What separates a path-blazing patent from an “every day” one? Put another way, what makes a patent “strategic” for a company, enabling it to gain significant competitive advantage over its competition?

Strategic patenting is a discipline in the larger practice of IP (intellectual property) management. A recent article on strategic patenting was reposted in http://www.ipstrategy.com/ on April 18, and provides a very good explanation with examples of patents that put the owners of IP way ahead of their competitors. You should not be surprised to see the name of Amazon among the companies described as leaders in strategic patenting. We should thank the author, Jackie Hutter, for this excellent contribution to our understanding of patent valuation.

Amazon Technologies, Inc. was granted a number of patents that focused on aspects of speech recognition (see my last Patent Report) that include phrase recognition with the objective of prompting response phrases to the listener, and customized speech generation based upon understanding a person’s behavioral patterns related to the specific context of the dialog. For example, one would respond differently to a person in a stressful situation compared with a pleasant one. Speech patterns vary from context to context. Having a device know the difference can lead to better dialog.

What makes this interesting to me is the sustained efforts that Amazon, Google and other companies are making around improvements in speech recognition. Just how far have we have come in enabling devices to pass the Turing Test? As recently as April 21, we read that a Google algorithm successfully passed the test, but did it really? There is controversy around the interpretation of what conditions satisfy the rules of the test, but the improvements coming weekly to the area of speech recognition are shortening the time until an unambiguous “pass” by a device will be recognized. Once this happens, the fundamental issue for personal information security will be the “hack” of your bank account by a device that is a behavioral and aural mimic of you.

Honeywell International Inc. was granted Patent 8,705,808 (“Combined face and iris recognition system”) which covers a broad range security-related use cases.

When I read through the listing of prior patent citations that provide the groundwork for the present patent, I found it striking that the first citation was for a patent granted in 1987 for an early iris recognition system. It is worth looking through because the earliest patent citation in that patent is from July 25, 1916, number 1,192,349 for a “Shadow Pupillometer.”

Following the technology bread crumb trail backward in time reminds me of Isaac Newton’s famous statement: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Like WiTricity’s recent citation of Tesla’s wireless energy transmission patent, creating a connection to devices separated by more than 100 years, so much of what we today introduce as technological innovation has deep roots in history.

Like Amazon’s grant for enhanced facial recognition in video, Honeywell received Patent 8,706,663 (“Detection of People in Real World Videos and Images.”) Security devices and systems are a large part of Honeywell’s business, and the advancements described in this and the face and iris recognition patent discussed above certainly help improve its product lines.

Here’s an interesting one from MIT. Reissued Patent RE44,856  (“Tactile Sensor Using Elastometric Imaging”) addresses the need to improve tactile sensors for an application such as a robot finger pad. There are three critical properties that are desired in a tactile sensor. As described in the Background section in the patent, “It should have high resolution (be able to make fine spatial discriminations), have high sensitivity (be able to detect small variations in pressure), and be compliant (able to elastically deform in response to pressure).” Let’s remember that MIT is the home of quite a few groups investigating robotics for different applications, so a patent like this granted to MIT should not come as a surprise.

Ever want to know what information is actually carried on your credit card? Then check out Patent 8,701,989 (“Methods and Systems for Displaying Loyalty Program Information on a Payment Card”) granted to MasterCard International Incorporated. The schematic of the card and the explanation of what each part of the card represents is an excellent visual aid. You’d be surprised by “what’s in your wallet,” to borrow a phrase from Capital One.