The year 2014 is quickly winding down and we wanted to take some time to review the best patent applications that we reviewed here on IPWatchdog. The Companies We Follow series has greatly expanded over just the past few months to include the Walt Disney Company, DuPont and other innovative members of the Dow Jones Industrial Index. Outside of this series, this writer, often with the help of Gene, has covered many technological trends that we’ve noted this year. With 2015 just around the corner, we wanted to put together a list of the most innovative technologies that I’ve reviewed this year.
This article is the first of a two-part series. Today, we focus our attention upon patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Although these published documents don’t reflect actual patent rights earned by these companies, it gives us a great look into the most recent research & development investments pursued by these corporations. It is almost impossible to distill a year’s worth of intellectual property development down to 10 entries. To make this list, each patent application reflected truly novel technologies while also being representative of various trends that we’ve covered this year; a couple, like the Disney patent application, were simply too innovative to ignore. Happy Holidays, and we hope you enjoy this list of the Top 10 Patent Applications put together by us here at IPWatchdog.
#10: Portable Terminal Having Double-Sided Touch Screens, and Control Method and Storage Medium Therefor
The most successful consumer products of the last decade or so which best reflect cutting edge technological innovation is probably the smartphone and related mobile electronic devices. We saw this fact supported by our Brief Histories of the Android operating system and the iPhone, published recently on IPWatchdog. In 2014 alone, some are predicting that 1 billion Android devices will be sold worldwide. The sales figures for the iPhone and iPad trail well behind this, but those devices have still made a lasting impression on American consumer technology.
We’ve seen a great deal of software technologies developed by various Companies We Follow, but are there any major hardware improvements left for these devices? The double-sided touch screen of this mobile device is the most revolutionary that we’ve been able to come across this year. Published in October, this Canon patent application claims a device with a first and second touch screen with a detection unit to detect how the device is being held and a control unit that can invalidate a user operation on the second touch screen depending on how the device is being held. Although this is a Canon technology, there have been other companies which have been released to some regional markets, such as the YotaPhone manufactured in Moscow.
#9: Ordering Ahead With a Mobile Device
This has been a very intriguing year for software patents, to say the least. The U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International has led many to question whether or not the entire landscape of software innovation would shift with the federal government’s refusal to grant patent rights to computer-implemented methods or similar technologies. However, our Companies We Follow series has found that, for the most part, this decision hasn’t greatly affected the patenting activities of large corporations in regards to software innovations.
This is a topic that we’ll hit on again in our coverage of the Top 10 Patents of 2014, but we wanted to feature one innovation in the field that provides a great vantage point of the various aspects of this issue. Alice’s patent on a software method of facilitating financial transactions was declared invalid because, some argued, the implementation of an abstract idea on a computer system was unpatentable subject matter. So where does that leave patent applications like this one, filed by Google and published in March, claiming a method of completing orders with a cell phone? It could be argued that it’s somewhat similar in scope as no one could patent the abstract idea of using a cell phone to order an item. But this one makes the list not only because it gives us a chance to reflect a moment on software patents, but also because an app for ordering anything from a mobile device could be the most commercially successful invention on this list given the overwhelming popularity of smartphones.
It should be noted that the first claim of this patent application is extraordinarily lengthy, which would make the resulting patent very narrow. The patent application claims a computer-implemented method of receiving a user input through an application on a device, communicating that user input, which includes an order, is sent to a merchant that will fill the order. The method also involves locating the device and informing the user of a projected time of travel for the item from the merchant.
#8: Generating Personal Bank Note Using Readable Indicia
This was a very interesting year for financial patents and patent applications in terms of those that we came across here at IPWatchdog. As our Companies We Follow series expanded to showcase innovations from JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, Wells Fargo and others, we saw innovations regarding automated teller machines (ATMs), personal financial accounts and even customer loyalty programs implemented by businesses, just to name a couple of areas of regular development that we’ve noticed.
Perhaps the most intriguing patent application in this field which we found this year is this one published in September to protect a technology that allows users to conduct transactions using bank notes printed for account holders. The system for generating a personal bank note claimed by this patent application involves a processing device for generating a readable indicia on a portable hard copy; the indicia encodes payment information for a merchant for conducting a financial transaction. This readable indicia increases consumer security so that a bank note cannot transmit funds if stolen. If your wallet was stolen but you were only carrying bank notes with this readable indicia, money would remain in your debit account and the thief wouldn’t be able to use those bills.
#7: Guiding a Desired Outcome for an Electronically Hosted Conference
There might always be a part of human nature, felt in various levels by different people, that feels something of a sense of dread inspired by certain technologies. This is something that still happens, as we found in our coverage of trends in robotics as well as wearable gadgets, both of which are incredibly popular areas of innovation right now. Some worry that robots will force workers out of jobs, while others muse that wearable gadgets could infringe on personal privacy.
No other technology reviewed during this year’s Companies We Follow series created that slight sense of dread in this writer like this patent application. It’s very likely that this IBM innovation has benign purposes, but it’s a technology designed to manipulate voting activities. This patent application, also published in September, claims a system for an electronically hosted conference which monitors participant activity to determine participant sentiments and presenting a priority list of participants to a system user, the priority list being based on participant sentiments and indicating an order in which participants should be polled to achieve a desired outcome. We’ll include the same quote from the patent application as we did in our original coverage of this invention and other IBM inventions in October:
“Because people oftentimes are influenced by others, polling the participants in a particular order can influence the outcome of the vote. In illustration, if the fifth person being polled is undecided, but the first four people who are polled all vote a particular way, the undecided person may end up voting that same way. Accordingly, polling the participants in a particular order based on participant sentiments can actually influence the votes to achieve the desired outcome.”
#6: Gradient Pretreatment of Lignocellulosic Biomass
Methods of generating electricity and energy from alternative, renewable resources, such as solar or wind, are technologies that we’ve focused on at points throughout the year. We’ve seen a lot of activity in this area from the Companies We Follow, especially General Electric and others involved in the development of electrical infrastructure and systems.
Biomass has been an intriguing area of focus in alternative energy generation over the past few years. Ethanol derived from biomass can be used to fuel vehicles or even power plants and biomass, which is created from agricultural products, is a renewable resources whereas natural gas and coal aren’t. However, conventional biomass conversion processes have been unable to convert biomass into energy at a rate of efficiency high enough to mitigate concerns about biomass production displacing crop production for food supplies.
In September, the USPTO published this DuPont patent application, filed by the company to protect a pretreatment process for biomass during which the percent of biomass solids is reduced over time. The patent application claims a process for producing fermentable sugars from cellulosic biomass which utilizes a reaction vessel containing a mixture of 40 percent to 70 percent cellulosic biomass solids and an amount of ammonia relative to the biomass. The liquid concentration of the mixture is increased over time, reducing the biomass solids concentration by 20 to 30 percent and producing a pretreated biomass. This technology supports the enhanced production of fermentable sugars and of a biocatalyst-produced product.
#5: Large-Area Controlled Electrostatic Levitation of Lightweight Show Objects
The Walt Disney Company had possibly the best debut feature in the Companies We Follow series since we began developing this regular column about two years ago. This recent article found an incredible array of entertainment technologies, especially video gaming. The company also invested heavily in some intriguing three-dimensional imaging innovations, including one method enabling consumer cameras to capture stereoscopic, or 3D, panorama images.
We also found some novel technologies for attractions at the many theme parks operated by Disney throughout the world, the most attention-grabbing of which was this patent application. Published in late October, this patent application claims a system of levitating an object that has a body designed to receive a static charge, the system including an array of at least three electrostatic generators, each having an exposed element that becomes statically charged. When operated, the system levitates the aforementioned object through the use of an electrostatic lifting force. There are few better ways to express the need for developing this innovation, as well as the Walt Disney Company’s ever-present focus on creating magical entertainment experiences, than language given by the patent application itself:
“Shows that utilize flying tricopters, quadcopters, or other unmanned, motorized flying objects are useful in some settings. Unfortunately, such devices are often loud and cannot provide the organic or natural locomotion of a floating jellyfish demanded by many show designers. These motorized objects are clearly manmade objects and not magical creatures, which can ruin a created display or effect for the audience. Further, the bulk of a quadcopter or similar device can make them undesirable for intimate settings where the audience may be in close proximity to the humanoid characters and any flying objects… There remains a need for techniques for providing smaller flying objects in a manner that appears organic and non-motorized as one would imagine flight of a wood sprite or a will-o’-the-wisp.”
#4: Virtual Billboards
The past few months of the Companies We Follow series has featured a large number of innovations in the field of augmented and virtual realities. It’s a small wonder that this would be happening given the advances of mobile tech in recent years and especially with the advent of wearable gadgets. Computing is itself a sort of virtual reality and many Internet-based services with which consumers have become very familiar are arguably virtual realities; for example, the receipt of e-mail into an Internet inbox is a virtualized substitution for receiving physical mail.
The use of augmented reality technologies for marketing campaigns is expected by some to drive development in this field for the near future, and this patent application is a great indication of what this could look like. This Yahoo patent application, published in September, discusses a system of presenting virtual billboards to those wearing a reality overlay device. It claims a method of automatically capturing information by a device, transmitting at least some of that information to an overlay system which generates a transparent overlay via one or more lenses of the device, enabling a user to view physical surroundings through the transparent overlay. Advertisements appearing on these virtual billboards could be based on a user’s preferences or the user’s proximity to a business.
#3: Communicating with Residential Electrical Devices Via a Vehicle Telematics Unit
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a sector of technological development that we’ve followed closely here on IPWatchdog this year since our coverage of IoT products at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show back in January. We’ve come across many inventions this year which have been pursued to create more connected and smarter homes. The growing trend seems to be supported by the increased consumer desire to not only control a thermostat or other appliances from a different room but also to be presented with useful information while on the go, like receiving a list of groceries to purchase from a smart fridge.
There were probably no other patent applications reviewed this year that better portrayed the possibilities of an IoT future than this one. It claims a method of performing the job indicated by the patent application’s title which involves receiving identifying information of a device to control, displaying controlled features of the device in a vehicle and sending an instruction about a controlled feature to a residential device. Filed by General Motors and published in September, this patent application describes a system allowing vehicle owners to control a wide range of devices while away from the home, including HVAC equipment, computers or indoor lighting.
#2: Ophthalmic Devices Incorporating Photonic Elements
To this point, there have been two notable areas of wearable technology development which has attracted the attention of the mainstream media. The concept of wearables was largely introduced to most consumers through Google Glass computing eyewear. In recent months, smartwatches have been an area of much research and development investment as electronics manufacturers including LG, Samsung and Motorola have released their own gadgets in this field.
This Johnson & Johnson innovation goes a step beyond Google Glass and similar computing eyewear products by introducing electronic circuits directly into a contact lens. The patent application, published in September, claims an ophthalmic device with at least one photonic emitter which is configured to emit light from a light source and an energization element with a size and shape that allows it to occupy a space between a user’s eye surface and eye lid. The use of nanoscale photonic elements in this contact lens enables the creation of light patterns that convey information or data to a user’s retina.
#1: Haptic Gloves and Surgical Robot Systems
As we’ve already mentioned in this Top 10 article, robotics innovations have come up again and again during the Companies We Follow series and elsewhere. Samsung had the greatest amount of technological development in this field but we’ve seen inventions in robotics coming from Canon, Foxconn and others. From floor cleaning to manufacturing, robotics has been changing a lot about how we work to how much time we have to spend on our daily chores.
This Samsung Electronics innovation involves the use of incredibly precise robotics instruments which can be used for minimally invasive medical surgeries, which patients recover from more quickly, reducing hospitalization. The patent application, published in November, claims a haptic glove configured to transmit haptic feedback to an operator of a surgical robot system, the glove containing a plurality of vibrators, at least one pressure sensor at a finger part of the glove which senses grip force and a sensation applier which applies sensations, such as vibrations, to a finger part. The vibration feedback provided by this glove gives the surgeon the sensation that he or she, and not the robotic equipment, is the one performing the surgery. It’s not clear whether this could be used at long distances or whether this system is just intended to benefit from the ultra precision of robotics. However, it does beg the question: Could such a system be implemented so that a surgeon in, say, South Korea, could successfully perform spinal or other minimally invasive surgeries on patients thousands of miles away? The fact that we’ve covered robotics heavily this year, as well as the medical achievements capable through this system, is what makes this patent application the best one reviewed by this writer this year.