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.
What follows is the Introduction and Summary of the Argument included in the IBM amicus brief filed at the United States Supreme Court in Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International. While many attorneys contributed to this brief, as you will see them listed on the front cover, former Solicitor General of the United States Paul D. Clement is the Counsel of Record.
I think it is fair to say that the theme that comes through the loudest in the IBM brief is this: The abstract idea doctrine is unworkable. To that I say a resounding AMEN! If the Supreme Court cannot or will not tell us what an abstract idea is how can we any longer pretend that the jurisprudential path the Court has taken will lead to predictability? At least insofar as software is concerned there is a complete and total lack of predictability. There is also no uniform application of the law, which at least conceptually should raise concerns of disparate treatment of those similarly situated.
Below I provide additional thoughts on the IBM Summary of the Argument in the format of comments from the peanut gallery, or perhaps as a patent law equivalent to Mystery Science Theater 3000. In order to differentiate my thoughts/comments from IBM amicus brief, my comments are italicized, colored, indented and tagged with the IPWatchdog logo.
Take a quick listen to the many conversations that have been taking place in the computing world over the past year and you’ll likely notice one term being thrown about fairly often: cloud computing. This new form of computer networking is fraught with possibilities that would completely transform the idea of computing, whether in the home or in the workplace.
Even as more of us are becoming acquainted with the idea of the cloud, many of us are still woefully ignorant of what the term actually means. For example, a survey by cloud software developer Citrix Systems showed that 54 percent of respondents did not believe that they used cloud-based computing, even though 95 percent of them actually did. Almost as many respondents confused the cloud metaphor, believing that stormy weather could actually interfere with cloud systems.
Cloud computing is set to take a much more prominent role in our technologically savvy society. Providing advanced computing applications through networking channels severely reduces the IT needs of homes and businesses who want to use more powerful software programs without installing them on a client computer. With more than $131 billion in economic activityfor the cloud computing sector in 2013, more business infrastructure and software services should be taking to the cloud than ever before.
Entire corporations have begun to narrow their focus on cloud computing. IBM has been developing cloud-based solutions for business needs for a few years now, and Google’s cloud options for Internet users include online file storage and document creation. It is against this backdrop that we want to take a quick look back at 2013 and celebrate what some could call the Year of the Cloud, during which the concept began to truly enter the mainstream consciousness.
Tech sector giants have been crying and moaning about how the patent system has run amok and needs to be scaled back, and continually beg for patent reform that would gut the patent system and weaken patent rights. Immediately after successfully lobbying for the America Invents Act (AIA), they are back at it again supporting new legislation aimed at making it more difficult to enforce patent rights pending in Congress. If they prevail with the passage of the Innovation Act, they will be back at it again no doubt. The longer term goal is to strip the International Trade Commission of its patent jurisdiction, which would make it impossible to stop the importation of infringing goods prior to entering the country. See Will the ITC Lose Its Patent Jurisdiction and Are Some Patent Holders More Equal Than Others?
The grumbling of the tech giants is increasingly being picked up by patent abolitionists who say “see, even Microsoft thinks there should be no patents,” which only adds to the hysteria. Of course, Microsoft is one of the top patenting companies year after year and they aggressively pursue software patens themselves. So while some of Microsoft’s public statements suggest that they do not like software patents, they aggressively seek them and then aggressively pursue licensing strategies. So it seems that Microsoft may talk a good game about software patents being undesirable and a real scourge, but when push comes to shove they will get as many patents as they can. Quite curious if you ask me!
So why do the tech giants want to make it hard for small businesses and individuals to get patents? Do you remember when “Wang” was synonymous with “computer,” or at least “word processor”? Perhaps not, but once upon a time it was indeed. The story of Wang is the story of technology companies generally speaking. What has always been true is that technology companies that reach the top are only passing through on their way down; to be replaced by smaller, leaner companies that pursue appropriate strategies and have solid and expandable innovations in demand.
Even mighty Microsoft couldn’t maintain their monopoly, and only the foolish would anticipate Google, Facebook and other tech giants to be on top indefinitely. That isn’t how the tech sector works, or is intended to work. But if a vibrant, robust and strong patent system is not there for start-ups today they will never become the giant, innovation shifting, growth companies of the future. That would be terrible for the economy, lead to stagnant innovation and guarantee that slothful, giant companies that have lost the ability to innovate would remain dominant rather than going the way of the dinosaur.
The International Business Machines Corporation, headquartered in Armonk, NY, is a major global manufacturer of computer hardware and software, especially for business applications. They provide physical products and consulting services designed to improve operational efficiencies for businesses in various ways. Recently, IBM announced the opening of its Accelerated Discovery Lab, a facility dedicated to finding new relationships between disparate data sets, providing the ability to use Big Data for increasingly groundbreaking discoveries in various fields. IBM is also getting involved in improving cloud security for businesses, recently announcing a business partnership with online security developer Akamai.
This week, IPWatchdog is taking some time in our Companies We Follow series to feature the undisputed top patenting company in the world — IBM. Today, we’re featuring a bevy of patent applications and issued patents featuring IBM developments in a wide range of computing services.
Our featured patent application describes a system of filtering social media messages sent to group members based on a recipient rating system. Negative ratings from group message recipients may be used to inform future methods of blocking similar messages from that sender. Other patent applications would protect more efficient systems of performing computer maintenance and identifying healthcare risks. Another patent application describes an improved coolant system for computing systems.
Today in IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, we return to profile this American multinational corporation headquartered in Armonk, NY. A few patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office show IBM’s interests in improving online shopping experiences. One application provides a chronological timeline view for user review interfaces in an online store. Another application creates a virtual cart system that multiple users can interact with collaboratively, whether shopping online or at the store.
Other documents we feature here pertain more generally to computer systems, especially those with business applications. One recent issued patent protects a system of prioritizing e-mail to prevent against automated deletion of important data. A patent application filed by IBM would protect a system of analyzing a business’s computer systems and making suggestions for cloud computing resources. Finally, we look at a patent application that provides a system for recycling solid state devices discarded by users.
How to Write a Patent Application is a must own for patent attorneys, patent agents and law students alike. A crucial hands-on resource that walks you through every aspect of preparing and filing a patent application, from working with an inventor to patent searches, preparing the patent application, drafting claims and more.
Without hesitation I recommend One Simple Idea and think it should be required reading for any motivated inventor. There is so much to like about the book and so much that I think author Stephen Key nails dead on accurate. The book is educational, information and inspirational. For the $14 cover price it is essential reading.
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