaller magnetic masses.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 3:25 am | Permalink
  3. People will also think their phone is ringing every time they pass through an active security gate…

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 3:26 am | Permalink
  4. Shannon wrote:

    Jesse, that’s true, I hadn’t even thought about how EM pollution would affect their idea!!!

    And thanks for the tip on Mike, I’d forgotten that, I’ll ammend my entry.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  6. Rev. Jonathon wrote:

    I’ve had my magnetic vision for only about a month or so. but it’s like i’m getting more and more in tune with it all the time. i love it. thank you. my life is forever changed for the good.
    Plus the kids at Shriner’s hospital for children loved it too.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

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Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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