Headquartered in Benton Charter Township, MI, the Whirlpool Corporation is the world’s largest home appliance manufacturer, having surpassed Electrolux after acquiring the Maytag brand in 2006. Recently, press releases from the company indicate that it’s experiencing strong financial times, having reported record profits in this year’s third fiscal quarter. After a few years of relative stagnancy, Whirlpool has quickly been rising to the forefront of investor consciousness with this positive financial news.
We’ve yet to cover the Whirlpool Corporation here at IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, but we’ve taken some time to get to know more about the corporation’s research and development goals for its home appliance operations. We’ve scoured the recent publications at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, both for patent applications and issued patents, to see what kind of interesting developments we can expect on the market in the coming months.
Today, we’re featuring one patent application that may provide an incredible improvement to computer control systems on home appliances. This application would protect a system of analyzing user characteristics to determine the individual’s identity and bring up a personalized interface. Other patent applications have been filed for a kitchen composting device, a garbage disposal that allows for under-sink waste removal and a couple of improvements to dishwasher systems.
The issued patents held by Whirlpool are also of great interest in this series, and we’ve found a couple that will intrigue scores of consumers. Whirlpool now owns the legal right to protect a dishwasher system with a display that allows a user to program the start and stop times for wash cycles. Another issued patent protects a grill cooking grate that is more effective at distributing heat when cooking. We also have a trio of patents related to innovative improvements to refrigerators, especially for flavor additives in water dispensers.
Method for Personalizing an Appliance User Interface
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130283183
The application of computer processors in home appliances have made it easier for appliance owners to set cycles for dishwashers, dryers, washing machines and more. With more enhanced user interfaces, an owner can interact with an even greater degree of appliance functions. For example, a fridge monitor would allow a user to set the temperature in a much simpler way than adjusting the temperature knob found inside of many fridges.
Current methods of presenting a user interface on an appliance monitor are slightly inconvenient, however. A user might only want to access a small subset of functions which may require selecting multiple menu options to pull up. As well, no distinctions are made between different users, which could provide meaningful display input. For instance, an adult user will likely want to have access to more appliance options than a child user.
This patent application, filed by Whirlpool with the USPTO, would protect a system of personalizing the user interface for appliance computing systems. Sensors included on an appliance would be capable of logging biometric information of a user, such as height, appearance and voice. This data can be analyzed to determine the exact identity of a user.
Once the user’s identity has been determined, the appliance user interface can display a personalized interface template. The system provides five interface templates based on demographic information: one for children under 12 years of age, one for teens from 13 to 19, an adult template for ages 20 to 50, an older adult template for 50+ and an unknown template for those who cannot be categorized based on biometric data.
Claim 1 of this Whirlpool patent application would protect:
“A method for personalizing the operation of an appliance comprising a controller for controlling one or more functions of the appliance, a user interface operably coupled to the controller through which a user can select the one or more functions of the appliance, and at least one device that can detect a biometric characteristic of the user, the method comprising: establishing multiple demographic classes of users based on a set of passively identifiable biometric characteristics; establishing a standard interface template for each of the multiple demographic classes; detecting the set of biometric characteristics of an unknown user using the at least one device; matching the set of detected biometric characteristics to one of the multiple demographic classes; assigning to the user the matched demographic class; and displaying the standard interface template for the assigned demographic class on the user interface.”
Other Patent Applications
As we go through more Whirlpool patent applications during today’s Companies We Follow column, we’re noting a number that detail some very practical improvements to everyday home appliances. A few of these relate to the important home issue of waste removal. For instance, U.S. Patent Application No. 20130260446, entitled Composting Device, describes the manufacture of a multi-chamber consumer appliance with temperature and moisture control meant for in-home composting. This system is designed specifically for use in urban areas without much outdoor space. Another, U.S. Patent Application No. 20130270374, filed under the title Under-Sink Waste Processing Appliance, would protect a sink garbage disposal with a waste separator for the collection of dry waste. This would reduce the amount of organic material that could potentially block the plumbing.
As you might expect from Whirlpool, we also noticed a number of patent applications that highlight improvements to dishwashers, one of Whirlpool’s main focus areas in appliances. A better slide system for moving a dish rack in and out of a dishwasher is the subject of U.S. Patent Application No. 20130247944, titled Dishwasher with a Pivot System for a Dish Rack. This system is less prone to adding stress to the dish rack sliding system than previous dishwasher designs. U.S. Patent Application No. 20130228202, entitled Dishwasher with Transforming Door, describes a multi-chamber dishwasher appliance with the ability of adjusting wash cycle operations to include only one or both chambers.
Issued Patents of Note
The patent portfolio held by any company is, ultimately, the foundation of its strength of intellectual property. When we notice intriguing patents issued by the USPTO to any company, we make sure to cover it. As per usual, Whirlpool has been the happy recipient of dozens of issued patents in recent weeks. Each of these patents we feature today protect various improvements to Whirlpool’s main core of appliance products.
A series of these patents deal exclusively with improvements to consumer refrigerators, especially those with water dispensing systems. U.S. Patent No. 8555774, entitled Disposable Flavor Insert for Water Dispenser, protects the manufacturer of disposable flavor filters for a faucet. The flavor insert would slide into a guide on the fridge, and water traveling through a porous cup layered with solid flavor particles. Another improvement to flavor systems in refrigerator water dispensers is discussed in U.S. Patent No. 8499975, which is titled Refrigerator Beverage Flavor Dispenser with Flavor Strength Adjustment. This patent protects an interface that allows a user to select the strength of a flavor being dispensed into a liquid.
U.S. Patent No. 8528349, issued under the title Vacuum Food Preservation System, describes a refrigerator compartment designed for the vacuum sealing of foods for longer preservation. In this refrigeration innovation the base and component door define a sealed compartment when the component door is in the closed position. First and second fasteners create an airtight seal between the component door and the base. A vacuum device is in communication with the sealed compartment and a heat sealer is disposed on either the base or the component door. A vacuum and seal control operates to remove the air from a bag and after reaching a predetermined negative pressure level operates to seal the bag in a vacuumed state.
A couple of other patents we’re including in today’s column protect some very practical innovations for cooking and cleaning appliances. We return to dishwashers with a quick look at U.S. Patent No. 8562754, titled Dishwasher with Programmable Stop Time. This issued patent protects a user interface for a dishwasher that provides wash cycle options on a carousel display, as well as guides for dishwasher use.
Finally, U.S. Patent No. 8544382, issued under the title Heat Distributing Cooking Grate, protects a cooking grate design for use with barbecue grills that eliminates the presence of either hot or cold spots on the grill. This is accomplished by use of a cooking grate that contains one or more heat transmitting members that transmit heat from the central portion of the cooking grate to the edge portions, thereby facilitating a more even heat distribution across the entire cooking surface of the cooking grate.