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Manufacturers own patents to cut radiation

WASHINGTON-While the wireless industry steadfastly maintains the safety of cell phones, top mobile-phone manufacturers during the past decade have quietly sought-and received-patents to reduce the kind of radiation absorbed by the human head that some research suggests could be linked to brain cancer and a host of neurological disorders.

In a white paper to be issued shortly, wireless consumer advocate Carl Hilliard will reveal that Nokia Corp., Motorola Inc. and L.M. Ericsson have received patents since the mid-1990s to reduce mobile-phone radiation. The new information, taken directly from patents, is expected to be introduced in various mobile-phone cancer lawsuits pursued by Hilliard, Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos and others.

To date, wireless firms-backed by various studies-have declared phones safe and distanced themselves from the new cottage industry of radiation-protection accessories for phones. The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees radiation-emitting devices, and government agencies overseas say research to date does not appear to link mobile phones to cancer, but they caution that more studies are needed before phones can be declared completely safe.

In one case, Nokia, the No. 1 mobile-phone supplier, ties a patented invention directly to suspected health risks from cell-phone radiation. On July 28, 1998, Nokia received a patent for a shield layer between the antenna and the user to reduce the electromagnetic irradiation of the user.

The Nokia patent application states the mobile-phone antenna is a “few centimeters from the brain, the hearing organs, the organ of equilibrium. Although a direct heating effect could be left without further consideration, it has been suggested that modulated radio-frequency radiation induces changes in the electrical status, i.e., in the ion balance of nerves. A continuous localized exposure to radio-frequency irradiation has been suggested to weaken myelin sheets of cells and to eventually lead to an impairment of hearing capability, vertigo, etc. It has been suggested that radio-frequency irradiation may stimulate extra growth among supportive cells in the nerve system, which in the worst case it has been suggested could [lead] to a development of malignant tumors, e.g., glioma.”

In at least two mobile-phone cancer lawsuits-one filed by Hilliard on behalf of Gibb Brower in California and another litigated by Angelos on behalf of Christopher Newman in Maryland-the brain cancers have been diagnosed as gliomas. Sources say Angelos, who considered dropping the Newman case to pursue suits to force industry to supply headsets to consumers, has decided to continue to represent the 42-year-old neurologist and brain cancer victim.

“The patents speak for themselves. Here these folks have the ability to protect consumers from being radiated and they’re unwilling to spend a couple bucks to do so,” said Hilliard. “It’s outrageous.”

“I wouldn’t comment on what the motives are on the part of engineers. I know phones out there meet FCC [Federal Communications Commission] guidelines,” said Jo-Anne Basile, vice president for external and industry relations for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. While the FCC radiation exposure guidelines for phones and towers have been upheld by the courts, critics say the federal standard protects against heating but not against non-thermal bioeffects that some studies have found.

Nokia received another patent on Dec. 29, 1998, for an accessory radio-frequency unit that “decreases radiation towards the user’s head.”

Mobile-phone makers said the radiation-reducing patents do not suggest they have anything to hide regarding public health and regard the patents as the work of engineers trying to make phones more efficient.

“Nokia has countless patents and filing patents for technologies relating to our various businesses is a normal business process,” said William Plummer, vice president of government and industry affairs for Nokia.

Likewise, Norm Sandler, a Motorola spokesman, stated: “The engineers pursue technological innovations they believe might be significant. When asked whether Motorola management was aware of the radiation-reducing patents, Sandler said, “Chris Galvin [chief executive officer of Motorola] doesn’t sift through all the patents put forth by engineers.”

Two other explanations have been offered by industry. One is that multimedia applications promised by third-generation mobile phones will require more power and a stronger signal and another is that engineers are given financial incentives to invent. On the other hand, Internet-driven mobile phones were barely being talked about when many of the patents were sought and none of the patents cited in this story mentioned phone applications as a rationale for reducing radiation. Indeed, the patents focus primarily on users, 115 million of which receive cell service today.

The picture painted by industry is one where engineers operate without direction or knowledge of management objectives.

On Jan, 25, 2000, Nokia received a patent for a cell-phone alarm system that would allow the user to “reduce to a minimum the SAR [specific absorption rate] value and the quantity of radiation directed at his head or body by employing the correct appliance position and situations and by adjusting the transmission time.”

Hilliard said he identified at least three Motorola patents for reducing phone radiation. Motorola filed a patent application on Dec. 26, 1995, for “an antenna with absorptive electromagnetic shield … constructed by encasing the radiator [the antenna] in a polymer coating having an exterior sector and an interior sector. The interior is located in selective areas or the radiating element for rendering the antenna directional … In general, adding ions to an electrolyte creates charge carriers in the gel (both electronic and ionic) which will have two effects upon electromagnetic radiation at RF frequencies. First, the charge carriers will oscillate with the electromagnetic radiation creating an effective screening of radiation … A second effect is experienced due to the fact that the gel material is not ideal. These two effects added together function to make an effective electromagnetic radiation absorber over a wide frequency range.”

Motorola also proposed to color coat the jacket of the antenna “in order to provide the user with an indication of the direction of the radiated energy.”

On Sept. 23, 1997, Motorola filed (and subsequently received) a patent application for an antenna shroud that “protects a user of the portable radio from coming into direct contact with radio-frequency radiated by antenna element.”

Two days later, on Sept. 25, 1997, Motorola submitted (and subsequently received) a patent application whereby “a high magnetic permeability/low reluctance material is incorporated into an antenna to limit radiation, where radiation is not desired.” The material, states Motorola, “is positioned, relative to the placement of the radiator, to limit or otherwise influence the pattern of radiation generation by the radiator as well as the near-field of the antenna itself. Preferably, the … material is positioned along a particular side of the radiator, where no radiation is desired.”

Ericsson, according to Hilliard, received a patent for an antenna switch to prevent a mobile phone from being used unless the antenna is fully extended. The patent states that if the antenna is not fully extended “the antenna will be in undesirably close proximity to the user’s head, thereby increasing the user’s specific absorption rate (SAR) of electromagnetic energy from the antenna.”

At RCR Wireless News press time, Ericsson had not yet responded for comment.

Other radiation-reducing patents were secured by Hitachi in 1991, Mitsubishi in 1992 and Alcatel N.V. in 1996, according to Hilliard and Microwave News, a New York-based trade publication.

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