AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) of Dallas, TX, is an American multinational corporation with a specific focus on developing and marketing a wide array of telecommunications products, from fixed line telephone services to broadband subscription television. Recently, at least one pundit in tech coverage remarked how many of the technologies promised in an AT&T ad campaign from 20 years ago are now commonplace, including mobile document services and interactive map routing. In the coming years, AT&T will invest heavily in software-defined networking for most of its consumer services, virtualizing approximately 75 percent of the company’s services by the year 2020. The company has been overtly critical of the effect of net neutrality rules on investments in fiber optics networks, even though it just launched a new fiber optics network in North Carolina after pledging to halt fiber optics development in protest of net neutrality.
What we saw when putting together our most recent Companies We Follow feature on AT&T showed us a great collection of innovations regarding television services. Interactive television services were discussed by a trio of patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, including one providing on-demand language translation services for locally broadcast content. Other patent applications describe mobile services for event-based advertising as well as location-based services for mobile gaming applications.
The intellectual property holdings of AT&T also received some recent additions in the field of television services, including one protecting a method of directing a print command to a printer from a television set-top ioox. Biotechnologies dominated our interest as well, and we share below a trio of patents covering innovations from touch-based identification of device users to a technology we’ve seen before involving data transmission through the bones of a human body.
AT&T’s Patent Applications: Interactive Television Services, Event-Based Advertising and Mobile Gaming
Innovation is supported throughout the corporate culture of AT&T in a couple of ways. The company has developed a program called The Innovation Pipeline (TIP), a crowd-sourcing platform for inventive ideas which has more than 130,000 active employee participants. This has helped the company to develop technologies from voice-call analytics to an app allowing a mobile phone to serve as a remote microphone for speaker equipment used at a conference. In July of this year, AT&T announced that it would be building its first Center for Innovation in downtown Austin, TX, to explore initiatives focused on technology, education and the arts.
It may surprise some of our readers to learn that so much of the recent R&D investment made by AT&T in recent months has focused on a variety of television services, especially interactive services made possible by the rise of Internet television and smart TVs. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140331255, filed under the title System and Method for Providing Television Services, describes a technology developed to improve the seamless quality of switching from broadcast television to interactive services, such as video-on-demand (VOD). The patent application would protect a system that executes instructions for sending video content and interactive callback data to a media device; the interactive callback data is associated with an on-screen image, the on-screen image containing having an indicator regarding the availability of online content.
Other viewer-friendly interactive services for television content invented by AT&T are reflected in the filing of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140350915, which is titled On-Demand Language Translation for Television Programs. The patent application claims a method of receiving a language input, determining whether text associated with that input is in a target language and translating the text to the target language to output a message with formatted translated text. The method is also capable of outputting speech generated by the translated text. This innovation helps to bring down the language barrier that may prevent a television user from viewing content, especially for those visiting a foreign country who wish to view a local news broadcast in the viewer’s native language. Media services for interactive televisions and other computing devices are also the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140359666, which is titled Method and Apparatus for Presenting Dynamic Media Content. The patent application would protect a server with a memory containing instructions which, when executed, receives a metadata pointer associated with a media content and transmits a request to accept a portion of the media content to a recipient device. This system enables the sharing of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) services with multiple recipient communication devices installed on a single network by retrieving stored content from a digital video recorder (DVR).
A few other patent applications which caught our eyes during our recent survey of AT&T provide a variety of digital tools to be utilized by retail and small businesses. Methods of monitoring customer behaviors in a retail environment without having to use capture video of customers is at the center of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140354429, which is titled Detecting Presence Using a Presence Sensor Network. The method claimed by this patent application provides a user interface to a user device for obtaining room data defining a monitored area and obtains sensor identifier data to identify a presence sensor in a monitored location. This system allows store managers and supervisors in other settings to analyze the behaviors of those in a monitored environment to make workforce changes, such as opening up an additional cashier checkout lane, without forcing customers or employees to undergo persistent video surveillance.
Better advertising techniques for businesses are featured within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140335899, filed under the title Event Based Service. The method claimed by this patent application involves the receipt of access to a service by a wireless communication device which is located within the geographic boundary of an event and receiving a notification by the wireless device about available advertising space on a personal auction service that provides the ability to bid for advertisement space. This system is intended to support the advertisement of products and services to attendees at a variety of events, from parades to trade shows to concerts, which serve as a portal so that users can purchase products or services during the event.
AT&T does have at least one intriguing consumer hardware device reflected among its recent patent application filings with the USPTO. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140354552, which is titled Angular Sensitized Keyboard, describes a keyboard for text input which includes predictive tools for reducing mistyping errors. The device that would be protected by this patent application includes a memory storing instructions that, when executed, receives a selection of a key which indicates an answer to a question, assigns a prediction value to a portion of the keys based on the answer to the question and adjusts an acceptable angle for at least one key. This keyboard device, which can learn to reject improbable keys based on its learning of the acceptable angle of key input, would enable adaptive text input for mobile device keyboards.
Gaming technologies have been a heavy focus for many of the Companies We Follow in recent weeks, which may be fitting as we’re heavily into the holiday season. AT&T is seeking to add to its patent portfolio in mobile gaming through the filing of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140335952, titled Location-Based Mobile Gaming Application and Method for Implementing the Same Using a Scalable Tiered Geocast Protocol. This innovation supports the development of location-based gaming on mobile platforms where game play is affected by data inputs from GPS sensors or other geographical location systems. The patent application claims a device with a processor that receives a geocast data packet transmitted in accordance with a scalable tiered geocast protocol; the geocast data packet includes an indication of a virtual game object of a geo-game, a destination geocast region and movement information involving characteristics of the virtual game object.
Issued Patents of Note: More Television Innovations and Biotechnologies for Wireless Data Security and Device Usage (Images: television printing.png; skin contact.png; human body.png; promoting marketable items.png)
The patenting activities of AT&T always provides us with a bevy of intriguing new technologies for examination. The 1,658 U.S. patents earned by this corporation during 2013 placed it 17th overall, just between Intel (1,730 U.S. patents, 16th) and General Motors (1,621 U.S. patents, 18th), among all patenting entities that year. By AT&T’s own accounting, the company is awarded patent grants on over 90 percent of its patent applications at a rate of about three patents per day; given 2013’s patent totals, AT&T earned about 4.5 patents per day during that year. AT&T’s patent portfolio in television technologies, which as we’ll see received some intriguing additions in recent weeks, is part of a lawsuit filed by the company against Cox Communications regarding patent infringement in the area of set-top boxes and digital telephone services.
As mentioned, we noted some intriguing AT&T patents earned by the company related to television technologies, protecting both hardware and software. Better integration of broadcast television with interactive services, an aim of one of the patent applications discussed above, is also the target of U.S. Patent No. 8914839, which is titled System and Method for Providing Television Services. The patent protects a method of providing video content and interactive callback data to a device, the interactive callback data including an interactive callback address indicating a location of an interactive content which is accessible through the user selection of a prompt. This system supports the use of interactive content for users for a variety of television programs, from game shows to educational videos. AT&T has also joined in the pursuit of building better set-top boxes for broadcast and Internet-based services, as is reflected in the issue of U.S. Patent No. 8904468, issued under the title Television Printing Device and Methods Thereof. The method claimed by this patent involves the association of a subscriber account with a set-top box over a network for the receipt of user viewing preferences as well as processing a user request to print information associated with web content accessed through the set-top box by establishing a communications link between the set-top box and the printer. This innovation is intended to provide printer functionality to set-top boxes in order to increase the functionality of set-top boxes in relation to personal computers, which have more computing functions as of yet.
We were greatly intrigued by a trio of patents recently issued related to biotechnologies that would be implemented by mobile phones and other products created by AT&T. A novel system for managing profiles for multiple users with access to a single device is disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8913991, entitled User Identification in Cell Phones Based on Skin Contact. The system claimed by this patent includes a skin conductivity sensor located on the back of an electronic device to collect user touch data and an identification component that identifies a device user based on data collected by the skin conductivity sensor and a thermal sensor. This invention can identify a device user and apply power management settings which have been previously selected by that user so that each user can customize when the screen dims or how long a device can be utilized passively before entering a sleep mode. Law enforcement should be able to get a jump on criminals utilizing digital voice communications thanks to the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 8909535, which is titled System and Method for Tracking Persons of Interest Via Voiceprint. The patent protects a method for receiving a voiceprint associated with a caller, determining a level of certainty between that voiceprint and a stored voiceprint which has been associated with an individual and tracking a caller when the level of certainty reaches a certain threshold. This system is designed to improve on conventional methods of tracking persons of interests which typically involve monitoring specific phone numbers, which criminals can get around by using payphones or voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) computer services.
We were also intrigued by the data communications system which the company recently protected through the issue of U.S. Patent No. 8908894, titled Devices and Methods for Transferring Data Through a Human Body. The method protected by this patent involves the modulation of an authentication credential with a signal, providing the signal to an electro-acoustic transducer which is physically contacting an individual and causing the transducer to transmit a signal through a bone of the body to a second device which is also in physical contact with a user. This innovation allows for short-range data communications in such a way that eavesdropping techniques using powerful directional antennas are not as successful as they are with Bluetooth, Zigbee and other wireless communication standards. Interestingly, we covered the initial patent application for this technology when it was published by the USPTO last year and this writer selected it as the most interesting technology reflected in either a patent application or a patent for all of 2013.
Finally, we were struck by a patent in the field of business marketing that we felt was worth exploring today. U.S. Patent No. 8904448, issued under the title System and Method for Promoting Marketable Items, discloses a system developed to enhance the marketability of certain products by adjusting how those products are featured within a media program. The patent claims a media processor configured to receive metadata describes marketable items as well as coordinate information providing a location of marketable items in media programs. The media processor also presents a plurality of marketable items related to a first item which is associated with an icon in a media program when that icon is selected by a user. This innovation enables viewers of certain media programs to find shopping information related to a product depicted on the program, as well as related products which may be available for sale, through the use of set-top boxes and other interactive television services.