Toshiba Patents: From Memory Devices to Smarter Retail Stores and Seawater Desalination

By Steve Brachmann
October 9, 2014

The Toshiba Corporation (TOSBF) of Tokyo, Japan, is an electronics and technology conglomerate that is responsible for a great deal of global innovation in semiconductors and computing solutions. Currently, the corporation is in a major restructuring phase for its personal computer division, which Toshiba recently accelerated by reducing its global PC workforce by 20 percent, or about 900 workers. Although Toshiba’s restructuring will create more focus on business-to-business services, the recent release of the Toshiba Encore Mini shows that the company is not abandoning consumer markets. Toshiba’s data analytics technologies will also be used as part of a partnership with Johns Hopkins University for using data analysis to adjust and improve cancer treatments.

Today’s Companies We Follow column focuses on Toshiba innovations which have been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. We found a wide assortment of novel technologies expressed in recent patent applications filed by the company. A couple of patent applications would protect technologies for identifying people captured within video feeds. We share a trio of patent applications discussing improvements to memory devices, especially flash memory devices. A number of intriguing technologies which we share below are also related to brick and mortar retail environments, including one patent application discussing a method of providing entertainment content to retail workers to keep them more productive.

Toshiba holds a very robust patent portfolio, and we also explored some patents which have been issued to the company within the past few weeks. Two patents related to three-dimensional memory cell stacks for better semiconductor memory devices are explored. Two other patents we share protect water treatment technologies, including one for capturing more copper precipitate from wastewater while creating less sludge. We also discuss a couple of patents focused on printing technologies, including an apparatus and system for recycling printed sheets by removing images.

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Toshiba Patent Applications: From Memory Devices to Smarter Retail Stores

Toshiba is only one of many corporations in Japan in the field of electronics and electrical engineering, which has led some to speculate that companies in that region could benefit from a change to a Silicon Valley style of open innovation, allowing large corporations to benefit from the work of small, disruptive entreprenuers. As far as today’s featured company is concerned, however, a great deal of innovation in data memory systems and software applications for real-world business benefits is still a development strength. Dozens of patent applications have been assigned to Toshiba in recent weeks by the USPTO for technologies which will be used in a diverse range of fields, although we certainly noticed plenty of retail innovations today.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140270370, which is titled “Person Recognition Apparatus and Person Recognition Method.”

A few of the patent applications that we came across in our most recent search discuss intriguing biometric systems designed to identify persons in a variety of settings. Improvements to person recognition apparatuses which rely on facial recognition technologies are the subject of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140270370, which is titled Person Recognition Apparatus and Person Recognition Method. This patent application would protect a technology that can better recognize facial features in moving image data in order to properly identify a person and retrieve an image of that person. The apparatus and method could be implemented by a security camera positioned at a street corner or in other public places. Another camera-operated system for identifying people based on biometrics is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140281580, filed under the title Rewarding System. The technology discussed within this patent application is capable of collecting biometric information for identifying persons without attracting the notice of the person. The method of collecting attribute information from subjects for analysis by information processing equipment; this information can include gender, age, facial expression and the existence of any accessories, such as glasses.

Innovative devices and systems for data memory storage and processing are featured in a couple of other patent applications which we felt were worth sharing today. An inventive system for memory storage within a solid-state flash memory device would be protected by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140281148, simply titled Memory System. This system uses a controller within a flash memory device to configure the volatile memory into groups which are selectively powered by the power supply circuit. This innovation allows for more energy efficiency in flash memory operations by selectively powering only the volatile memory being used in an operation. Other improvements to flash memory devices are expressed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140281769, which is titled Memory System and Memory Controller. This patent application would protect a system for non-volatile memory in flash devices which protects against the degradation of the tunnel oxide film through which electrons are forced during programming or erasing operations. The system is capable of controlling read/write operations on flash memory through the use of voltage threshold parameters. We also noticed a technology related to data error correction in hard disk drive environments, described in more detail in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140281677, entitled Error Correction Method and Device and Information Storing Device. The patent application would protect a method for data error corrections that prevents access to a first data stored in an external memory and permitting access to a second data set which represents the corrected data of the first set. This innovation is designed to reduce computing environment collisions in accessing data.

A couple of recent Toshiba inventions are designed to improve various work processes at brick and mortar stores, especially those which offer retail environments to their customers. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140279291, titled Systems and Methods for Communicating to a Computing Device Information Associated with the Replenishment Status of a Retail Item, discusses a technology for communicating data about the replenishment of an out-of-stock item to a customer. A customer could receive information about the replenishment of the retail item through a smartphone or other computing devices. Methods for identifying abnormal shopping behaviors for the identification of shoplifters are the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140283025, entitled Systems and Methods for Monitoring Activity Within Retail Environments Using Network Audit Tokens. This patent protects a method of determining activity information associated with a computing device, such as a smartphone. This activity data can be used to determine that a certain shopper’s activity deviates greatly from normal shopping patterns, raising a potential risk of shoplifting.

One final intriguing patent application related to retail industries that we wanted to explore in-depth today is U.S. Patent Application No. 20140257937, entitled Systems and Methods for Implementing Computing Device Features Based on User Interaction. A goal of this technology is to increase the productivity of retail employees working at a point-of-sale (POS) station by developing POS equipment which is more pleasing to interact with. This patent would protect a method of measuring user interaction with a computing device and implementing user-set features if the interaction level meets a predetermined criterion. This system could be used to present gaming, social networking or entertainment content to a worker through retail equipment.

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Issued Patents of Note: Printers, Water Treatment and More Memory Devices 

The patenting activity of Toshiba secured for the corporation a total of 2,416 U.S. patent grants during 2013, placing the company 7th among global patenting entities for that year. As we mentioned earlier, an incredible amount of innovation occurs at the research facilities of major Japanese companies, and three of these obtained more patent grants from the USPTO that year: Canon, Sony and Panasonic. Recently, plenty of inventions have been added to the patent portfolio of this very innovative corporation.

From U.S. Patent No. 8834048, which is titled “Printer With Cutter Having Blade Including Linerless Label Supporting Portion.”

Printing technologies comprised a number of the protected inventions which we found in patents issued to Toshiba over the past few weeks. Problems with removing labels from cutting units in label printing devices are addressed by the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 8834048, which is titled Printer With Cutter Having Blade Including Linerless Label Supporting Portion. When cutting linerless labels in label printing systems, there are some instances where the label drops out of the assembly before leaving the label dispensing outlet. The cutting unit protected by this patent includes a blade with a supporting portion to support the linerless, adhesive-applied surface of the label. Techniques to support recycling in printing technologies are disclosed by U.S. Patent No. 8838013, entitled Image Elimination Apparatus, Image Eliminating Method and Image Forming Apparatus. The image elimination apparatus protected in this patent includes a control unit that can determine whether an image sheet can be reused once the previous image has been eliminated. The system is designed to reduce instances of poor image elimination jobs to ensure that an image has been completely removed before reuse.

We noticed a couple of intriguing technologies for treating water for human consumption which were protected by other patents lately issued to Toshiba. U.S. Patent No. 8834715, which is titled Copper Recovery Apparatus and Copper Recovery Method, describes a method used in conjunction with a precipitation tank for the precipitation of copper hydroxide grains in water. The method for treating water from industrial wastewater sources provides effective precipitation of copper for removal while reducing the amount of waste sludge created by the precipitation process. Better systems for the treatment of seawater are disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8834712, issued under the title Seawater Desalination System. The patent protects a desalination system using reverse osmosis techniques comprised of a membrane filtering pump and a system for sending control signals to adjust the flow rate of the seawater. The techniques have been developed to reduce the risk of dirt and microorganisms becoming suspended in pretreated water, which lowers the water quality.

We’ll close our discussion of Toshiba’s most recent patents with a look at a few other innovations involving memory devices, specifically semiconductor memory devices. Methods of incorporating Bit Cost Scalable (BiCS) into flash memory devices to reduce the bit cost of semiconductor memory are protected by U.S. Patent No. 8837218, entitled Three Dimensional Stacked Nonvolatile Semiconductor Memory. The patent protects a nonvolatile semiconductor memory with two memory cells electrically connected to a series of transistors and row decoders. This innovation increases the capabilities of BiCS technologies in flash memory applications by reducing peripheral circuitry.

From U.S. Patent No. 8837218, entitled “Three Dimensional Stacked Nonvolatile Semiconductor Memory.”

Methods of supporting uniform operations in semiconductor memory devices are discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8837199, simply titled Semiconductor Memory Device. This invention also involves the three-dimensional stacking of memory cells within a semiconductor device. The memory device also contains a control circuit for adjusting the electric current running through a plurality of wires within the device. This invention has been developed to prevent against operational issues in semiconductor memory devices caused by voltage drops in response to increases in wiring resistance.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

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