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Microsoft Receives Controversial GPS Patent

January 30th, 2012

CBS News Seattle catapulted a single patent into a national news story when it dubbed Microsoft’s new GPS technology the “avoid ghetto feature.”  The patent in question protects technology that allows users to plot a route to avoid an “unsafe neighborhood or being in an open area that is subject to harsh temperatures.”  It uses crime statistics and weather data and includes them when calculating a route.

Laura GazeLaura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions: This news story has created a fair amount of controversy focused on the technology’s potential to hurt the reputations – and economies – of certain neighborhoods as well as the political correctness of the concept.

For those of us at the intersection of data and IP, it seems the bigger question this new patent raises is: What are the implications of technology that can use objective data to make subjective determinations?

The Microsoft patent determines “safety” by cross-referencing against crime and temperature statistics.  The fact is, we’ve come to a point in our ability to store and rapidly query vast databases that all manner of subjective interpretations can now be made by technology.

Industry analyst Rob Enderle summarized the phenomenon in an interview with NPR:

“The new GPS feature has nothing to do with race or income — it’s about technology doing for us what it’s supposed to be doing. ‘It’s part of an overall effort to make navigation systems more intelligent so they keep you out of danger, whether you’re driving or you’re on foot.’”

How will this forward march of data-based decision support influence future patent development?  It’s hard to know for sure, but the path is sure to be littered with many more controversial inventions as the lines between objective and subjective continue to be blurred by technology.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Innovation

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