Thursday, December 31, 2009

HitchHiker's IGuide to the Galaxy

Today I had a "deja vu all over again" moment when I read some technology blog posts speculating about the arrival of the new Apple IPad tablet. A lot of technology prognosticators were putting forth their positions on the been-there-done-that experience with tablet PCs. I was having a deja vu moment because while the IPad exhibited all of the amazing human factors and industrial engineering that is all things Apple, I was taking a stroll down IGuide memory lane.

Enter the technology time machine and return to 1988 when WANG Laboratories as developing its Freestyle product. Freestyle was a product ahead of its time. You could write with a stylus to sign documents on the screen, use your mouse to move documents around, add voice annotations to your documents to convey important ideas along with the contents.

Freestyle was to be followed by a handheld PDA like device that incorporated lots of the features of Freestyle into something you could cart around with you. The IGuide would let you store all of your important information in portable wireless form.

Stephen Levine, technologist and inventor extraordinaire, created a cult following within the R&D world at WANG. To inspire the troops Dr. Levine, who had a fishphone on his desk, invited Douglas Addams, the author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, to come in and give a talk about his books and about the "guide" that the characters had with them. The future arrived in 1988.

The video is vintage Steve Levine demonstrating Freestyle. (Prior art alert...) Enjoy.

(The video takes about 20 seconds to get started.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Diet Season and the Exercise Escalator

Last week the CEO of NutriSystem, Joe Redling, was on CNBC squawking about the improving financial results of his company and the upcoming Diet Season. NutriSystem, just closed a deal to sell their products at Sam's Club and Walgreens. This and their existing deal with Costco and Wal-Mart means that NutriSystem's stuff will be in about 10,000 retail locations. A direct challenge to Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice. The Diet Season is the busy season for NutriSystem. Mr. Redling was excited.

Anyone who goes to a gym on a regular basis is familiar with Diet Season. On January 2, probably January 4th this year due to the extended New Year's Eve holiday weekend, the Diet Season begins. Right after the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years Eve holiday feasts, office parties, and endless trays of cookies and the resulting over consumption of goodies come to an end, we feel compelled to make the annual New Year's Resolution to go on a diet, exercise more and become healthier. Hence the emergence of the Diet Season. The current healthcare debate only adds to the pressure to get moving and be part of the Diet Season. The gym fills up with people who haven't exercised since last January. They immediately start hogging up the cardio equipment, lifting weights that are too heavy for them, and straining every muscle in their bodies. The Diet Season is then followed by the Orthopaedic and Chiropractor season but I digress. Let is be said that cardio is big during the Diet Season.

All this brings me to Walter Harrison and Samuel Talbot, the inventors of the Exercise Escalator. The Exercise Escalator which appears to be the predecessor to the Stair Master, is an "in place" exerciser which resembles a reverse action escalator. Mr. Harrison and Mr Talbot's invention is covered by patent 3,497,215. It was filed in 1967, after the Diet Season that year.

The invention claims, "An escalator type apparatus for exercising a subject "in situ" in a simulated stair climbing activity, comprising a structure including a flight of steps movable in a closed loop, each step having a closed riser affixed thereto, and means operatively connected to said apparatus for measuring the effort of a subject in the act of simulated climbing of said movable steps." They invented the stair case to nowhere.

The Exercise Escalator is especially suited for multi-lead electrocardiography during the exercise of patients with coronary heart disease...presenting minimal danger to the weak and unsteady; one which exercises the muscles habitually used by nonathletic people..." I think the January crowd qualifies here.

So as you mount the stair master or what every stair climbing cardio device you find in your over crowded gym in January, think of Mr. Harrison and Mr. Talbot's invention and the their contribution to the annual ritual of the Diet Season.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Grass Roots Advocacy - Robo-Caller Revenge Issue

In the season of issues, compelling public debates, and political activism we bring you the Grass Roots Edition.

Gone are the days of The Federalist Papers when Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote essays about how the new government would operate and why this type of government was the best choice for the United States of America. Today's democracy is an incessant stream of digital messages and electronic discourse, talking heads and bleeding edge blogs. Information is being created with such speed it's hard to digest let alone think about the impact of the changes and issues on the table today. If Congress was forced to write the bills by hand I doubt there would be any bills that were 2,000 pages long, but I digress.

The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting a more effective Congress and a group that clearly has their work cut out for them. It's report, "Communicating with Congress: How the Internat Has Changed Citizen Engagement" reports that in 2004 the Congress received 200 million communications from constituents - a four fold increase over the volume received in 1995. The increase was a direct result of internet-based communications. By 2008 they report that 44% of adults in America had contacted a Senator of Congressman in the last five years. 43% of those communications were via online methods.

91% people who contact Congress via the Internet cared deeply about the issue that triggered email. And they expected a reply. Only two-thirds actually got a response and most were dissatisfied with what they got. (Not surprising.) The form letter writing machine is alive and well up on Capitol Hill.

CMF's Beverly Bell presents the flip side in a letter to the Washington Post in which she notes that policy-makers in the Executive and Legislative Branches feel overwhelmed by citizen communications, and, because so much of it is identical, they find it increasingly difficult to manage and trust. Does this mean that basically they are ignoring constituent concerns? During the health care debate several Congressmen announced that they intended to vote the way they wanted even if it was against what their constituents wanted. How does advocacy work these days?

I live in Virginia where we just finished one of the first post Obama Governor's races. The house phones were victims of incessant advocacy Robo-calls from political luminaries across the political spectrum. In the days leading up to the election the house was bombarded. I was wondering how all this technology impacted the dynamics of the new digital citizenry and everything that goes with it. I cranked up Cogntion IP and did a little searching.

That brings us to patent 6,311,211 - Method and apparatus for delivering electronic advocacy messages. The patent, owned by Juno Online Services, presents a way to automate sending advocacy messages to your representatives. Sixty-three claims of reverse robocaller messaging bliss. The patent is describes an invention that is the Citizen's Revenge on the Robo-caller.

The inventors claim:
1. A method of operating an advocacy network, comprising the steps of:

accessing a user database, the user database comprising information about users and information identifying a representative associated with each user;

automatically selecting a user based on information in the user database; and

sending an advocacy message to the selected user through a first communication network.

So, they have your name in the database along with the names of your representatives. Then they have the capability to automatically send an advocacy message to your representatives.

Ok, now for the saturation elements...

Claim 6 adds...wherein the response message comprises one of an e-mail message, a facsimile message, a printed letter and a telephone call.

My problem with this claim is that it should say "where in the response message comprises ALL of the messages... an email, a fascimile (does anyone use those anymore) a printed letter and a telephone call.

Then there is the ability to send a message at a predetermined time.

Then add: the response message comprises a telephone call automatically established between the representative and the selected user.

Jackpot... but I wonder how long the person answering the phone will listen before hanging up?

Is Juno enforcing it's patents? Wouldn't that put a stop to all the Robocalls?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tinkerers of the World Unite

Here's an excellent link to an article in the WSJ on Tinkering Makes a Comeback Amid Crisis. Innovation is alive and well and living in the garage again.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monopoly, Patents, & Business Methods

Today's Wall Street Journal article, "How a Fight Over a Board Game Monopolized an Economist's Life" presents the ins and outs of Ralph Anspach's trademark battle with Hasbro, the makers of Monopoly. Professor Anspach and Hasbro have different perspectives on the history of the game and the patents that cover it. We wonder if what is really disclosed is a business method.

Hasbro cites a patent issued to Charles B. Darrow, a heater salesman as the origin of the game. That patent, 2,026,082, was sold to Parker Brothers in 1935. Parker Brother's registered the Monopoly trademark in the same year and went on to sell over 750 million copies.

Professor Anspach cites an earlier 1924 patent, 1,509,312, invented by Elizabeth Magie Phillips as the real origin of the game.

Aside from always executing a strategy to buy the utilities and railroads, having to have the Top Hat or the Dog as my game piece never having the stamina to finish a game, I found the claims interesting. I think Ms. Phillips is the inventor of the corner space and that Professor Anspach may be on to something here from a prior art perspective if in fact Mr. Darrow saw a version of the Phillips invention. But there are no records to determine if the two inventors ever went to the same trade show or crossed each other's paths.

The Landlord Game disclosed in Ms. Phillips patent has the following claim:

A game-board provided with corner spaces, intervening spaces of different denominations and values, some of the spaces of the different series corresponding and distinguished by coloring or other markings, so that the corresponding divisions may be recognized, a series of cards of changeable value, two or more of which are alike and which relate to two or more certain spaces on the board, a series of movable pieces to be used in conjunction with the spaces of the board and controlled by dice, so as to determine play.

The Monopoly patent introduces the concept that the spaces are arranged together in groups by color, that they have value, and that if you own the whole block you can extract more money:

In a board game apparatus a board acting as a playing-field having marked spaces constituting a path or course extending about the board, said path affording a continuous track for the purpose of continuity of play, certain of said spaces being designated, as by position, or color so as to constitute a distinguishable group, there being a plurality of such groups each differing from the others and each having its spaces adjacent on the same side of the board, the apparatus having indications of the rentals required for the use and occupancy, by opponent players, of space of one or more such groups, which rentals are subject to increase by the acquisition of an additional space or spaces of the same group by the same individual player, thereby making it possible for the possessor to extract greater payments or penalties from any opponents resting or trespassing thereon.

Mr. Darrow may have disclosed a business method. But does anyone have the McDonald's Broadway piece?

Where are the patent numbers rant: The WSJ used one of the drawings from the Darrow patent in the article but once again didn't provide the patent numbers.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hope..With Someone Else's Image - Nope!!

It's been a busy week on the intellectual property front.

First, David Young, chief executive of Lagardere SCA's Hachette Book Group, one of the country's largest book publishers pronounced that he would like to see legislation that would prevent the sale of books below cost. At issue is the price war between Wal-Mart and Amazon for some of the book titles expected to dominate the holiday shopping season. Wal-Mart is selling books below cost. Amazon is cutting costs and selling the digital versions for $9.99. The issue is economic. Independent booksellers and new writers will suffer when books are sold below cost. Wal-Mart appears to be paying the full price, the copyrights are being protected, and the authors are getting paid.

Then we have artist Shepard Fairey, who designed the famous Barack Obama "HOPE" poster, who, according to AP, admitted Friday that he didn't use the Associated Press photo he originally claimed his work was based on, a photo taken in April 2006 by Mannie Garcia, on assignment for the AP, at the National Press Club in Washington.

Mr. Fairey appears to have pulled in some serious money selling posters, autographed posters, and a whole range of stuff featuring his work. For more info on the emergence of the poster as a cultural icon see:

Ben Arnon: How the Obama "Hope" Poster Reached a Tipping Point and Became a Cultural Phenomenon: An Interview With the Artist Shepard Fairey

Mr. Fairey apparently had artistic amnesia when he said he didn't use the photo that featured a single image of then Senator Obama as claimed by AP intead saying used a picture with two images, one of Mr. Obama and another of actor George Clooney. By saying he used the picture with two people in it rather than the one with only Mr. Obama, he tried to claim he significantly modified the picture and was not infringing AP's copyright. He claimed that his work was covered under the fair use doctrine. But it now turns out he altered the single photo and added the word HOPE across the bottom.

His legal team lead by Mr. Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University -- withdrew from the case and said the artist had misled them by fabricating information and destroying other material. I can tell you this, when your lawyers quit on you because you didn't give them the straight story, it's not a good thing. When your lawyers are from the Fair Use Project and you misled them and destroyed material its a very bad thing.

Mr. Fairey earned much critical acclaim for his work, vandalism of public property aside (do you remember all those posters that showed up all over the place prior to the election?), Mr. Fairey earned quite a bit of money from his use of AP and Mr. Garcia's work.

In determining which of this week's intellectual property happenings is cause for concern, Mr Fairey wins. Mr. Fairey is the one who absconded with someone else's work without paying for it. The book publishers might be concerned that their product is being undervalued but at least it's being valued. In the case of AP and Mr. Garcia's work, they received no value. That's a greater concern.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Man Walks Into a Bar

A leading patent attorney who is deeply involved in the In Re Bilski case and has written an amicus brief on behalf of one of his clients advocating that business methods that don't result in a transformation - things that can be done with pencil, paper, a calculator and a brain - shouldn't be patentable. He can cite plenty of patents and pending applications that he believes are ridiculous but since we were chatting at the end of the day and he was heading to Happy Hour with a colleague, he offered the following cocktail business method story.

He's decided to litigate the hypothetical Man Walks into a Bar business method patent. The patent describes a business method where a man walks into a bar and interfaces with the alcoholic beverage dispensing system. The interface supports input of specific cocktail configurations based on published and customized ingredient lists. The alcohol beverage dispensing system's component selection device selects appropriate alcoholic beverage subcomponents from the alcoholic beverage inventory control system and executes configuration specific combination instructions to assemble the components according to the specific cocktail configuration. When the configuration process, which may involve introduction of other supplemental components to optimize the specific cocktail configuration, the specific cocktail configured by the alcoholic beverage dispensing system is rendered into an appropriate container based on its content, measured in size and based on ornamental accessories required for the specific cocktail configuration and output by the alcoholic beverage dispensing system.

The method may also include rendering alternative specific cocktail configurations wherein the alcoholic beverage subcomponents may be non-alcoholic subcomponents including but not limited to ice, limes, umbrellas or pink flamingo shaped stirring utensils.

While I was contemplating an after work adult beverage he added the following:

Under Bilski, a method is patent-eligible if “ ‘(1) it is tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or (2) it transforms a particular article into a different state or thing. If the apparatus is a bartender and the article is a fine bottle of tequila, the transformation occurs when the tequila is combined with lime and transformed into a cool margarita.

So, the apparatus is the bartender and the transformation is the combination of ingredients and the transformation is the shaken not stirred and dispensed into the glass. It's a stretch but he makes his case that business method patents have gone too far.

Under this hypothetical business method, every bartender taking an order, mixing a drink, and serving it in a frosted glass with a pink flamingo or an umbrella would be infringing the Man Walks Into a Bar Patent.

Happy Friday.

Knitwear, Software and Convergence

We are proud to know a lot of inventors at Coronado Group. Sayuri Doi is one of those inventors. The only thing is I knew her long before she was an inventor. We grew up together. While the rest of us were struggling with how to sew on buttons and figure out how to crochet, Si would see a sweater she liked and whip out her knitting needles and make one for herself refining it to match her unique vision. She took her skills to New York and Hong Kong creating amazing knitwear while staying on top of the latest trends. Si is an inventor, a trend watcher, a sweater designer, a visionary and a friend from the old neighborhood and proof that convergence is everywhere.

Si's unique perspective is that everyone has their own style. Her patent, 6,721,545 is for an ornamental attachment to a mobile phone that provides a way to customize the appearance of the device in a more personal and unique manner. Who needs a boring brick of electronic stuff in their hand when you can personalize, customize, accessorize?

Today this inventor is creating her own new intellectual property of the warm and cuddly variety at her new adventure Rain+Jack. At the corner of Ranier and Jackson, Si and her friend and partner Helen Sharp are launching their new enterprise. Innovation and amazing design are alive and well and living in Seattle. A new type of software from Washington.

Si is also a new media practitioner. See her Flickr stream at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Big Data

Today's New York Times article "Training to Climb an Everest of Digital Data" offers insight into the challenges of Big Data in a world where home users have 1 terabyte disk drives for their pictures and music, and Facebook is managing 40 billion photos for is users. Universites are attempting to teach their students how to work with massive amounts of data. Lots of talk about data. Not a lot of talk about information. Soon there will be so much data that it will obfuscate the information it contains.

Search paralysis will be alive and well. Big data demands tools for creating information. Just organizing the data into bit (byte?) sized chunks isn't going to cut it. Users need ways to navigate through the data and see what it means.

Here's some of the best visualizations of big data from Hans Rosling's presentations at TED. The first is from June 2007. The second is from 2006. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's All in the Cards Part 2

Several commentators asked me about the It's All in the Cards post. "What's with the cards?," they asked. Then a conversation on their personal experiences with the card catalog. Mostly in college. It was usually accompanied by the tiny hand motion of your fingers flipping through cards in those tiny drawers.

There were comments on using the card catalog to fill in a bibliography when jammed for time, a function that Amazon's book section provides for contemporary late night crammers. There was discussion about navigating before and after the target book just to see what was out there. But the most interesting commentary went like this; "It seemed like it was a lot easier to find what you were looking for back then."

Was it really? Was the library classification system a more straightforward way to organize information? Could it adequately handle the mass confluence of information going on today? But that single threaded, one person at a time in the drawer thing made searching a wait and see exercise. You couldn't add comments on how useful the resource was or if the author was a bozo for those that came after you to use as a guide post when determining whether to invest time to read the book. So search technology marches on.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's All In The Cards

The University of South Carolina is beginning a year-long series of events honoring the card catalog, it suse in the transformation of knowledge, and the people who created and used it. The South Carolina card catalog has 3,991,680 cards in 3,168 drawers. To celebrate the hidden gems in the card catalog they are publishing new "Featured Card of the Day". They are having a contest to see what you can do with the cards. Can you search in the digital world the way you browsed the card catalog?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Digital Ink and $6 Newspapers

The Sunday New York Times now has a $6.00 price tag. What is the tangible and cerebral value of the physical newspaper that you don't get with the free digital ink version. Why do you spend $6.00 for something you can get for free?

Today's $6.00 NYT was bought at the local Starbucks. Unlike the electronic version, you can hold it in your hand, spread it out in front of you. What you get is its layout, its physical presentation, the placement of the stories and the ads, and even how the sections are set up in the bundle. The two most timely sections - news and sports - are on top, on the outside of the bundle. The book review, travel section, and magazine are buried in the middle because they were finished first and waited for the rest of the paper to be built around it.

The NY Times starts with international news as you go through the news section and then moves to the US, then to the Regional News and then the New York news. This is the exact opposite of how the Washington Post's physical news section is laid out. You don't get this flow when you look at the digital edition even though all the pieces are there. Is the value of the paper this flow?

You spread all the sections out, browse across the sections deciding on your reading strategy, what to read first, what to save for last and then begin the ritual. Browsing is easier, there is a more intuitive sense of flow than the digital version and you can actually read more than one section at once without having to have a big screen monitor and two browser windows open.

You hold the paper in front of you as you watch the people coming and going. No one reads People at the Starbucks. Books and newspapers. Unless they are staring at their laptop. Are people in coffee shops more intellectual or do they just look that way? When you leave you fold up your paper and carry it out of the store prominently displayed. It makes a statement about being intellectually engaged (or maybe economically stupid.) You can't do that with a Kindle.

But here we are. To write this post you need the digital version. You need the hyperlinks, permalinks and digital browsing. The current state of affairs for books, newspapers, music, inventions, copyrights, patents, and all other forms of intellectual property and their existence in the physical and digital worlds is being driven by the New York Times question: Why do you pay $6.00 for something you can get for free?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Data Dissemination Industry Day at PTO

John Owens, the CIO of USPTO, had a rough day on Thursday, the day he hosted USPTO's Data Dissemination Industry Day. But I suspect Mr. Owens has a rough day every day.

Mr. Owens is responsible for PTO's information infrastructure. He's got archaic technology, thousands if not millions of users internally, externally, locally and globally. There are gargantuan demands for his information. Now add to the mix that the Office of Management and Budget is asking Mr. Owens how he is going to make PTO's petabyte repository of data available to the public for free.

Mr. Owens was looking for a partner to help him solve this problem. There didn't seem to be many volunteers in the room on Thursday.

Oh, did I mention that he doesn't have any money.

PTO, or "The Office" as the IP legal community refers to it, is in the throws of a financial crisis just like the rest of us. They are a fee based agency. Filings are down, fees are down. PTO still has an daunting backlog of patents to examine. The average number of claims is up, the number of references that examiners have to review is skyrocketing. The explosion of digital information makes doing a comprehensive search for the most relevant prior art a nightmare even for those of us with multi-monitor displays and the fastest CPUs on the block that can navigate across huge repositories of articles, patents, thesis, dissertations, journal articles and product specifications in seconds. USPTO's staff doesn't have many of the resources at their disposal that we can get in our pajamas from home.

Speaking of homes, Mr. Owens shared that the routers in our homes are more powerful than some that power USPTO. His servers are seven years old. He has tons and tons of data that have privacy protected information buried in with the public data. He can't release it until he can protect the privacy data. Easier said than done. (Take it from us...we've done it.)

His vast network of telecommuting patent examiners share the same network with the internal system users and the general public and their ever more powerful data seeking, spidering bots. PTO uses CAPTCHA to try to make sure that preference in access to the data goes to people not to machines. This is easily circumvented by the savvy (maybe not so savvy) software engineers on the hunt for data.

Mr. Owens has big time security problems. His agency has to meet all of the same buzzword compliant, alphabet soup standards like FISMA, NIST, PPI, etc., etc. for information security as every other federal agency. From what we've seen, USPTO does a pretty good job at that. Mr. Owens has to worry that one of his systems might release the trade secrets or inventions that will create our next trillion dollar industry. In addition to worrying if the FBI might show up, he no doubt loses sleep wondering how his day would go if one of his systems got hacked and someone stole the latest unpublished patent applications from Intel, Apple, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, or for that matter any independent inventor, university, small company or biomedical firm. Imagine how that day would go.

Oh, did I mention that every week his systems support the publication of 10,000 new patents and published patent applications.

Oh, and his classification and search systems don't begin to deal with the convergence of technology and the simultaneous emergence of new science that drives even greater demand for information.

PTO's patent search system only supports 300 concurrent users according to the PatFT Operational Notices and Status Page of USPTO.GOV. The image above is what you get when you happen to be the unlucky 301st searcher.

Did I mention that USPTO has over 6,000 patent examiners trying to use the same 300 concurrent use licenses?

If you want a vibrant intellectual property marketplace, if you want to improve the patent system and bring an end to ridiculous patents, if you want to advance innovation by avoiding wheel reinvention because you simply can't figure out what innovations came before you, you need to have information and information transparency. If you want to have information transparency you need information systems that work. To have information systems that work you can't be tied to old systems run by the same guys who were running the systems when the place was using paper and nobody knew how to make a searchable PDF. Mr. Owens needs the money to build a new next generation cloud computing environment to support all this. But for now, that just doesn't seem to be in the cards.

And in the biggest irony of all times, Mr. Owens will probably be infringing someone's business methods and software patents as he tries to move his agency into the 21st century. How will USPTO handle the fees or, perish the thought, a patent infringement law suit? Mr. Owens is going to need some patent attorneys of his own.

I hope Mr. Owens has lots of Rolaids.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Patent Auctions Go Mainstream

Today's New York Times's article "Patent Auctions Offer Protections to Inventors" offers proof that patent auctions and the pejoratively named Patent Trolls are a force to be reckoned with. It is time to move to using the term Non-Practicing Entity (NPE) and accept the fact that these organizations will help shape the face of intellectual property monetization going forward. (They are going to need some better logos if we can't use the cute trolls any more.)

Zoltar Satellite Alarm Systems is about to auction off its hard won and battle hardened patents for personal alarm systems with GPS receivers. Aside from the usual rant that none of the articles on the subject included the patent numbers,(5,650,770 and 5,963,130, the Self-Locating Remote Monitoring System patents plus 3 more use patents and 15 interational patents), these patents may be the seminal technology for helping rescue people find you when you dial 911. The inventors convinced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that they had already invented 911 locator services for cellphones when the FCC and others thought it couldn't be done.

The privately held Zoltar, its two inventors, and their investors are seeking a more cost effective way to monetize their intellectual property asset without having to do battle with every cellphone maker on the globe. The auction provides a way for them to get a reasonable return on their investment while turning the heavy lifting of patent enforcement over to firms with deeper pockets and the ability to get the companies that infringe the patents of small or individual inventor's to return their calls.

While there is still lots of discussion on where NPEs and transaction companies fit into the marketplace it's clear they are here to stay. Holders of intellectual property can no longer afford to ignore small inventors and small companies because they now have a new avenue to get the marketplace to pay attention to their investments and pay them for their work. The technology is out there to do deep dive searching into the content of patents so that everyone in the IP market space can find what's out there. You can no longer get away with just paying attention to the big patent holders. Some of the good stuff has been created by individual investors and small companies for whom patent auctions are a good thing.

There are many schools of thought on the emerging patent marketplace these days. One is the IP marketplace model like the stock market treating patents like stocks that can be traded freely in the marketplace. The downside here is that its not an asset that is easily traded or moved between owners. The other is the art gallery model where patents are treated like works of art - which is probably a more accurate reflection of the asset but a more benign view of the reality of how the transaction has to work to maximize value. The art gallery model has its flaws since its unlikely someone would pay the big bucks for patent and a just hang it in the hall for their personal enjoyment. Its value is in its monetization. (Unless of course your goal is to take it out of the market all together...we'll save that discussion for another day.)

At Coronado we like the transparency and transaction velocity model. In this model the more information you have about the patents, their use, the inventors, and how you can use the technology in new and serendipitous ways never contemplated by the inventors, the more you understand its value. If you know its value you understand why you need to pay for it. This creates transparency.

This knowledge is coupled with the ability to quickly determine who owns the patents so you can go out and get yourself a license. (Calling NPEs who hide their ownership of patent assets, and sit back in the tall grass waiting - hey, USPTO solved the problem of the submarine patent by publishing the applications. You guys have just recreated it in another form. And weren't you some of the biggest complainers when the submarine patents surfaced in the old days? We know how to find you...) This creates transaction velocity and a vibrant intellectual property marketplace.

At Coronado Group we focus on the transparency part with our Cognition IP work. We are committed to making patent information more accessible and more transparent to help advance the ball on the transaction velocity part.

The auction
is being lead by Pluritas, LLC, a patent transaction company. It will be held on October 14th. The titans of the cellular and smartphone universe are expected to show up for the party. It will be interesting to see if Pluritas or the purchaser release a price so that we will all understand the value that Zoltar's work has in the marketplace. That's part of getting to that vibrant intellectual property marketplace sooner rather than later.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Shine The Klieg Lights On The Patent System

In honor of tonight's Emmy's and the drama of the Troll Tracker case, it's time to drag out the klieg lights and shine the light of day on the whole patent system.

The Troll Tracker case revolves around one lawyer complaining that another lawyer defamed him after lawyer number 1 got the clerk of the court to change the date stamp on a filing because he filed it too early. This resulted in lawyer number 2 posting comments on his Troll Tracker web site. Lawyer number 1 said that the post questions the integrity of this behavior resulting in lawyer number 1's feelings getting hurt and filing a defamation suit against lawyer number 2, aka the Troll Tracker. There was intrigue as a bounty was offered seeking the true identify of the Troll Tracker. Once the identity was disclosed the defamation suit followed. One of the more interesting aspects of this whole adventure it that the parties seem to have forgotten was sought that free speech thing in the Constitution. The klieg light metaphor is about the need for more transparency in the entire patent system.

While getting ready to post my rant I needed to look up the spelling of klieg which lead me down another serrendipitous discovery about the Kliegl brothers.

The Kliegl brothers invented the Klieg light and a the accompanying new noun. Klieg lights are used to create day at night. There isn't a movie set or late night highway construction project that doesn't have Klieg lights. The Kliegl brother's earliest was a patent 708365 filed on August 26, 1901 and issued September 2, 1902 for an Electromedical device for treatment of disease. Like other biomedical engineers that came after them, they appear to have moved on to more profitable ventures inventing many of the advances in theatrical lighting we all take for granted. Aside from the famous spot light, there are footlights, and plugs, and electrical components. The phrase Klieg lights came from the merger of Kliegl and light according to several web citations.

Bring on the light of day...natural or of the klieg variety.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Future of Ideas

Dilbert's views on patents. Here's the link to the Dilbert site.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Comparative Effectiveness Research and Intelligent Search

Comparative effectiveness research (CER) and evidence-based medicine have been one of the boogeymen of the healthcare debates. Fear that, as a result of CER findings, your doctor will not be able to make his or her own decisions about what's best for you but will be forced through some chart of acceptable protocols. None of the physicians or researchers I know are that wimpy.

We don't know what the outcome of the healthcare debate will be but we subscribe to the belief that knowledge is power. The more you know, the better your decisions will be. CER has the potential to deliver for healthcare what nutritional labels did for groceries - information.

To that end, Coronado has been working on a novel intelligent search tool for answering clinical questions. At a high level this is what it does: When faced with a complex patient problem or when you are looking for information to address a research issue, you construct a single query by combining all of the text based information you have about the problem and using that as the search source. You copy and paste all the text-based information you have - clinical reports, image interpretation text, previous findings - and copy it into the search box. When you've entered all the text that you have you can add your own notes, words you are looking for, hunches, terminology that relates to the subject matter in your domain. The search box can handle gigabytes of data. Once that's done, you hit enter and the intelligent search tool evaluates all of the concepts in the search source and then finds and ranks results based on how conceptually and semantically close the documents are to your search source.

Our initial implementation uses the content of 13 of the top diagnostic imaging journals and RadLex, the radiology and diagnostic imaging ontology, to create the concept space and the searchable document set. We started here because two of the top radiology informatics experts from the University of Maryland School of Medicine have been gracious enough to provide us with guidance so we can make sure it works. It also offers us a platform where we can address some pressing search and retrieval issues - convergence. In physician speak this area is dealing with multidisciplinary/multimodality diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring. In regular guy speak what this means is that to answer a question it's not unusual for s clinician or researcher to need to do cross-domain searches covering radiology, chemist, molecular biology, pharmacology, chemotherapeutics and contract agents to get a comprehensive answer to a complex problem. It would be nice to be able to execute a search that gets it rather than having to keep searching and searching and searching.

We have been using this technology successfully in the patent and intellectual property space. Our work on the patent front resulted in our having a deep understanding of the nature and content of scientific, technical and medical documents and understanding how to authors writes these kind of documents, where the good information is buried. As a result of this work our concept space for scientific materials is excellent allowing IP searches that dig deep into the content of the patents and supporting documents. Since the patent space is so wide and the classifications so deep, we have refined the complex subject matter there with some of our own special sauce to help expedite complex searchers. We expect that we can leverage this framework to support a highly focused implementation for medical research. Especially with help from our colleagues.

This tool offers a lot of value in the comparative effectiveness arena. First, you can pose a complex search that will return the documents that are the closest to your topic. This lends itself to helping medical librarians and investigation collaborators on evidence-based medical evaluations assemble the information they need to do their work. At the risk of being corny, less time finding, more time working.

It also supports deep dive information harvesting. While a certain protocol or finding may be a very small part of one investigation it may be extremely critical to current searchers. Conventional search techniques, especially those on the internet, make finding these documents hard to do. Because the intelligent search tool searches on the conceptual and semantic content, it finds all the documents that embody a particular idea even if it's not the most important concept. It makes a whole new universe of information accessible to searchers. You can search the widest possible universe of documents and still get highly refined results.

One of the other areas we are exploring is the ability to do longitudinal searches. Or, as consultants like to call them, retrospective longitudinal searches. We do this in the patent world now. Basically what this means is that you can look back in time to see what evidence is available. Because the technology understands how the words used to describe something have changed over time as well as their context, this may enable searchers looking for evidence to look back in time. This has the potential to accelerate some of the work to establish meaningful comparative effectiveness work without having to wait for new evidence. It has its limitations, it's only as good as the old documents, but it might prove helpful as investigators look across older medical evidence or access deep repositories of reports. We're looking at all that "stuff" stored in the archival PACS systems.

And a final note. It's easier to search. You don't have to distill your search requirements into ands, ors, or nots. You simply write up what you are looking for, stream of consciousness works, or assemble the best scientific and medical documents that describe what it, or assemble a text document where you keep your research notes and use that for the search. It's more natural. It lends itself to serendipitous search - navigating through the information to see what's there, to see what you find. It lets you search the way you think...really.

We published a White Paper called Intelligent Search for Answering Clinical Questions. You can download it from our website. The image if our version of finding the needle in the haystack..just find all the needles.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Patents v. Knew Patents

Over the last several days there has been much news.

First, the number of patents being filed worldwide is decreasing with the exception of the Chinese.

USPTO has a 700,000+ backlog of patent applications but doesn't have the fee revenue they need to step up the pace. David Kappos is the new Director. He will have his hands full.

One of the leading companies innovating in the technology space that said, "The patents are so complicated that the lawyers don't know how to write the application, we can't find meaningful or understandable prior art, and the PTO doesn't understand the technology when they get the application."

PTO issued patents on "pod casting" that look like the exact same technology that Tibco and Marimba has in the 90s. Article One Partners has put a bounty on a patent that describes what it believes is the same technology as Twitter - emergency broadcasting of message to a set of people who are supposed to get the messages.

So what we have here is a double edged conundrum. No one knows what a meaningful NEW invention is because they get buried in the weeds or are too hard to understand. Fewer and fewer people know how to create a compelling application that explains what their invention is without obfuscation, mumbo-jumbo and words that have little meaning in the real world. There aren't enough people out there who understand prior art and who can identify the "Ah Ha" moment in patents. It was a slow week.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Good IP Checklist

Here is a link to a good Intellectual Property checklist from Perkins Cole.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dick Tracy Watch Gets FCC Approval

Gizmo Alert!! According to CNET the FCC has approved LG's Dick Tracy watch. CNET watches the FCC database to stay on top of what's next. I wonder can you use a cartoon as prior art?

The LG GD910 certainly meets the Gizmo test.
  • Tempered glass, and high-quality metal casing construction
  • 1.43" diagonal face measurement, by about .5" thickness
  • LG's flash interface featuring touch-screen input
  • Voice recognition, and text to speech so it can "read out" text messages
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Three side-mounted buttons
  • A speakerphone
  • A full-blown MP3 music player
  • Water resistant design
  • 7.2 Mbps 3G HSDPA compatibility, enabling high-speed data transmission and video calls using the built-in camera
The TV is missing but since it supports video calls, it looks likeit has it all. Chester Gould and Al Gross were ahead of their time. Check out the Chester Gould Dick Tracy Museum.

Clocks, Watches, and Beepwear

We are on the hunt for the Dick Tracy watch slogging through the inventions in the mobile phone, new technology, wireless and now wristwatch world. Today we keep our neon clock company we bring you Clocks, Watches and Beepwear.

Attempts to search for information on inventions is fraught with frustration. The Dick Tracy watch is more fun but not any different than any other electronics information hunt. Figuring out what the right words are to describe this type of invention requires some serious thought. They you have to figure out what class PTO has stashed the relevant inventions (art) under, and then figuring out if what you find is really what you are looking for. This is clearly a convergence issue. This is why we HATE all forms of keyword and Boolean searching. It is one of the most frustrating and unfulfilling experiences in the hunt for good information. The world of patents has its own kind of intellectual hide and seek. Inventors who try to pick terms that give you the broadest possible coverage of your new invention. Use works that make your invention seem new so it won't be declared obvious. Then pick some verbs that cover a lot of ground so that as technology morphs they can say, "Yeah, my invention does that..."

The Dick Tracy watch provides some excellent info hide and seek adventures. Dick Tracey's original two way radio watch came about when Dick Tracy's creator, cartoonist Chester Gould, met Al Gross, an inventor and engineer who has many wireless devices to his credit. After a 1946 meeting, Dick Tracy started wearing his iconic two way radio watch. What a good excuse to read old comics, "I'm looking for prior art honey..."

What does one call the Dick Tracy watch when you are on a technology hunt? You look for the terms that show up in patents that describe wrist mounted apparatus that provide continuous data feeds of local and other geographically disbursed location time data -- aka the wristwatch potentially with two faces. What words do you add to include the fact that this one communicates? How about one with a display, was it digital, sure looks that way, and square too.

Here are a some of the good descriptions we came across:
  • Wrist instruments including timekeeping devices (Note: wrist instrument...sounds expensive)
  • Improved wristwatch radiotelephone - (We didn't find the original wristwatch radiotelephone to go with this improved invention.)
  • Personal digital apparatus..a wristwatch-type device with sensors (Note: could be a sports monitor)
  • Battery powered communication device (Note: could be anything - walky talky? But you gotta go down the path)
  • Personal digital assistant watch - (Note: good but no communications implied by this description)
  • A programmable portable information device (PDAs, cellphones, electronic roledex device?)
  • A portable timekeeping device (Note: Could be a cellphone or a battery powered clock that you tote around with you when you travel, or what about the clock in your car? What about a stop watch?)
  • A portable information device such as a multifunction electronic wristwatch
US Patent 3032651 is one of the earliest Wrist Carried Radio Set. This "wrist carried radio" was invented by two Swiss inventors and actually cites a Janauary 20, 1946 article from the Richmond Times Dispatch titled, "Dick Tracy Wrist Radio" as prior art. It also cites a 1954 article from the Washington Star entitled, "The Army's New Wrist Radio." It has some very elegant drawings. This application must have been written shortly after the press documented the meeting between Mr. Gross and Mr. Gould.

Timex and Motorola have a series of overlapping intellectual property which resulted in the Beepwear watch. The Beepwear pager watch was a hit at the Beepwear Pro was promoted as, "It's a pager,'s a watch,'s an organizer,....right on your wrist! "

Timex's US Patent 4847818 filed in 1988 by Timex is one of the earlier inventions. It has a remarkably simple title: Wristwatch Radiotelephone offering a different phone configuration than the standard Dick Tracy:
There are Timex patents with Microsoft as well, see 5922058.

Ericsson defines their invention as a personal information management system. (That's nice and broad) US Patent 6334046 describes a personal information management system that includes a personal information manager having a first transceiver and a first storage device for personal information and a communication system. Could be Dick Tracy in silhouette in their figures.

IBM has a patent for a PDA watch with features that take advantage of the flexibility of the human wrist to enhance data entry. It describes the field of invention as "relating in general to information processing apparatuses, and in particular to personal data assistants."

HP's 7055111 is for "Opportunistic Data Transfer From a Personal Digital Apparatus". In case you are wondering, Opportunistic Data Transfer appears to relate to the capability to download data to your personal digital assistant at a predetermined time. The Personal Digital Apparatus covers a lot of territory. The personal digital apparatus appears to be hooked to the arm according to the figures and preferred embodiment but they wander into the medical data arena - is that the same as the devices that keep track of your work out and upload the data to your personal computer (whatever that is these days?) This one has lots of Bluetooth compliant device language.

The LG "Dick Tracy watch" was shown at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show. Samsung has its own version that lets you check voice mail and check Outlook mail. I guess we'll have to see what RIM and Apple do next.

The best description of this class of devices so far is simply, "An attention grabbing gizmo."

That explains it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wireless IP Titans at Defcon 1

Looks like the wireless world titans are about to go to Defcon 1.

Today's Wall Street Journal "Ericsson Wins Nortel Auction" reports that "Telfon AB L.M. Ericsson will pay $1.13 billion to acquire the most profitable piece of Nortel Networks Corp. after winning an auction for the assets late Friday."

WSJ notes that Ericsson got the Nortel CDMA business and "a group of 400 resarchers working on high-end broadband technology." What is missing from this reporting is that the asset the bidders wanted was the Nortel patent portfolio and their smart people. Depending on who you believe the Nortel patent portfolio has between 6,000 and 7,000 patents covering networking, telephony, and wireless technology. Ericsson has tens of thousands of its own patents including a significant number of software patents.

Research in Motion was excluded from bidding. RIM had less than 1,000 patents with 450 issuing in the last year but apparently is shopping as well. RIM picked up the three speech/voice patents from the Multimedia Patent Trust in February. Now the subject of a prior art bounty. Everyone in the wireless space knows you better have a good patent portfolio.

The prize in the Nortel auction was the patent portfolio. The market for intangible assets and patents and the human capital to create new patents in particular continues to expand. Having an arsenal of patents is a key defensive and competitive weapon. Having smart people who invent stuff is the icing on the cake.

Nokia has its own patent factory (and a book letting everyone know how they manage their IP pipeline). Nokia and Intel have announced plans for a next generation phone. Intel and Nokia are aiming for the unbiquitous internet connectivity space and a whole new class of mobile devices. Intel has been aggressively shopping for technology.

Apple and RIM are duking it out in the smart phone market space, Apple has its own considerable portfolio and is careful to license the technology it doesn't own. I wonder if anyone was paying attention when Apple was one of the early players to license the Amazon One-Click Patent 5,960,411? It was pre-ITunes store.

Motorola and RIM are engaged in their own invalidity, infringement, and re-examination actions. Intellectual Ventures recently entered into a strategic relationship with Telecordia acquiring the rights to license approximately 500 Telecordia patents. Telecordia also has a lot of very smart people inventing interesting technology in the telecommunications space.

Patents and 400 smart people is a very good prize for Ericsson. The rest is window dressing, revenue generating, profitable but window dressing. We suspect the technologists, the executives, and the armies of IP lawyers and experts are mobilizing for battle exchanging key strategy on their smart phones. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Innovation Constituency - An Unhappy Member

An anonymous comment on PTO from Dennis Crouch's Patently O blog post on practitioner fees at USPTO. I guess the writter dropped the five inch manual on his/her toe before writing. I think the new mantra at USPTO needs to be "SIMPLIFY." Privatization - interesting!!?!.

Dear Bureaucrats:

Stuff your annual fees for attorneys and agents. You are really getting to be a bunch of greedy pigs. The fee structure is venal and complex enough as it is. Actually taxes should pay for most of the PTO, but while you are not to blame for that, your asskissing desire to show your superiors how you can rake in profits with nasty, petty little fees for ever trivial action is on your heads.

Stuff your continuing education also. If you people would keep your Rules of Practice up to date and written in intelligible language instead of insider bureaucratic gobbledygook there would be no need for continuing education. How hard is is to keep your Rules up to date in this era of wordprocessing? If the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure has grown from 1 inch to 5 inches in the span of a couple of decades, maybe the problem is with too many stupid petty rules and fees to understand. God knows writing patent applications isn't that hard. We need a five inch manual for this?

Are you people martyrs over there? All I ever hear is whining and attitude that the public should do all the work in prosecuting patent applications so the poor bureaucrats can twiddle their thumbs. Why don't you get it over with and specify that applicants should do a self?examination as to patentability and swear that it is accurate under penalty of law so that the Patent Office doesn't have to do anything? You people are out of control. It is time the the PTO is privatized so we get less attitude.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Innovation Constituency

Who are the members of the innovation constituency?

According to the Population Reference Bureau there are 7.4 million people in the US in the science and engineering labor force. Over 63% are under the age of 45. The majority have at least a Bachelor’s degree.

There are over 6,000 members of the Licensing Executives Society, 27,000 intellectual patent attorneys listed in, over 9,000 registered patent agents listed on the USPTO website.

The 2007 Census of Economics shows over 4,100 law firms that identified their primary business as IP focused legal services. In 2008 456,154 patent applications were filed in US, 18,000 of those by independent inventors.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Advertising Image v. Multimedia Object

We have been digging around in the multimedia space lately looking at patent applicatons. This is always a fun place to wander around while watching episodes of Entourage on your IPhone or having a YouTube window open with Michael Jackson videos or laughing babies going.

The multimedia patent world aligns with two of our favorite patent portfolios. The MPEG-LA suite of patents - where the titans of the multimedia revolution cross-licensed all of their patents and battle it out in the marketplace; and the Multimedia Patent Trust's holdings; a small but formidable collection of nine patents that includes six in the MPEG space and three in the speech space. Our favorite in the MPT collection is the Netravali patent 4,383,272 which has to do with updating pixels to distinguish moving areas of a picture. From a 50,000 foot view, only compressing the parts of the picture that change to save space. A lot of people think this is a seminal invention in the evolution of HDTV. The patent applications we look at here are made possible by the techiques defined by Mr. Netravali and his co-inventor John D. Robbins.

The first thing we did when we started looking at the patent applications was to define multimedia. One of the sources we were working with defined it as "a transmission that combines media of communication - text, and graphics and sound, etc." That seemed clear enough - if it has pictures, text, and makes noise it's multimedia. No requirement for movement.

One of the published patents we came across in the multimedia space was 10/112,519 - Method and System for Providing Intelligent Advertisement Placement in a Motion Picture. The application describes an invention for embedding advertisements into motion picture content using personalized data. The individual inventors describe a process for swapping out objects in the motion picture with advertising images based on personalize data. I get Diet Coke, you get Mountain Dew, if you're in Louisville, Kentucky or Jeffersonville, Indiana you get Big Red - America's #1 Red Soda. (A shout out to our friends at the Census Bureau.)

Throughout the application the inventors use the phrase "motion picture". So, what's a motion picture? According to the web and the old school paper dictionary, a motion picture is a "movie," a form of entertainment that enacts a story by sound and a sequence of images giving the illusion of continuous movement. Another definition says a motion picture is a length of film with or without recorded sound bearing a sequence of images creating the illusion of movement. OK. So, a movie is a motion picture? It depends. Merriam-Webster says it's a series of pictures projected on a screen in rapid succession with objects shown in successive positions slightly changed to produce the optical effect of a continuous picture in which the objects move. This application was filed in March 2002 and is a continuation in part of an application filed in January 2000.

Fast forward to July of 2006 when patent application number 11/486,683 - System for Creating Dynamically Personalized Media was filed. The inventors describe a multi-media object management system to manage the delivery of product placements in a multi-media program. They describe modifying the content in which the multi-media object locations that can be brokered are replaced with content defined by advertisers based on demographics or other user attributes. The patent teaches a multi-media object location comprising "a spatial and temporal site." (What??) The specification talks about selling the multi-media object locations to advertisers. We like the figures. Nice, easy to understand pictures. The application seems a little heavy with obscure vocabulary no doubt added to help insure the widest possible coverage if and when a patent is granted.

Time for a little clarity. Is a multi-media object an advertising image or is it some precursor thing where you place an advertisig image? What about this spatial and temporal thing? Is this the space where the advertising image goes and an event that takes place over time kind of like the guy drinking the soda in the picture above? You have to ask yourself what words will the examiner use to do their own prior art search? What will the phrase multimedia object return? A multimedia object comes from the world of object oriented programming, MPEG, and the graphics world.

One application discusses product placement, the other discusses advertising. Isn't product placement advertising? Yep. Product placement is defined as an advertising technique used by companies to subtly promote their products; a form of advertising where branded goods or services are placed in context usually devoid of ads, such as movies, the story line of television shows or news programs. (We were good until the news programs part, notice all the anchors tweet from their Macs.)

This is a vocabulary conundrum. But you have to ask yourself, what is the impact of the word choices of the inventors? Will the choice of words in the claims and description of the invention make a difference? What happens when these applications hit USPTO? USPTO has to figure out what to do with the patent applications and which examiners are going to look at them. Should you expect that the content would drive them to the same class?

The motion picture advertising patent is classified in class 725/34. (In case you are wondering, the first boldfaced class on a published patent application is the Primary classification and drives which Group Art Unit at PTO is going to examine your patent application.) The multi-media object product placement patent shows class 705/14 as the the primary class.

Which means?

The two independent inventors who wrote about motion pictures and advertising had their patent classified in class 725/34 a class for interactive video distribution systems, PROGRAM, MESSAGE, OR COMMERCIAL INSERTION OR SUBSTITUTION: Subject matter comprising means or steps for inserting or substituting a video program or other information beyond the control of a viewer, television, for operator interfaces for video sequencing or editing specific to individual user or household: subject matter comprising means or steps for conveying user-specific data. JACKPOT!!

705/14 falls under Data processing: Financial, Business Practice, Management, or Cost/Price Determination - Distribution and redemption of coupon, or inventive or promotion programs. The class definition says, "Note - A display or advertising system is included herein." A display or advertising system? Perplexing - is this a method, a business practice, a process - I guess we'll see.

Patent classification remains an illusive art and USPTO changes its mind along the way but sometimes plain language works best at getting your patent where you want it to go. The examiners are probably happy to have something that helps them find the invention in the blur of words. We have a motion picture where we replace images with advertising images selected based on characteristics of the viewer. Then we have a multi-media object consisting of a spatial or temporal site. The space and time continuum - isn't that what movies are? As another testament to the art of a well crafted patent application. The independent inventors in the motion picture advertising application started their claims by saying: "What is claimed is:" The multi-media object inventors started their claims with: "What is new and desired to be protected by Letters Patent of the United States is."

There is something to be said for clarity and simplicity of language.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Devil in the Details - Wind Edition

Our quest to find the patent numbers associated with the GE v. Mitsubishi wind turbine investigation at the International Trade Commission continues.

In our earlier post we noted that the 337 investigation covered three patents. One issued in 1992, one issued in 2005, and one in 2008. After trolling the internet and making a few calls, we learned that the 2005 patent is likely 6,924,565 - Continuous Reactive Power Suport for Wind Turbine Generators. The patent issued on August 2, 2005 was cited in older procedural ITC documents about the investigation.

There are two curious items about this patent.

The first is that it appears that GE never got the first named inventor, Thomas A. Wilkins to assign his rights to the invention to GE. The USPTO assignment database page for this patent shows all the other inventors but doesn't show assignment by Mr. Wilkins. This is now in the squabble between GE and Mitsubishi in what appears to be a clean up your paperwork action. The devil is in the detail and in the paperwork.

The second is one of the non-patent prior art citations. The patent cites the following:

Tom Wind, "Wind Turbines Offer New Voltage Control Feature," Power Engineering, September 1999, pp 1-2. Enron Wind Webpage, pp 1-2,

The Enron link is no more and the link Power Engineering didn't yield the article but we learned that Mr. Wind has a wide range of information on the wind industry on the internet.

Mr. Wind is with Wind Utility Consulting in Jefferson, Iowa. A company name that reflects both the principal and the expertise.

Prior art takes many interesting turns.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Celebrity Watch - Information Edition

For those of you who, from time to time, engage in a little electronic celebrity stalking we bring your Celebrity Watch Information Edition. We suggest you try the FBI's Electronic Freedom of Information Acts (EFOIA) electronic reading room.

The FBI's electronic reading room is where the FBI posts frequently requested information sought under the Freedom of Information Act. For you celebrity stalkers, the reading room features the links to the files they have assembled on "Famous People". Its luminaries include Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Desi Arnez, John Lennon, and Gene Autry among others. Malcolm X is listed as "Little, Malcolm X." There are files on Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Dr. Martin Luther King, and John Steinbeck.

If you are looking for additional entertainment, check out the Unusual Phenomena listings for Project Blue Book, their investigation into UFOs, and, Animal Mutations. (Perhaps concern about discovering exactly when pigs would fly.)

For a while, the Elvis file was the most frequent FOIA subject in the entire Federal Government. The FBI saved a lot of money when it posted the file online rather then sending out hard copies to people FOIAing his record.

Electronic reading rooms and FOIA are the gateways to amazing amounts of scientific and technical information. Most federal agencies have electronic reading rooms on their website that include most frequently requested information and the actual EFOIA form. A well written FOIA request can be the gateway to tracking down high quality prior art and inventive activity information.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Roll Up Your Windows

From the Ridiculous Intellectual Property Enforcements Catalog we bring you "Roll Up Your Windows."

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) filed a suit against AT&T asseting that RINGTONES QUALIFY AS A PUBLIC PERFORMANCE under the Copyright Act. What is ridiculous about this is that the mobile operators have already agreed to and are paying royalties on the ringtones that they sell to subscribers. Now they want the mobile operators to pay when the phone rings in pubic.

According to a press release from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (, ASCAP argues that phone carriers must pay additional royalties of face legal liability for contributing to what they claim is cell phone user's copyright infringement. Fred von Lohmann, an EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney added, "Are the millions of people who have bought ringtones breaking the law if they forget to silence their phones in a restaurant? Under the reasoning from ASCAP, it would be a copy right violation for you to play your car radio with the window down."

It would be a nice thing to silence the cell phones in restaurants (and elevators, and Starbucks, and at the hair place) but it's hardly the ringtones that are annoying. But for now we may need to roll up those windows while this ridiculous claim proceeds or risk delivering a public performance with our cell phone ring tones.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Prior Art Conundrum

Digital scientific literature is accelerating inventive activity and faster development of emerging technology.

There aren't enough subject matter experts to find prior art for new and emerging technology.

This is the new prior art conundrum. This is why being able to get to the right information is becoming so important.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Photomosaic Images, and Excellent Prior Art

We have come to love the art of excellent prior art. Finding really good prior art is one of those serendipitous search moments. Just doing a prior art search makes you smarter but when you find an elegant, amazing piece of prior art it's great. The best prior art quests tend to be part of invalidity efforts with big money, big principles, or both at stake. The one we discuss here is a big principle example.

A refresher on what USPTO says about prior art:

Under 35 U.S.C. 102(b) states: "A person shall be entitled to a patent unless -- (b) the invention was patented or disclosed in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States."

Excellent prior art was found by the people at Public Patent (PubPat) Foundation at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; a not-for-profit legal services organization whose mission is to protect freedom in the patent system. says that they represent the public's interest against undeserved patents and unsound patent policy. We are nonpartisan about their mission but impressed by their finely honed prior art skills.

In September of 2008, Pubpat asked USPTO to re-examine a patent for photomosaic images (6,137,498) The patent was filed in October 27, 1997 based on a provisional application dated January 2, 1997. The patent was granted in October 24, 2000. The reexamination appears to have triggered when the inventor, Robert Silvers of Cambridge, Mass. was sending cease and desist letters and asserting his patent against individuals, small businesses, and against the GIMP open source software program. On June 11th, 2009, PubPat received a copy of the USPTO Office Action invalidating 41 of the 63 claims including all of the independent claims. While the fight isn't totally over, this was a major victory.

What was the primary piece of prior art cited in the USPTO Office Action? The cover of the "Being Double Digital, The Media Lab at 10" November 1995 issue of WIRED magazine. The cover featured a photomosaic portrait of Nicolas Negroponte. This piece of prior art was actually created by Mr. Silvers himself. A piece of art previously submitted to USPTO.

To add to the sublime nature of this particular piece of prior art is the fact that Mr. Silvers' bio cites the Media Lab under his educational credits. Mr. Silvers published a paper titled "Mosaics: Putting Pictures in their Place". The paper was submitted to the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning as part of the requirements for a Degree of Master of Science in Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) That paper, published in 1996. The document itself states "In 1994, he entered the Media Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. The very institution that the WIRED magazine profiled in the November 1995 issue that was used to invalidate Mr. Silver's patent. It's interesting that Mr. Silver's own work is not cited on the patent document.

Mr. Silver passes the patent number test. Mr. Silvers' web site includes his patent number on the bottom of every page. Perhaps Mr. Silver will need to modify his website now.