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Google plonks down cash for Foxconn's head-mounted display patents

'Our Glass division will have those, thank you'

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Google has snapped up a parcel of patents from Hon Hai Precision Industry, the Taiwanese electronic manufacturer more commonly known as Foxconn, in a move seemingly designed to bolster its Glass headsets against potential competitors.

In a statement obtained by The Wall Street Journal, Hon Hai described the patents sold to the Chocolate Factory as "Head Mounted Technology" that can create virtual images "superimposed on a real-world view."

No further details were revealed, and the price of the sale was not disclosed.

Hon Hai said it doesn't know whether Google plans to use the patents for Glass, adding that the patents are "commonly used in aviation and tactical/ground displays, engineering and scientific design applications, gaming and video devices as well as training and simulation tools."

If protecting Glass is the goal, however (and it seems likely), this wouldn't be the first move Google has made to shore up its portfolio of wearable-computing tech. In July, the web advertising giant bought a 6.3 per cent stake in Taiwanese chip designer Himax Display, which produces components for Sergey Brin's high-tech headsets.

Similarly, Foxconn is widely believed to be the frontrunner to build Glass for Google – possibly in a new, stateside facility in Santa Clara, California – but Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou has dismissed such reports as "speculative."

Google buying up Foxconn's patents could strengthen the relationship between the two companies, but it could also make it easier for Google to take Glass to any number of other manufacturing partners without being stung by intellectual property issues.

The patents could also be used to swat away would-be Glass competitors. Chinese search firm Baidu is reportedly planning to horn in on Google's action, as is Meta, a startup founded by Columbia University neuroscience researchers that has recruited Canadian wearable-computing guru Steve Mann to help develop a commercial augmented-reality headset.

Or the move could be purely defensive. Glass is currently only available in a limited "Explorer Edition" intended for developers and wearable-computing enthusiasts, but Mountain View is expected to release a version for the general public in 2014. By building up its wearable-computing patent war chest now, Google may be hoping to avoid the seemingly never-ending patent battles that have plagued its Android business.

Google did not immediately respond to The Reg's request for comment. ®

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