2014
04.29

Whatever your personal opinion may be regarding the sanctioning by the FAA (Federal Aviation Admin.) of the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) in U.S. airspace beginning next year, from a pure technological perspective, improvements for its use continue to appear in the patent grants each week.

One example is Patent 8,708,277 (“Method and Apparatus for Automated Launch, Retrieval and Servicing of a Hovering Aircraft”) awarded this week to Aerovel Corp. The patented method and apparatus is part of the company’s Flexrotor program which develops table-top vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles. Do yourself a favor and take a six-minute break to watch the absolutely charming video about the Flexrotor, one that will give you a true appreciation for the technology covered in the patent.

Aerovel was founded in 2006 and was featured in a story concerning its push into commercial drone applications.

Patent 8,712,579 (“Optimization of Packaging Sizes”) was granted to Amazon Technologies, Inc. In its relentless quest to improve the operating efficiencies in its distribution centers to drive down costs, as well as find a way to offset the rising shipping rates that carriers such as UPS and FedEx are charging, one strategy is to find a way to use a shipping carton that most perfectly matches the collective volume of the products it will contain. This is called packaging optimization, and it has been a focus area for many companies in the past decade, among which Amazon is notable because of the volume of packages it ships annually. In addition to the savings in shipping costs, there is the savings in the raw materials of the carton. Optimize the size of the shipping carton and you will, in the aggregate, pay much less to the paper mills that make the cartons. For Amazon, volume matters, and the process described in the patent moves it closer to the realization of the benefits from delivering what you ordered in a carton that has no unused space.

The importance of the rising cost of shipping to Amazon is reflected in the April 25th news report in the Wall Street Journal, picked up by other media outlets, highlighting Amazon’s three city experiment in doing its own deliveries with Amazon-controlled trucks. We know that Amazon has a deal with the United States Postal Service for local delivery, including Sundays, and the buzz about the winners and losers from Amazon’s direction is already starting to emerge. The important thing to remember is that Amazon pursues new process improvement technologies relentlessly, and patents the innovative technology aggressively.

In old legends and fairy tales, a troll was an ugly beast which lurked along roads in forests or under bridges. It would confront unsuspecting travelers and, worse case, eat them. Little children were an easy and savory target. So it comes as no surprise that the altogether negative image of this beast of legend has been assigned to companies that collect and hold patents and then sue companies for infringement with the sole objective of collecting royalty revenue. These companies are known as patent trolls. Courts have struggled to determine if and how the law can be applied to limit the negative impact of litigation as it retards the deployment of innovative technologies into the marketplace. Let’s equate today’s startup companies to the tasty children trolls delighted in eating.

In breaking news today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a significant ruling requiring companies that engage in “unreasonable” litigation conduct and then lose patent-infringement cases should pay the winners’ legal fees. This is a legal form of driving a stake through the heart of the troll bringing a suit for express purpose of extracting royalty revenue.

Here’s an interesting case that involves a company, Ditto Technologies, Inc., which today was granted Patent 8,708,494 (“Displaying Glasses with Recorded Images.”) The technology covered in the patent is used by the company, a recent startup, to allow you to sit in front of your camera-enabled connected device and see how an eyeglass frame would look on your face. Ditto was sued by two companies for patent infringement, and one of the suits, described as a company that fits the profile of a patent troll, was dismissed. Ditto turned to crowd-funding to raise money to fight the suits. The road to innovation is a dangerous one to travel, and to a startup targeted by a troll, a costly one as well.

Google had a good day, receiving 55 patent grants. The Google innovation ecosystem has two parts, internal innovation research and development which is coupled with its aggressive acquisition of technology companies that bring preexisting innovation “building blocks” into its ecosystem. An example of the latter is Google’s recent acquisition of Deep Mind, the UK-based artificial intelligence company.

Google’s ambitions are directly tied to those of its founders. Recently, at TED2014, Charlie Rose, the noted television commentator, interviewed Larry Page with a specific focus on Page’s vision of the technology of the future. They covered the Deep Mind acquisition, putting bicycle paths in the sky, using balloons to increase global Internet connectivity and other technologies that will influence the way we will live in the future.

My point is that with Google, we have a better chance of understanding of how to “connect the dots” between the new patents we see it receive week after week with the vision of its leadership on the direction they want Google to take. It is like having both the ability to rise above the forest to see its shape while inspecting each tree (patent) that makes up the forest. Breathtaking!