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.
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.