The US patent landscape is flawed, thanks to the presence of non-practicing entities, or “patent trolls.” But Google is making an impassioned plea to companies looking to keep their intellectual property out of the hands of these patent squatters: name your price and sell it to us.
This month, Google launched the Patent Purchase Promotion, a new marketplace where patent holders are invited to tell Google about patents they’re willing to sell, at a price they themselves have set. As Wired reports, the marketplace, which is open until May 22, will let submitters know whether it’s interested in purchasing their patents by June 26, with most payouts happening by late August.
“Unfortunately, the usual patent marketplace can sometimes be challenging, especially for smaller participants who sometimes end up working with patent trolls,” wrote Allen Lo, Google’s deputy general counsel for patents, in a blog post announcing the program. “Then bad things happen, like lawsuits, lots of wasted effort, and generally bad karma. Rarely does this provide any meaningful benefit to the original patent owner.”
It’s certainly an interesting way to combat NPEs, which have been very successful in drumming up business for themselves by extorting companies both small and large with threats of patent litigation. And as far as Google is concerned, any reasonable purchase price will surely be more cost effective than the looming threat of a nine-figure suit from a patent troll looking to cash in on a broad technology they have hoarded away in their portfolios. Depending on the success of Google’s program, this could set quite the precedent, and may lead to more technology companies setting up similar systems.
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It’s the whisper in the back of the smartphone user’s mind every time they make a call, send a text, or fire off an email: “Who else can see this?”
As it turns out, some phone manufacturers you may not expect are focused on keeping your conversations more secure than the millions of iPhone and Galaxy users around the world.
A recent Thomson Reuters patent analysis finds that categories related to smartphone security has increased 10 fold in the last five years, and manufacturers ZTE Corp and Blackberry – not Apple and Samsung – have been the most active over that span.
Some of the study’s key findings:
- Security Patents Explode: Patenting in the areas of call monitoring – including eavesdropping, and interception, and protecting the privacy of cellular callers – have increased dramatically in last five years. Only about 100 patents were filed in 2010. That numbers increased to 1,000 in 2014.
- Unlikely Heroes for Security, with an Asterisk: ZTE Corp (just over 160 patents), and Blackberry (100 patents) rank at the top of the filing list. However, the two company’s inventions are not as highly cited as others in the field. Ericsson (92), Blackberry and Qualcomm (88 each) boast the most highly-cited patents in the field, while LG, AT&T, and Nokia also have more citations than their number of inventions would indicate.
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- Huawei, Samsung Pick Up Their Pace: Another caveat of ZTE and Blackberry’s big numbers: their filing pace has slowed significantly. The bulk of the two companies’ activity came in 2011. Meanwhile, other major handset players – particularly Huawei and Samsung – have increased their interest. Samsung filed just short of 20 patents in the area between 2013 and 2015, while Huawei saw their holdings jump from less than 15 in 2013 to 40 in 2015.
Can the top phone manufactures catch up? Or will they simply rely on existing patents in the space?
How the market evolves for cell phone security is still very much in flux, and it’s clear from our findings that control of this corner of the industry is up for grabs.
Apple has been granted 60 patents, including technology that would use depth information for enhanced facial recognition.
The patent, detailed here on Patently Apple, would enhance 2D and 3D computer mapping of human faces. The new tech would make it easier for a computer to recognize if a face exists in a frame, and – if so – provided more accurate recognition.
“The human face is a dynamic object and has high degree of variability in its appearance, which makes face detection a difficult problem in computer vision,” the site writes.
So does this mean a user may soon be able to unlock their iPhone or pay for a coffee with Apple Pay just by looking at their phone? Maybe, but that might not be all.
With most patents filed, the most obvious application isn’t necessarily the one it will be used for.
Patently Apple says other applications for the patent could include content-based image retrieval, video coding, video conferencing, crowd surveillance, and intelligent human-computer interfaces. In the expanding world of digital surveillance and security, this patent could prove to have a huge impact.
This week, Panasonic announced its plan to offer 50 patents related to the Internet of Things (IoT) for free.
IoT is a term referring to objects embedded with sensors and connected to servers that collect data through the Internet.
The move is the latest in companies opening up their patent portfolios to the free market. Toyota recently announced their plans to allow access to their patents related to fuel cell vehicle (FCV) technologies free of charge. Last summer, Tesla Motors set the trend, when Elon Musk penned an article opening the floodgates to the company’s IP.
It begs the questions: why give away this information for free? And what companies may be next?
These firms have taken on this approach in attempt not only to glean some public favor – or simply as an altruistic endeavor – but also in an effort to grow their specific markets. Presumably, companies like Panasonic and Tesla have a head start in these respective fields, so as the industry grows and evolves, they’ll be more likely to capitalize with a bigger, more fleshed out development.
As this strategy continues to grow, and potentially proves successful, we can look to expect some similarly big plays in expanding fields – such as security, green technology, etc – to line up to give away their IP to the masses.
Not only will it provide a jolt to the utilization of their technology, but it will open up the inside lane for the bigger players to harness any new developments.
Apple has another patent battle on their hands.
Last week, Ericsson brought suit against the Cupertino giant for reportedly infringing on 41 of its patents that are used in iPhones and iPads.
“Ericsson’s technology and our engineers are behind these patents,” Gustav Brismark, head of the company’s patent strategy, said in an interview. “We’re asking for a fair payment from Apple for using our technology.”
Along with the potential ban on iPad and iPhone imports to the United States, Ericsson said it was also asking for payments for any potential damages caused by Apple’s using its patents without a license.
This isn’t the first time these companies have found themselves in litigation with one another. In January, the two companies sued each other over Apple’s use of a number of Ericsson patents related to wireless technology, so it seems Apple has a new opponent in the never-ending smartphone patent wars.
Ericsson has really gone on the offensive, and their attempt to block US iPhone and iPad imports is a power play. While they may fall short of attaining that goal, they certainly have gotten themselves noticed by both Apple and the market. That right there might be half the battle. Time will tell how this will shake out, but it could have huge ramifications if Ericsson is successful.
Is Uber infringing on a patent? That’s what Sidecar is claiming.
Sidecar is a small rival of Uber, whose founder obtained a patent related to mobile ride hailing way back in 2002. According to Gigaom, the patent, which confers on Sidecar the right to exclude others from using the invention until 2020, includes a drawing that shows a wireless network linking a car and passenger via satellite.
However, some believe Sidecar’s claim does not nearly have enough merit to stop Uber in its tracks.
“This application is really seeking to claim the basic idea of pricing and service, which is a concept Adam Smith discussed 200 years ago. The notion that’s a new idea in this day and age is far-fetched,” said Michael Strapp, a patent lawyer with Goodwin Procter, told Gigaom.
Uber’s earliest patents can be traced back to 2010.
To this point, nothing has been able to derail Uber, but the patent in question could certainly throw a monkey wrench in their business model. Uber’s share of the market is substantial, and they can take similar approaches that social media giant Facebook has in the past (i.e. buying Sidecar and its patent portfolio), or simply go to war in court to gain precedent that their business is infringement-proof. Still, even without a full-fledged taxi war, Uber might need to rely on its hot brand to deflect secondary adopters. It will be interesting to see what path Uber takes.
Arrested in China? Your intellectual property could be a get-out-of-jail-free card.
In December, we released a study that found China led the world with over 600,000 patent applications, but raised some questions about the quality of those patents. A new report from Gizmodo says that is partly due to a government that encourages inventors with everything from cash gifts, tenured jobs at universities, and even early release from prison:
“The unusual policy came to light last month when the Beijing Youth Daily published the results of an undercover investigation into an emerging cottage industry of patent application businesses that cater to an unusual market: Prisoners. Specifically, wealthy prisoners can pay these small businesses anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 to have inventors’ ideas patented as their own—everything from cigarette holders to geothermal energy innovations.”
The quality of China’s intellectual property is always a point of contention with its critics, whether it’s the nature of utility model patents or the aggressive government incentivization of patenting activity. This new wrinkle will undoubtedly add fuel to that fire. However, one takeaway from China’s extreme methods of gathering IP is the emphasis the government is placing on patents. There will be more to this story and China’s place in the global innovation landscape continues to evolve, but it’s clear that the country is making good on its promise to draw innovation from all corners.
Watch out, GoPro. Apple may be gearing up to get into wearable tech.
According to the Guardian, shares in GoPro have dropped more than 10% amid speculation Apple could be entering the wearable cameras market after it was granted a new patent.
But the patent may not indicate such a move by the tech company. The patent in question was actually filed by Kodak in 2012, and only came under Apple’s control as part of a slate of patents bought by consortiums led by Apple and Google for $525m.
This one has all the players. Kodak’s old portfolio is emerging to scare off GoPro investors, and it makes sense. Apple has developed their brand and their operating software to a point where consumers are now inherently more comfortable with anything the company produces. But let’s not underestimate GoPro’s share of this market. They have incredible brand recognition and a big head start. If Apple gets into wearables and pairs them with their iOS and Cloud-sharing capabilities, the possibilities are endless. But this could force GoPro to innovate faster and better, too. We could be on the precipice of exciting times in this space.
Apple and wireless technology company Ericsson have ramped up their ongoing fight over royalties and patents.
According to CNET, Apple filed a lawsuit this month in the US District Court for the North District of California which says that although it uses Ericsson’s LTE technology in its products, it does not believe that the patents related to that technology are essential to cellular operation and fetch too much in royalties.
“At issue is fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) patent licensing. Ericsson has secured FRAND status on some of its patents related to LTE wireless technology that Apple uses in its iPhone smartphones. While the companies previously had an agreement in place, Apple has battled with Ericsson over the past two years, saying that the FRAND license extension it was expected to sign is unfair.”
FRAND was a huge component of the war that raged for years between Apple and Samsung, and now Apple is once again fighting this fight, only this time its stateside (Ericsson is headquartered in Sweden). While Ericsson’s licensing model may be prohibitive, Apple may have a problem with precedent. Ericsson says they have reached fair deals with more than 100 companies in the industry, so Apple’s complaint could be seen as posturing by the iPhone maker simply to boost margins. That said, Apple has been very successful in patent litigation as of late, so this could ramp up a battle that Apple intends to take the distance. Time will tell.
Silicon Valley has a new way to fight back non-practicing entities (NPEs): death squads.
Don’t worry, that’s not literal. That’s the nickname for the Patent Trial and Appeals Board, a far more civilized way technology companies are figuratively lining up accused “patent trolls” for execution.
According to the SF Gate, the Board, which was created by Congress in 2011 and is made up of administrative patent judges, has eliminated 78 percent of NPE claims from September 2012 to March 2013.
“It’s not surprising a lot of the big tech companies” are using the board,” Peter Lee, a professor of law at UC Davis, told the Gate. “They are the ones most hurt by bad patents.”
It’s a huge development for tech companies, because it offers a quicker and more cost-effective way to resolve intellectual property disputes than going to court. NPEs can not only act as a drain on financial resources, but have the ability to draw a company’s time and energy away from their primary objection: innovation. The Patent Trial and Appeals Board seems to be working just as intended, and consumers may reap the reward with tech companies more focused than ever on creating more engaging products.