Why is Apple starting to patent light fittings?

The newly-opened Apple store in Brussels has given the world the first glimpse of the company's new - and newly patented - lighting system

Apple has been granted a patent for the ceiling lighting system it has developed for its new-look stores in a move that has again raised the issue of the company’s intentions in the lighting market.

The US Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple US Patent No. 9,217,247 for its new illuminated ceilings, which will be the showpiece feature of its next-generation stores. One of the first in the world to sport the new look is the company’s outlet in Brussels. The fully-illuminated LED ceiling is interspersed with narrow linear lighting troughs which include spotlights and other services, a design that is not wholly unfamiliar to lighting professionals working in the retail sector.

Apple’s retail team believes uniform lighting offers the best way to showcase its technology products. The troughs can accommodate cameras, speakers, alarms, fire suppression systems and, it’s speculated, the company’s iBeacon Bluetooth transmitters, which would allow customer tracking, in-store location, payments and marketing push notifications.

While it’s not unusual for Apple to patent innovations outside its core computer technologies – after all, the stores’ famous glass staircases are protected by copyright law – the patenting of a luminaire design raises fears in the lighting industry that Apple has long-term ambitions for the sector.

It’s known that the company has a lighting research team for instance, and lighting control firms are fearful of being disintermediated in a world dominated by the so-called ‘Internet of Things’, where connected IP-enabled devices such as luminaires and lamps can be controlled by smart phones, smart watches and tablets.

  • Internet of Things-based lighting control, data capture and security will be a key theme of LuxLive 2017, which takes place on Wednesday 15 November and Thursday 16 November at ExCeL London. For more information, and to register for free, click here.

Picture: Julian Vanbelle