AT&T is a multinational telecommunications company headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Although telephone communications and related fields take up a large portion of AT&T’s research and development, the corporation’s Intellectual Property department is involved in a much wider array of technological fields. AT&T consistently ranks among the top 25 companies overall in obtaining patents from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The corporation is also experiencing a good string of business success, as AT&T has just been declared the best mobile network provider by PC Magazine.
This week at IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, we take a closer look at the wide array of patent applications and issued patents awarded to AT&T from the USPTO. Some of the documents feature AT&T’s long-standing focus on wireless communication and electronic devices.
One patent application we look at in this column features a system of increasing wireless data transmission security by sending data signals through a user’s body. An issued patent protects AT&T’s rights regarding a system of matching an unknown person’s face to a known contact on an electronic device. We also feature another patent application about a protective covering for a device that extends the functionality of that device’s touchscreen.
We’ve also picked a few other intriguing patent applications that fall outside of AT&T’s typical development focus. One patent application would protect a newly devised system of augmenting TV broadcasts with links to additional media content. Another application describes a sensor for detecting airborne respiratory triggers at hospitals.
Devices and Methods for Transferring Data through a Human Body
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130142363
Short-range data communications through Bluetooth, ZigBee or one of any number of other standard communication means allows wireless connections between devices that are in the same general vicinity. Such short-range linking makes connections between digital devices much simpler to achieve. These forms of wireless communication are not a panacea because they are susceptible to eavesdropping from directional antennas.
With this in mind, AT&T has filed an application for a patent to protect a system of wireless communication that would increase security by transferring a data signal through the bones and skin of a human user. A piezo-electric transducer, referred to here as a contact microphone, could send vibrations that contained a data signal through a user’s body. This would create a more secure wireless signal if a user was holding both communicating devices. The application’s description also suggests that data communications could occur through two human bodies making physical contact, each holding a separate device.
Claim 1 of this patent application would give AT&T the right to protect:
“A method for transferring data to a device, the method comprising: identifying the data that is to be transferred to the device; modulating the data with a signal; providing the signal to an electro-acoustic transducer configured to be placed in physical contact with an individual; and transmitting the signal using the electro-acoustic transducer such that, when the electro-acoustic transducer is in physical contact with the individual, the signal is transmitted through a body of the individual to the device.”
Extending the Functionality of a Mobile Device
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130149964
Protective coverings have been developed for handheld electronic devices to prevent against internal damage and device failure due to drops or other accidents. Some of these covers are incredibly rugged and offer great protection. However, these covers are also often bulky and can hinder user access to a variety of device buttons or even cover some of the touchscreen display.
This patent application, filed by AT&T, would protect a computer system designed to extend the functionality of a phone, specifically the phone’s touchscreen, to a protective covering. The cover would include a logic device that would allow touch inputs on the cover’s touchscreen to be read by the mobile device. In this way, a user can control a mobile device through the cover itself.
As Claim 1 explains, AT&T wants the right to patent:
“An apparatus for extending the functionality of a mobile device, the apparatus comprising: a cover adapted to be applied to the mobile device; a touch-sensitive surface overlaying a substantial portion of an exterior of the cover; and a logic in communication with the touch-sensitive surface, the logic for sensing a touch input from the touch-sensitive surface, and transmitting the touch input to the mobile device.”
Linking and Browsing Media on Television
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130139211
The experience of watching television through a cable provider is typically thought of as linear in nature. That is, when you watch a television channel, you are subject to that channel’s schedule and typically have few options for adjusting that schedule. Viewers do have some non-linear choices available, in that they can watch other channels instead or record a television show for later viewing through a digital video recorder.
AT&T has devised a new system for interactive television sets which would browse for additional media to augment television shows currently being watched by a user. A presenting service for television broadcasts would communicate with an information augmentation system, which would gather real-time data and content that augments the current broadcast. Links to that additional content would be made available to users through the television display.
Claim 1 of this AT&T patent application describes:
“A server comprising: a memory to store instructions; and a controller coupled to the memory, wherein responsive to executing the instructions, the controller performs operations comprising: constructing a search query comprising contextual information associated with a media program presented by a program presentation device, the contextual information formulated as metadata; transmitting the search query over a network to a content service; receiving from the content service, in response to the search query, additional content related in context to the media program; assigning descriptive information to the additional content; and supplying the additional content to the program presentation device, the additional content formulated as a descriptive hypertext link.”
System and Method for Matching Faces
U.S. Patent No. 8457366
An electronic device owner can have many hundreds of contacts stored on their device, or a social media user may have hundreds of contacts connected to their online profile. In fact, we’re capable of connecting with more people today through digital communications than we can possibly remember. In many cases, this can lead to an awkward situation in public when a contact cannot be recognized or placed in the proper context by another person in their digital network.
This issued patent from the USPTO is assigned to AT&T and protects a computerized system of matching faces from a camera application with those from a known image database. A person who wants to identify an unknown person can do so if they have that person in their contact list. The device user would use the camera to capture an image of the person’s face, which would be compared against the device owner’s contact database and associated contact images.
As Claim 1 of this patent explains, AT&T has earned the right to protect:
“A method comprising: receiving an image of a face of a first person from a device of a second person; comparing the image to a database of known faces in a contacts list of the second person; identifying a group of potential matching faces from the database of known faces; displaying, on the device of the second person, images of the group of potential matching faces, wherein the images are associated with the contacts list; receiving from the second person a subcategory in the database of known faces; and removing faces which are not part of the subcategory from the group of potential matching faces.”
Method and System for Detecting an Airborne Trigger
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130135098
Respiratory issues are of particular concern for medical facilities such as hospitals. While patients are gathered in a waiting room or operating environment, they could encounter a host of airborne particles which can trigger a respiratory event. These particles may be invisible to the eye and difficult to detect. The compounds that make up the airborne trigger can come from a plurality of substances, including dust, cleaners, pollen or a fragrance.
AT&T has filed a patent application, recently published by the USPTO, that would protect a sensor which would detect airborne trigger particulates within a medical facility. The trigger sensor, which would include a metal-oxide semiconductor or piezoelectric technologies, would detect a trigger and measure an indication of its frequency. The device could contain multiple sensors to detect a large number of airborne respiratory irritants.
Claim 1 of this patent application describes AT&T’s development of:
“An apparatus comprising: a cantilevered element including a coating material having an affinity for at least one compound; a first capacitive plate spaced from and capacitively coupled to the cantilevered element, wherein the first capacitive plate is configured to induce a vibration in the cantilevered element at a frequency related to a mass of the cantilevered element; a second capacitive plate spaced from and capacitively coupled to the cantilevered element; and a frequency detector coupled to the second capacitive plate, the frequency detector adapted to detect a change in vibrational frequency of the cantilevered element as a result of one or more particles of the at least one compound coupling to the coating material.”