IBM Scientists James J. Wynne and Rangaswamy Srinivasan receive the National Medal of Technology from President Obama in 2013.
The world of optical care was revolutionized during the 1990s through the expanded use of laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, or LASIK eye surgery. The incredibly high precision surgery offers remarkably low instances of negative side effects when compared with other optical surgeries because of the fine precision of the lasers used in these procedures. Since the use of lasers to etch and otherwise modify living tissue was first discovered in IBM research facilities in the early 1980s, a range of laser-assisted surgical procedures for vision correction have been developed, such as photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) and laser epithelial keratomileusis (LASEK). Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released the findings from its most comprehensive study to date on LASIK eye surgeries in the U.S., which showed that about 95 percent of survey respondents receiving LASIK surgery achieved 20/20 vision or better. The report also showed that ghosting, halos and other visual aura decreased in LASIK patients after their procedures as well.
November 15 of this year was the 26th anniversary of the issue of one of the seminal patents in the field of laser-assisted vision correction surgeries. However, it wouldn’t be until after the filing of the patent application that anyone would think to use this laser technology as a surgical procedure for the eyes. Here at IPWatchdog, we return to our Evolution of Technology series on with a profile of the intriguing progression of the use of LASIK procedures in vision care. The use of excimer lasers in vision correction procedures has revolutionized that field from the humble beginnings of corneal surgery in the 1940s towards today, a time when more than 16 million LASIK operations have been performed in the United States. The story of this technology involves a trio of researchers who were simply trying to find new uses for lasers, and perhaps the most practical use of Thanksgiving leftovers that the world has ever seen.
Several days ago we profiled recent IBM patent applications. For this follow-up article we’ve gone through scores of patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to find you the latest and greatest in recently patented computing innovations.
Today’s column focuses solely on the inventions recently added to IBM’s patent portfolio; everything you see below represents a technology for which IBM has been issued a U.S. patent grant from late August and into September 2014. Telecommunications innovations are included among this, specifically systems for e-mail organization and telephone call filtering. We share a trio of patents protecting computer languages and networking technologies. Social networking analysis technologies and a couple of inventions related to accessibility programs for computer users with impairments are also featured. Television viewers may be intrigued as well to learn about the novel technique for blocking unwanted commercial content protected by another IBM patent that we explored today.
In this edition of the Companies We Follow series, we’ve surveyed the recently published patent applications which have been filed by IBM with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All in all, we found a wide assortment of data analysis technologies for business, medical and consumer fields which may likely their way into the corporation’s intellectual property portfolio in the months to come.
We start off with a look at a few inventions for software development projects, specifically for the management of artifacts connected to software development files by applications within development platforms. We discuss a trio of patent applications related to helping businesses make sense of immense data sets, including visualization methods and techniques for answering natural language questions. IBM’s patent applications involve more medical technologies, including a system for determining fraud within health care claims. We also profile one patent application describing a unique method for swaying the voting tendencies of a group of participants within an electronically hosted conference.
Gene Quinn at the AIPF Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, September 29, 2014.
Today I am going to talk about what I call the patent pendulum. When Todd Van Thomme and I originally started talking about what I would talk about today I said that there would undoubtedly be something that comes up at the last minute. I even joked that I might wind up talking about how the Supreme Court actually got the Alice decision right, surprising us all and saying once and for all that software is clearly patentable. We all know it didn’t turn out that way. So the title of my presentation today is this: Dark Days Ahead: The Patent Pendulum.
As you are probably all familiar, patent law never stays the same in the same spot. It is always swinging one or another, either swinging more towards stronger patent rights and the patent owner, or away from strong patent rights and away from the owner. It has been that way throughout history.
Normally what’s happened is that we’ve seen the pendulum swing over longer periods of time, like over decades, and then it’ll move away. For example the 1952 Patent Act was premised on the fact that Congress didn’t like the way the law was developing over the preceding years and wanted more things be patentable, hence the 1952 Patent Act did away with the flash of creative genius test. So things swung back toward a more patent friendly law, at least for a while. And then in the 1970s no courts ever saw a patent that actually had valid patent claims. This famously prompted Congress to create the Federal Circuit. Under the guidance of Chief Judge Markey and Judges like Giles Sutherland Rich and Pauline Newman, who is still on the court, the pendulum swings back toward the patent owner once again.
Yesterday the Partnership for American Innovation (PAI), which is comprised of Apple, DuPont, Ford, GE, IBM, Microsoft and Pfizer, submitted comments responsive to a request for public information published in the Federal Register back on July 29, 2014, titled Strategy for American Innovation. Some may recall that in February 2011, President Obama released a Strategy for American Innovation, which described the importance of innovation as a driver of U.S. economic growth and prosperity, and the critical role the government plays in supporting the innovation ecosystem. The Office of Science Technology Policy and the National Economic Council are now tasked with updating the document to create a revised Strategy for American Innovation.
One can hope that this group of venerable American innovators will be able to get through to decision makers who will be responsible for charting the new innovation and intellectual property strategy. Notably missing from the PAI, however, is Google, who will certainly have different views.
Google is known to be one of the primary advocates of watering down, if not outright destroying, the U.S. patent system. This is interesting because Google is a top 10 patenting company according to data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for 2013. They have also spend tens of billions of dollars acquiring patent portfolios that now due to their lobbying efforts are practically worthless. Regardless of Google’s schizophrenic approach to patents, the arm of Google that seems to loathe patents and the U.S. patent system has particular influence in Washington, DC. Both current and former Google executives are known to have the ear of the White House, which is largely to blame for the substantial anti-patent sentiment flowing from the White House. Unfortunately, all of this suggests that whatever the new strategy for innovation will be it will be one that incorporates significant anti-patent positions support by Google.
It has been over a month since the Supreme Court published its opinion in Alice v. CLS Bank. While the question on which certiorari was granted broadly considered the patent eligibility of computer implemented inventions, the Court ultimately issued an opinion that was tightly focused on the invention underlying Alice Corp’s patent. While many hoped that the Court would address this broader issue, the narrow opinion leaves many key questions unanswered. More importantly, the Court’s explanation of why the Alice patent was an ineligible abstract idea demonstrates the limitations inherent in applying that doctrine to computer implemented inventions. Those limitations will come to define the struggles confronting innovators, courts and the patent office as they attempt to operate in accordance with this opinion.
A review of the opinion and oral argument reveals that no participant was able to articulate a meaningful, repeatable, and predictable approach for determining which computer implemented inventions are too abstract and which are eligible for patent protection. The Court intentionally declined to broadly address this key issue: “[i]n any event we need not labor to delimit the precise contours of the “abstract ideas” exception in this case.” And that is because it cannot be done. As the Court itself acknowledged in Mayo v. Prometheus, “all inventions at some level embody” an abstract idea. And unlike laws of nature and natural phenomena, abstract ideas are not readily susceptible to line-drawing – where does the abstract idea stop and the eligible “application” of that abstraction begin?
Learned Hand lamented the intractable nature of this problem in the context of the idea expression dichotomy in copyright law. Struggling to separate the underlying unprotected idea from the copyright protected expression, he noted “…there is a point in this series of abstractions where they are no longer protected, since otherwise the playwright could prevent the use of his ‘ideas’, to which, apart from their expression, his property is never extended. Nobody has ever been able to fix that boundary, and nobody ever can.” See Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corporation.
We’re back for our first profile of IBM in a few months here at IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, and as per usual, we’re finding it almost impossible to keep up with the corporation’s recent innovations. IBM is the source of the highest level of patent filings at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. We hope that today’s profile of this American multinational corporation can give our readers even just a small glimpse at this company’s intellectual property goals.
IBM is renowned for its development of supercomputing programs, which is the focus of today’s featured patent application. This filed application describes a system of analyzing digital content in various forms in order to automatically determine the appropriate security level for that content, eliminating the need for network users to manually apply security measures on their own. We also found a couple of technologies for migrating consumer services to cloud-based environments, and a unique method of determining broken lamps in public lighting systems by utilizing satellite images.
Pictured (from left) Francis Hamilton (IBM engineer), Clair Lake (IBM engineer) Howard Aiken (Harvard professor) and Benjamin Durfee (IBM engineer) — 2014 National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees for their invention of the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC)
Later this evening the National Inventors Hall of Fame will induct three IBM (NYSE: IBM) engineers for their invention of the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), which was developed more than 70 years ago to rapidly and accurately perform complex mathematical calculations. The ASCC was a precursor to today’s cognitive computing systems like IBM Watson, which rapidly analyze data and learn and interact naturally with people. The ASCC ushered in the programmable computing era, which would ultimately provide the ability to put a man on the moon and to make the Internet a reality.
IBM inventors Benjamin Durfee, Francis Hamilton and Clair Lake, as well as Harvard professor and co-inventor Howard Aiken, will be posthumously honored by the Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the home of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The National Inventors Hall of Fame, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recognizing and honoring invention and creativity, as well as honoring the men and women responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible.
Durfee, Hamilton, Lake and Aiken will be inducted for their invention disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 2,616,626, which is simply titled Calculator. The patent application was filed on February 8, 1945, but did not issue until November 4, 1952. The invention described in the ‘626 patent was the first automatic digital calculator able to retain mathematical rules in its memory and not require reprogramming to solve a new set of problems. It represented a significant advance. Because reprogramming was not necessary, the invention was a powerful improvement, offering far greater speed in performing a host of complex mathematical calculations.
Earlier today IBM (NYSE: IBM) announced that the company was selected by Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to develop a first-of-a-kind technology that will allow organizations to manage Cloud resources more efficiently and in real time.
Under the terms of the three year deal, IBM will work with Brazilian and foreign universities to develop the system, optimization and testing for a dynamic self-management software solution that will balance specialized and traditional resources dynamically according to business demand in real time.
According to IBM, this fledgling technology is quite an improvement over existing Cloud technologies because so much of what is available today is based on virtual machines, and most applications hosted on the Cloud are focused on data production and consumption, including retail purchase sites, blogs, traffic and weather data collection sites. Such applications can be run on virtual machines, and offer a good cost-benefit ratio for consumers, but there are a large number of applications that could be hosted on the cloud only if expert, high-performance computing resources are managed in a more complex way.
Periodically I stumble across a number of items that catch my attention, so I have occasionally published a monthly column that incorporates various items of possible interest. As I was reviewing the wire I noticed that this past week was particularly busy. Obviously, this is not intended to be an exhaustive summary, but rather interesting items that might be worth knowing about in order to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry.
Without further ado, here are some interesting patent business items from the past week.
When it comes to patent holdings from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) of Armonk, NY, is far and away the major player in this field. During 2012, IBM received a record 6,478 patents, eclipsing the combined totals of Symantec, Oracle/SUN, Amazon, Apple, HP, EMC and Accenture. For more than 20 years, IBM has been the top recipient of American patents, allowing it to flex some serious muscles in intellectual property law. For example, the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission just released documents that show IBM received $36 million from Twitter for selling the latter 900 patents in January. First announced in January, this deal was struck to avoid an IBM lawsuit for patent violations on behalf of Twitter. Recent comments from the company’s CEO, Ginni Rometty, indicates that the company will continue its shift towards cloud-based services and data analytics.
Whenever we return to cover IBM for the Companies We Profile series here at IPWatchdog, we realize that there’s no way to adequately report every innovation coming from that technological giant. Today, we’ve gone through and snagged some of the most interesting patent applications and issued patents published by the USPTO from just the past two weeks. What we’re noticing are a number of novel inventions designed to improve the computing experience at a very personal level for many, so we spend some time focusing on those inventions in particular.
We begin today’s analysis with a look at our featured patent application, which features a system for digitizing human physiological inputs in order to determine emotion. This computer analysis program could detect negative and positive behavioral evidence through facial expressions and voice inputs to determine a more exact emotional state for a user. We also profile some patent applications discussing better means of providing online content and communication services to users.
Companies in technology sectors, especially social media companies, have seen some incredible investment through recent initial public offerings (IPOs) of corporate stock. Multi-billion dollar valuations for companies like Facebook, Twitter and more gave investors some excitement, but questions about sustainability, revenue generation and user growth has caused stock prices to dip in recent months.
Many of these companies have valuations that seem to fly in the face of their business models, which harkens back to the days of “irrational exuberance” of the “dot com” era. Still, social media companies can enjoy billions of users, but many of them use their services for free and generate negligible ad revenue for the company providing the platform. Will social media evolve into a money-making proposition or will these companies falter? Time will tell, as it tells with all things.
Against this backdrop and with the full knowledge that higher levels of investment almost universally require significant intellectual property holdings, we thought we’d take some time to look at the current state of the social media industry, including revenue and innovations. To accomplish this task we will also take a closer look at some recent inventions patented by major companies in this field.