Nokia Files Patent For Vibrating Magnetic Tattoo
March 20, 2012

Nokia Files Patent For Vibrating Magnetic Tattoo

Jedidiah Becker for

Technology, it seems, has once again taken a turn for the creepy.

In a recent filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Helsinki-based cell phone maker Nokia has described a design for a vibrating magnetic tattoo that would alert users to calls or text messages on their cell phones.

In the patent application, the Finnish company detailed how a “ferromagnetic” substance could be applied either interdermally (as a tattoo) or topically to a user´s skin and then linked up wirelessly with their mobile device of choice.

And according to the application dug up by the tech news site Unwired View, the tattoo could be used for any number of alerts, expanding its potential uses along with the increasingly diverse functionality of our ever-smarter smartphones.

“Examples of ... applications may be low battery indication, received message, received call, calendar alert, change of profile, e.g. based on timing, change of time zone, or any other,” stated the official filing.

Moreover, various vibration styles could be paired with different kinds of alerts much like various ring and alert tones on cell phones today.

“The magnetic field may cause vibration of one short pulse, multiple short pulses, few long pulses ... strong pulses, weak pulses and so on.”

Although the vibrating tattoo or stamp could technically be located almost anywhere on a user´s body, the patent application specifically mentioned the arm, finger, fingernail and abdominal region as particularly likely locations.

While the patent filing specifically emphasizes the tattoo technology´s use as a sort of bio-integrated ring tone, the designers also hinted at another potential use that could provide it with more than the limited appeal of mere novelty.

According to the filing, the magnetic ink could be applied in specific shapes and patterns, making possible to use it as an identification key of sorts. In choosing a unique shape, the user would create his or her own “specific magnetic impedance” — a sort of personalized magnetic password or, more appropriately, barcode.

The potential uses for such a magnetized fingerprint are almost endless. And unlike microchip implants which have been criticized for — among other things — their vulnerability to hackers and signal thieves, the specific magnetic impedance could potentially provide the user with a far higher level of security.


According to Nokia´s filing, the metallic ink would have to be demagnetized before being applied to the user´s skin.

“Prior to using the ferromagnetic inks for attaching to human skin, the ink material may be exposed to elevated temperatures to cause demagnetization. Such demagnetized ink is then used for creating an image by dispersing the ink material on or under the skin to make a functional, tattoo like image,” read the filing.

After the demagnetized ink settles and any abrasions or slight wounds to the skin have healed, the “functional image” would then be re-magnetized using an external permanent magnet.

Finally, the newly magnetized image would have to be synced with the user´s mobile device of choice, and presto! Magneto, eat your heart out.

The mobile devices would also have to be equipped with Bluetooth-like technology capable of emitting a magnetic signal.


If approved and eventually put into production, Nokia´s new patent will represent a new category of user-to-mobile device interface, one that physically and semi-permanently integrates the user with the mobile device.

And Marek Pawlowski of the mobile industry research company PMN says that consumers can very quickly get used to a technology that initially seems strange.

“Our research suggests that once a user becomes accustomed to haptic feedback on a phone or tablet screen, other devices that don´t offer it can feel ℠dead´,” Pawlowski recently told the BBC.

Nevertheless, he added, there still will be something of an adjustment-curve, and most mobile users won´t initially be lining up outside of mobile phone stores to get their magnetized tattoos.

“Nokia´s patent suggests that their magnetic mark could be invisible — which might make this appealing to some. But in the immediate term I think users would draw the line at anything that is invasive like a tattoo or would be seen to have potential medical effects.”

And while magnetic fields are not known to have harmful physiological effects and are even used in therapy by many practitioners of alternative medicine, it nonetheless seems likely that magnetic tattoos would require the approval of the FDA. This means that consumers would likely have a number of years to get used the idea before the technology actually makes its way to the market.