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The Evolution of Video Game Consoles: A Tribute to Ralph Baer

Posted: Friday, Dec 12, 2014 @ 10:00 am | Written by Steve Brachmann | No Comments »
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Posted in: Authors, Evolution of Technology, Famous Inventors, IP News, Articles, Patents, Steve Brachmann, Technology & Innovation, Video Games & Online Gaming

Ralph Baer, inventor of the video game console

Over the past week the world lost a major name in video game technology, the man who originally developed the entire concept of playing games through a television screen display. Ralph Baer, a 2010 inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, passed away on Saturday, December 6th at the age of 92. From his mind sprang a wide array of technological innovation; Baer was assigned 50 U.S. patents and another 100 international patents during the course of his life. However, it is console-based video gaming that would bring the inventor his greatest renown by breathing life into an entertainment industry which now reaps annual revenues which stretch well into the billions.

Today, we’d like to take a little time to honor the life of a true engineering visionary, one who understood the interactive potential of television sets decades before companies were willing to jump on board. In his long life, Ralph Baer exemplified the spirit of invention, developing his own ideas with a singular focus while conceiving an incredible breadth of useful technologies. Although the proliferation of video gaming consoles would gather steam late in the 20th century with the development of semiconductors, our Evolution of Video Game Consoles shows that early video gaming development that set the stage for all of the well-known consoles with which our readers will be familiar is solely the contribution of the German-American inventor Ralph Baer.

Is the Patent Market Poised for Rebound in 2015?

Posted: Thursday, Dec 11, 2014 @ 10:30 am | Written by Gene Quinn | 10 comments
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Posted in: Authors, Gene Quinn, IP News, Articles, Patent Business & Deals, Patents

The past several years have been difficult on patent owners. The erosion of patent rights has continued, and with it patent value has largely collapsed in several key sectors of the U.S. economy, including in the biotechnology and software industries. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel and real reason to believe that the industry has hit the bottom and will experience a bounce upward in 2015.

While timing a bottom is never a good investment strategy, recognizing a bottom does present real opportunity. As the 18th century British nobleman Baron Rothschild is famously quoted as saying: “The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” This contrarian philosophy is based on the realization that when things hit bottom they can’t get any worse, and can only get better. In the patent/innovation sector there are some recent signs that things may have hit the bottom and be trending up, although I recognize that it doesn’t yet feel that way for many.

It seems to me that we have largely weathered the storm. The Supreme Court did not say software is patent ineligible, and we know from previous decisions that at least some business methods are in fact patent eligible. The Federal Circuit finally found software patent claims patent eligible, and according to Michelle Lee’s testimony at her confirmation hearing, the guidance from DDR Holdings will be incorporated into the forthcoming Alice guidelines. Furthermore, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) seems to have no appetite for patent reform, and from what I hear the industry is poised to fight for patent eligibility in Congress if the right opening presents itself. So all things considered, as a whole the industry seems to have bottomed out in 2014. If Congress stands down on patent reform, or instead actually focuses on things that might bring change for the better, 2015 promises to be a much better year. After all, it couldn’t get much worse.

High Value Patents – Where Strength Meets Quality

Posted: Thursday, Dec 11, 2014 @ 9:00 am | Written by Gene Quinn | 6 comments
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Posted in: Authors, Gene Quinn, IP News, Articles, Patent Business & Deals, Patent Drafting, Patent Prosecution, Patents

A typical General Counsel will see a variety of patent demand letters, at least some of which are legitimate and some of which are the type of bogus demands that are so vilified in the media and on Capitol Hill. A problem for many in house attorneys, particularly those who are themselves not technology companies but are technology users, is shifting through to determine which patents pose a real risk and which letters need to be taken seriously because the patents strong, high quality and likely to be litigated.

The terms patent strength and patent quality get used frequently within the industry, but what do they really mean? To a large extent the meaning of the terms depends on your viewpoint. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has historically employed a variety of quality metrics, but is a patent that is considered high quality from the perspective of the USPTO a strong patent, or a patent that the industry would view as a high quality patent, or one that would be viewed to be a valuable patent?

Whether we like it or not, the value of a patent is related to the likelihood that it could be successfully enforced in litigation. The value of the patent is also a function of the likely damages that could be obtained in litigation, which is related to the contributions made by the innovation underlying the invention disclosed in the patent. But the overwhelming number of patents are not litigated or licensed. In fact, by some estimates less than 5% of patents will ever be licensed or litigated. Indeed, even in a portfolio that is licensed there will be a handful of anchor patents that are of primary importance, with the remainder of the portfolio there to create volume, or safety in numbers.

Lee Confirmation Hearing Dominated by Talk of Patent Reform and Patent Trolls

Posted: Wednesday, Dec 10, 2014 @ 11:49 am | Written by Gene Quinn | 13 comments
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Posted in: Authors, Congress, Gene Quinn, Government, IP News, Articles, Patent Reform, Patent Trolls, Patents, USPTO

Michelle Lee at confirmation hearing 12/10/2014.

Earlier today at a confirmation hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Charles Grassley (R-IO) stated that the nominees for USPTO Director (Michelle Lee) and Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (Daniel Marti) would not be confirmed during this Congress. Grassley also explained that with new members of the Committee it would only be fair to give those new members an opportunity to ask questions of the nominees. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) inquired whether Grassley would allow the nominations to move early in January, to which Grassley responded that he thought that was a reasonable request.

As Senator Grassley moved into his questions he asked both Daniel Marti and Michelle Lee whether patent trolls are a problem and whether they would work with the Senate, if confirmed, on new legislation to address any problems. Lee said that she does think there is a continuing problem with abusive patent litigation, further saying “there can and should be further legislation” to address patent trolls. Shortly after this answer was given, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) during her question and answer period pointed out that “one person’s patent troll is another person trying to protect his or her patent.”

The issue of patent reform and patent trolls would go on to dominate the confirmation hearing. At one point during his questioning of Lee, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) explained that patent reform has been a real eye opener for him. While working on the America Invents Act (AIA) he explained that he in good faith tried to take the considerations of his constituents into consideration, offering amendments to address their concerns. Then after he voted for the bill he was inundated with calls and e-mails about why he voted for that “bad bill.” Durbin explained that he has since become determined to be far more proactive because this is such an important issue. He has been holding meetings and talking to constituents and everyone is telling him that it is premature to engage in additional patent reform and the Congress should slow down.

Toxic Asset: The Gradual Demise of the American Patent

Posted: Wednesday, Dec 10, 2014 @ 10:00 am | Written by Louis Carbonneau | 1 Comment »
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Posted in: Authors, Guest Contributors, IP News, Articles, Patent Business & Deals, Patents

Not such a long time ago, owning a US patent was worth something! A patent was often the foundation for new and exciting startups, as well as a source of pride –and hopefully profits- for inventors. These assets promised competitive and strategic advantage in the market; conduits to new investment and deterrence to free riders. Remember, at essence patents are a reward in the form of a limited legal monopoly (20 years from filing), conferred by the government in exchange for the inventor publicly disclosing their inventions. The genesis of patents traces back to ancient Greece. Through a long history of societal adoption, “modern” patent systems has been in place for centuries in the industrialized world. Close to 180 countries adhere to the Paris Convention treaty, which lays the foundation for worldwide patent protection, from China to Zimbabwe.

Needless to say, if innovators want to share their inventions with the world at large -which then can assimilate and incorporate millions of improvements- it is because they stand to benefit from patents financially. The patent system is not an altruistic one; remove that incentive and people immediately revert to keeping things in secrecy, a behavior that the very patent system was created to suppress. Anyone working around innovators or who plays in the IP space has seen these forces at work and fully understands that adequate IP protection is a prerequisite for driving innovation. As a result, trillions of dollars have been invested this past century in R&D or transacted through various forms of licensing. In the modern technological era, the US has built and enjoyed the largest and strongest economy in the world based in large part on new and innovative economies that rely on patent protection. The companies you depend on most for your daily activities (Google, Samsung, J&J, Apple, Microsoft, Ford, Boeing, etc.) have all invested in tens of thousands of US patents for the same reason foreign governments buy US currency; the title has value.

The Evolution of Modern Ballpoint Pen: A Patent History

Posted: Wednesday, Dec 10, 2014 @ 8:00 am | Written by Steve Brachmann | No Comments »
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Posted in: Authors, Consumer Products, Evolution of Technology, Famous Inventors, Articles, Patents, Steve Brachmann, Technology & Innovation

László Jozsef Bíró, the inventor of the ballpoint pen.

If any one product were to sell at the incredible rate of 57 units per second over the course of a year, it would have to be considered one of the most commercially successful consumer products of all time. That consistent level of high sales may seem impossible, but that was exactly the rate at which ballpoint pens were sold around the world during 2006. The ballpoint pen is so readily available and cheap that it’s impossible not to take for granted that at one time, jotting down a quick note used to be a much more complex process than whipping a pen out of your pocket and maybe fumbling with the cap for a moment or two. At worst, the pen’s ink might have run out, but for most consumers a replacement or twenty is within close reach.

Today, we return to our Evolution of Technology series to profile the development of a writing utensil, which most of our readers are likely carrying on them as they peruse this column. The ballpoint pen as we know it has changed slightly over the years, but most of the significant developments involving the ballpoint pen can be traced to Hungarian inventor László Jozsef Bíró, a 2007 inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. There are some fascinating aspects to the story of the ballpoint pen: it enabled the escape of its inventor from Nazi Germany and has an interesting marketing history in the United States. Below, we explore the development history of this simple yet incredibly practical writing tool and profile some of the important patents issued to pen innovators along the way.

Trade Secrets – A Viable Alternative to Patents

Posted: Tuesday, Dec 9, 2014 @ 10:30 am | Written by Peter J. Toren | 9 comments
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Posted in: Authors, Guest Contributors, IP News, Articles, Patents, Trade Secrets

All three branches of the U.S. government have attacked the patent system in the past year. Congress is considering amending patent law to curtail litigation by nonpracticing entities, or “patent trolls,” as they’re pejoratively known, even though their impact on the patent system is open to debate. President Barack Obama compared patent trolls to extortionists. And the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against patent owners in five cases in the past term, overturning five of the six decisions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit involving questions of patent law. Accordingly, inventors should consider alternatives to patent law to protect their valuable intellectual property, including most importantly the use of trade secrets.

While trade secrets cannot fully replace patent protection in all respects, they do offer a viable alternative to patents for protecting intellectual property in some cases. In addition, while the value of patents in protecting IP has been under attack this year, trade secret protection has been on the rise with, for example, the California appellate court decision in Altavion, Inc. v. Konica Minolta Systems Laboratory, 226 Cal.App.4th 26. 171 Cal.Rptr.3d 714 (1st Dist. 2014) that broadened the definition of what information can qualify as a trade secret. Moreover, there is a real possibility that Congress will finally pass a civil trade secrets protection law, which will mean that trade secrets will not be considered patent’s ugly step sister any longer.

Sony Patents: From Internet Television to Athletic Performance

Posted: Tuesday, Dec 9, 2014 @ 8:00 am | Written by Steve Brachmann | No Comments »
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Posted in: Authors, Companies We Follow, Consumer Products, Internet, Internet Television, IP News, Articles, Patents, Sony, Steve Brachmann, Technology & Innovation, Video Games & Online Gaming

The Sony Corporation (NYSE: SNE) of Tokyo, Japan, is a major company involved in electronics engineering for an incredible array of consumer products, from video games to financial services. Sony restructuring efforts under CEO Kazuo Hirai will focus heavily on the development of the company’s movie entertainment division; Hirai recently announced that Sony expects those revenues to increase by more than a third over the next three years. Sony’s music production subsidiary, Sony Music Entertainment, has recently criticized the free music streaming services offered by Spotify and other Internet services. Sony is also developing a cloud-based television system, known as the PlayStation Vue, which could offer about 75 channels of television content to users of the PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 for $60 per month.

Once again, the Companies We Follow series has Sony squarely in our sights and we’ve found some great patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A couple of these technologies are related to mobile phone use, including a microphone device wearable in a speaker’s ear which does a better job of blocking out distracting noise. Another patent application discusses a program guide for accessing Internet video through a television set. We were also piqued by an innovative way to locate a vehicle lost within a huge parking lot using a mobile electronic device.

Internet-enabled television services were also at the heart of some the patents we wanted to share with our readers, including one protecting a method of sharing live streaming content with consumers over the Internet. A few other patents we discuss below protect novel systems for video games, including one gesture-based system which could be incorporated into first-person shooter games. We also explore a patent protecting a method of analyzing athletic performance from a series of photos.

12 Questions the Senate Should Ask Michelle Lee

Posted: Monday, Dec 8, 2014 @ 4:23 pm | Written by Gene Quinn | 26 comments
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Posted in: Authors, Congress, Gene Quinn, Government, IP News, Articles, Patents, USPTO

Michelle eadee

On Wednesday, December 10, 2014, at 10:00am, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Michelle Lee, who President Obama has nominated to become Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Lee was named Deputy Director of the USPTO on December 11, 2013, replacing Terry Rea, who resigned that position after being passed over by the Obama Administration for the position of Director.

Upon taking over at Deputy Director Lee performed the functions and duties of the USPTO Director, a position that was and is currently vacant. The last Director of the USPTO was David Kappos. Kappos left the agency in January 2013. Therefore, it has been nearly two years since the USPTO has had a Director, which has often been criticized as being an excessively long time not to have an agency head.

This will be the first time that Lee has had a confirmation hearing. The timing suggests that the Obama Administration and Senator Reid think that they can get Lee confirmed prior to the end of this Congressional session, which may well be the case. Assuming that this hearing will be more than just a show, there are a number of difficult questions that should be asked of Lee. Below are 12 questions that need to be asked, and a list of others that could and probably should be asked as well.

Financial Innovation: From Smarter ATMs to Investing Casino Winnings

Posted: Monday, Dec 8, 2014 @ 7:00 am | Written by Steve Brachmann | No Comments »
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Posted in: Authors, Companies We Follow, Financial, Financial Services, IP News, Articles, Patents, Steve Brachmann, Technology & Innovation

Lately, our Companies We Follow series has focused on some big names in innovation from the financial sector. Both the Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are heavily involved in developing technologies to serve the personal finance needs of individual customers as well as many tools that are designed to aid organizations large and small. Today, we thought that we would spend some time scoping out a wider breadth of invention from entities outside of the two banking giants which typically earn most of our focus.

In terms of innovation, banking services have been impacted by the incredible spread of computing and Internet technologies over the last twenty years. Indeed, patent portfolios that deal with point-of-sale biometrics, secure identity authentication for electronic funds transfer, automated teller machines and transaction card systems that prevent unauthorized use have all recently been offered by ICAP patent brokerage. But even with this innovation and activity some industry pundits have surmised that the Internet age has yet to truly impact the financial services sector. If these predictions are true we could see truly disruptive innovations that will continue to impact the marketplace in positive ways, perhaps even approaching the level of disruption that smartphones caused when upending both personal computing and cellular communications.

Digital currencies like Bitcoin, social media-based identification systems and enhanced application programming interfaces for online banking services have been developed and are slowly establishing larger user bases. Some banks and financial services corporations have varying opinions on what constitutes innovation in their fields, but a focus on developing stronger relationships with consumers is a common thread throughout.

I Thought Banks Didn’t Like Financial Software Patents?

Posted: Sunday, Dec 7, 2014 @ 8:00 am | Written by Gene Quinn | 5 comments
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Posted in: Authors, Financial, Financial Services, Gene Quinn, IP News, Articles, Patents, Post Grant Procedures, Software, Technology & Innovation

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been a vocal critic of financial service software patents.

As part of our ongoing Companies We Follow series, last week we profiled the recently issued patents granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to the Bank of America, as well as the recently issued patents granted to JPMorgan Chase. As you might expect, both Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase seek patents on various innovations related to financial transactions, cybersecurity and identity theft technologies, smart card technologies and smartphone applications. Not too shocking really.

What really caught my attention, however, were the patent claims that Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are both receiving. What is particularly interesting is that these companies are receiving what can only be characterized as software patents, which further explicitly claim computer implemented business methods. It is at least a little surprising that these types of patents are still being issued after the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank. This also isn’t the first time that we’ve noticed that big banks are continuing to get software patents issued in what for most others is an extremely hostile environment for computer implemented methods, computer systems and especially for financial service business methods. Perhaps this is the luck of the draw, perhaps applicants who are not big banks are being swept up in the unprecedented scrutiny that the USPTO is secretly placing on numerous applications, or perhaps the big banks just find themselves dealing with patent examiners who unapologetically work for the Patent Granting Authority. Still, one has to wonder.

Truthfully, the fact that big banks are getting software patents on claims written explicitly to cover computer implemented methods is quite ironic. The banks were the ones who pushed for what is known as covered business method patent review (CBM), which is a variety of post grant review (PGR) that came into being in September 2011. Post grant review is only applicable to patents granted on applications examined under the first to file provisions of the America Invents Act (AIA).{1}

A Devotion to Robot Innovation at Samsung

Posted: Saturday, Dec 6, 2014 @ 8:00 am | Written by Gene Quinn & Steve Brachmann | 1 Comment »
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Posted in: Authors, Companies We Follow, Gene Quinn, IP News, Articles, Patents, Robotics, Samsung, Steve Brachmann, Technology & Innovation

Perhaps more so than any other technology company that we focus on, Samsung seems to have a real fascination with robots. Indeed, we have noticed robotic technologies in recent Samsung patent filings just about every time we’ve covered the company as part of our Companies We Follow series. If you go back and look through our coverage Samsung in our archives, virtually every article will mention a robotics innovation or two.

It is no great surprise that once again robots are seen as a recurring theme in the Samsung portfolio. We notice a variety of robots in the patent applications recently published, as well as the patents recently issued to Samsung. In fact, we were intrigued by the number and scope of robotics related innovations the company continues to pursue.

With this in mind we decided to split up our most review of Samsung into several of articles, with this article focused on Samsung’s innovative pursuit of robot technology.