The New Year got off to a good start, carrying over from the strong finish to 2013.
Regarding that strong 2013 finish, EE Times published on Jan. 15, 2014 a review of the year’s patent awards detailing the numbers by category and companies.
Over the course of recent years, patent awards have been viewed as indicators of the rise and fall of international competition for technology leadership, and as we enter 2014, the level of U.S. concern over the surge of patents awarded to Chinese companies and individuals is heightening. For example, sandwiched between the January 7 and January 14 USPTO Gazette award announcements, we read that the U.S. military is creating a program to monitor and analyze the technology development and patents of China and other nations. The focus will be on those developments with potential military application. Whether or not this is really a new development, announcing it has the benefit of alerting an increasingly assertive country that a more detailed level of scrutiny is the new techno-political reality.
I am always surprised by the association of companies with newly patented devices or processes that are counterintuitive to my understanding of their business profiles. One such surprise came with the January 14 awards. Accenture Global Services Ltd., http://www.accenture.com/, is widely known as a consulting company to Fortune 500 companies across a broad range of technology disciplines. What is not widely known is that it patents processes that can position them with unique strategies that can be deployed to their clients. A very interesting example is Patent 8,630,924 covering the “detection of stock out conditions based on image processing.” You would not be blamed for passing this one over based on the title. Nonetheless, the process and technology covered by the patent have significant implications for retail stores and the brands that are sold in them. With the combination of image capture devices, location sensors (positioned on shelves), object recognition software and image analysis techniques, the benefits could improve shelf restocking (and all of the upstream steps in the retailer’s supply chain), agile positioning of products on the shelf based on customer selection, and interestingly, provision of a missing link to the “smart shopping cart” ecosystem.
Accenture was awarded ten new patents in the first two weeks of the New Year, which by comparison to other awardees such as Apple and Samsung, appears trivial. However, the nature of Accenture’s awards suggest a more holistic approach to using technology to solve broader issues which its clients are likely to want solved.
The number of awards for sensor devices and monitoring processes continues to astound. There is a sensor, it seems, for every device. A case in point is Sony’s wireless sensor for the tennis racket introduced (as a prototype) at CES 2014. In the first two weeks of 2014, Sony was awarded 130 patents in the first two weeks of 2014.
There was an interesting award to NXP, a member of the NFC standards group and a leading provider of contactless NFC semiconductor chips. Patent 8,626,066, entitled “Near Field Communication Device,” speaks to a two-state device with broad implications for P2P (person-to-person) information exchange. In the first “state,” the device enables traditional contactless transactions such as payments (such as getting a Coke at a vending machine), ticketing and access control. In the second state, the exchange of essentially non-transactional information between two personal NFC-enabled devices is envisioned. We should be looking for possible introduction in social networking applications.
You may not think that anything can top the dazzling array of connected devices being patented, I experience more awe and wonder reviewing the fashion designs that are patented every week. For those of you yearning for an upgrade to the look of our military uniforms, you have Patent D697288 covering the addition of a ponytail hole for the field hat (or “cover” for you Marines reading this).
And then there’s the next “must have” in footwear for all of you who yearn for ten-toe freedom. See Patent D697289.
It is only a matter of time before someone finds a way to put a sensor in each toe slot to wirelessly report to our smartphone application the temperature and humidity that big data will mine. All, of course, in the name of optimal foot comfort.
2014 promises to be an exciting one when it comes to new patents.