Recently as I have been perusing the ongoing research Studies being conducted by Article One Partners (AOP) I have noticed more of what I would classify as “non-traditional projects.” In some AOP Studies you will see that they are looking only for non-patent literature, or simply NPL as it is commonly referred to in the industry. In others the Study is open to both NPL, patents and patent applications. But increasingly I am noticing Studies that are seeking only issued U.S. patents.
Typically, an Article One Study seeks to identify the best available prior art for a specific technology. Many times one or more patent numbers are provided in the Study description, so it is easy to surmise that either the patentee is considering litigation and wants to know what could be found, there is some ongoing due diligence associated with a potential acquisition, or a defendant or possible defendant is searching for prior art to use in litigation or perhaps during a reexamination proceeding.
One of the things that AOP excels at is locating non-patent literature, which is often the most difficult prior art to find. NPL can be quite valuable, though, because frequently it will be the closest prior art, or at the very least provide some critical connection to issued patents and publications that can be used to support an obviousness rejection, for example.
AOP has historically made their name by finding this most difficult prior art, thanks to the more than 1 million researchers that their Studies are sent to as they are published. The idea is that someone, somewhere in that extraordinarily large list of highly educated scientists and technologists, will know of or be able to easily find a reference of value.
So what is going on with these research Studies that seek only U.S. patents? It would seem that based on the specific details of some of these research assignments there are a growing number of entities using the AOP network to search for patents that might be able to be acquired for some strategic purpose. If that is what is going on it would be a creative way to use the AOP network of researchers to identify patents and/or patent portfolios. It also means that if you are a patent searcher and you are not frequently perusing ongoing AOP Studies you are missing an opportunity.
For example, take a look at three ongoing Studies that relate to cloud computing:
Each of the above Cloud Studies are open until October 16, 2012. They all seek only issued US patents, but specifically patents that have an issue date between 2002 to 2007. Each Study defines the elements that should be covered in the patent(s). Patents with fewer elements can be submitted, but the claim(s) must not include novel elements other than the elements listed in the Study. In each case the Reward is $3,000, which is guaranteed to be paid to the researcher presenting the most relevant patent or patent portfolio.
There will be some that will undoubtedly want to jump to the conclusion that a non-practicing entity is seeking patents that could be used in litigation or licensing. While that may be the case, I doubt that is what is going on here. Would a non-practicing entity hire AOP to engage in what could be a fruitless search in the hope that one or more patents would be found and then once found that the owners would be willing to sell? While you can never discount the possibility completely, I suppose, it would seem to be to much of a speculative search for a non-practicing entity to engage in on what is really nothing more than a whim, or a wing and a prayer.
What I suspect, although I don’t know for certain (please see disclaimer at bottom), is that the AOP platform is being used larger practicing entities for one of two purposes. First, there are a number of defensive portfolios that accept contributions from practicing entities to collect patents that pertain to what they are doing, and so that they don’t fall into the hands of non-practicing entities or others who might seek to litigate. These practicing entities receive licenses to what is essentially a patent pool. The other possibility is that there are standard setting bodies or organizations at work that are looking for the foundational patents that will support the fledgling sector. Acquiring foundational patents would make it more attractive to others who may wish to join, contribute their technology rights and then build upon a common platform.
Although I have no particular inside information, I suspect that these studies are being conducted by an entity working to build a defensive portfolio. Those entities can easily have tens of millions of dollars behind them, making it feasible to engage in such a search and more realistic that they would have the funds to persuade a reluctant patent owner to sell.
Whatever the case may be, it seems that the industry is continuing to find interesting ways to use the Article One Partners platform to find prior art, whether it be in the form of patents, published patent applications or non-patent literature.
In addition to the previously mentioned Cloud Computing Studies, Article One Partners currently has 41 open and active Studies. Some that may be of particular interest may include those that follow. To participate as a researcher to submit prior art to these or any other AOP study you can register by visiting Article One Researcher Overview.
This Study relates to U.S. Patent No. 5,949,880 (View Details| PDF) and U.S. Patent No 5,940,510 (View Details| PDF). These patents disclose a system and method for secure electronic transactions. The system is comprised of a portable module that securely communicates with a microprocessor based module either via a portable module reader or other electronic device. The portable module may have a unique identification number, a real-time clock, the ability to count transactions, and other components. The portable module reader can communicate with the portable unit and with other devices (e.g., a credit card reader or ATM). The microprocessor based module communicates with the portable module reader and has the ability to process, send, and store encrypted data; in particular, data representing monetary equivalents. The system facilitates the secured electronic transfer of data representing monetary equivalents between the system components.
This Study relates to US Patent Nos. 6,105,013 (View Details| PDF), 6,237,095 (View Details| PDF) and 5,805,702 (View Details| PDF). These patents disclose a system and method and associated software and firmware for conducting secure electronic transactions. The device is a portable device (preferably a smart card or other common item carried or worn by a person) which contains at least a processor, co-processor, memory, a real-time clock, and an input/output circuit. The process of communicating between the portable device and other systems (such as a service provider’s equipment) includes encrypted data transfer and signed certificates to send or receive monetary equivalents. The portable device is capable of time stamping and storing information about the transaction.
This Study relates to US Patent Nos 7,210,160 (View Details| PDF) and US Patent No. 7,859,597 (View Details| PDF). These patents disclose a system and method enabling a spectator to conveniently view a live event from different perspectives on a handheld device while at a live event. The device should be a programmable device that receives wireless audio/video feeds where the user interacts with programing loaded on the device to interact with the audio/video feeds. A user is provided with a plurality of audio and video signals defining different sounds and views associated with an event. The system includes a handheld device having a video receiver, a display device, and one or more speakers. The user interacts with the device via a programmed user interface to select which live video signal to view. The device may be used at a first and second event, where the second event takes place at a different point in time. The device is configured to wirelessly present select corresponding audio and video content to the users while at each of the first and second events.
This Study relates to a communication system that routes calls to multiple call centers. The system can be used for emergency services and employs a central data manager that can analyze and record automatic number information (ANI) and automatic location information (ALI) for each incoming call. Based on the ANI and/or ALI, the central data manager is configured to receive the incoming calls from a communication network and route them to remote terminals, e.g., Public Safety Answer Points (PSAPs) over a wide area network. The central data manager includes a database that is partitioned such that each partitioned portion is associated with an individual call center so as to maintain the privacy of each call center’s data.
DISCLAIMER: Although Article One Partners is a major sponsor of IPWatchdog.com, no information non-public information about any study has been provided to me. While I do write a weekly article about interesting research Studies AOP currently has ongoing, I do not know who AOP’s clients are that may have requested any particular Study. Likewise, I have no inside information related to why any particular study may have been undertaken. Nevertheless, as I write this weekly column I do research and from time to time stumble across ongoing litigation. That does not suggest that AOP has given me access to such information. It merely means I was able to find it through publicly available documents. Furthermore, any speculation on my part is just that — speculation.- - - - - - - - - -
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About the Author
Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and the founder of the popular blog IPWatchdog.com, which has for three of the last four years (i.e., 2010, 2012 and 2103) been recognized as the top intellectual property blog by the American Bar Association. He is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.