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There Are Patents, and Then There Are Patents
Posted: 3/21/2018

We are approached every day – literally every day – by inventors and business executives who own patents granted by a small nation – Singapore or Portugal or Mexico or South Africa are just a few examples. And our response to them – and they are mightily upset when they hear it – is that their patents have essentially NO value. We tell them that they need to secure a U.S. Patent and, if possible, an EP and Chinese Patent.

Our request that the inventor or business secure a U.S. Patent is not because we are America-centric Americans running an America-centric business, but because the U.S. is the largest economy in the world, so a U.S. Patent has the greatest value and is the most salable of patents.

Here is what the holder of a Singapore (or drop in any other small nation) Patent has to realize. First of all, a patent is a bargain. It is a deal with the nation that issued it that in exchange for disclosure of the invention that nation will grant the patent holder exclusivity to his or her or its invention in that nation for a fixed period, most often 20 years. That means that your Singapore Patent is a public document that anyone in the world can access.

And that means that any business anywhere in the world can blatantly infringe your patent, and as long as they do not manufacture the product or sell the product in Singapore, there is NOTHING you can do about it. They can manufacture the product in the U.S., China, Israel or India, and sell it all over the world – except to the five million residents of Singapore or to any Singapore businesses - and the patent holder is helpless to do anything about it!

Additionally, if the infringer gets brazen, and sells the product in Singapore, it will not likely be financial viable to sue the infringer for infringement since any claim will be based on royalties on infringing products sold in Singapore, and Singapore – or Portugal or Mexico or South Africa – is just not a big enough economy to generate the tens of millions in sales that would be required to make patent infringement litigation worth the cost of filing and pursuing the lawsuit!

The sad reality is that if a company came across a really brilliant Portuguese or New Zealand patent, the smartest strategy would be to infringe the patent, and manufacture and sell a product based on that patent in every other nation on the face of the earth except where the patent was granted!

The four largest economies in the world today are the U.S., China, Japan and Germany. Get yourself patent coverage in those countries, and you will have a valuable, global IP asset. Take advantage of an EPO patent to get additional coverage in France (No. 6), the UK (No. 7) and Italy (No. 8), and you really have coverage.

Make Money from Digital Currency... or Make Money off Digital Currency?
Posted: 2/16/2018

Digital currency (or “cryptocurrency” as it is also known) is in the news every day. The leading digital currency, Bitcoin, has seen a spectacular ride in the last few months, hitting new highs, then dropping in value, and then rebounding. As of the writing of this article, the Bitcoin has a Market Capitalization (that’s all issued Bitcoins times the Bitcoin’s current value) of $144 billion. Yes, “Billion” with a B! To relate that to something, Hewlett-Packard has a Market Cap of $35 billion.

bitcoinIPOfferings just brokered the patent that covers the Bitcoin ATM. And we are in negotiations with several additional inventors and assignees to represent their digital currency patents. So we thought we’d take this issue of Patent Leather to wax poetic about cryptocurrencies.

The major digital currencies, in addition to Bitcoin, are Ethereum, Litecoin, Zcash, Dash, Ripple and Monero. What one needs to keep in mind is that the money to be made off digital currency is total and separate from the money to be made from digital currency. Invest in Bitcoins, and you ride the value up and down. So far mostly up.

In addition to making money from digital currency – that is, investing (long-term) or trading (short-term) in them just as you would invest in or trade stocks, bonds, precious metals and hog bellies – there are significant opportunities to make money off digital currencies. Take the Bitcoin ATM patent that we just brokered. When Bitcoin prices shoot up and there is a buying spree, people rush out to buy Bitcoins at their local Bitcoin ATM, and the patent licensor earns a royalty on every buy transaction. When the Bitcoin drops in value – has a “correction” as the analysts say – and there is a selling frenzy, the same people go back to the same Bitcoin ATM to sell. And the patent licensor earns another royalty on every sell transaction.

bitcoinThe investor in Bitcoins only makes money when the price goes up – or only makes money when the value goes down if he has shorted the currency – but the licensor of the Bitcoin ATM patent makes money when people buy and makes money when people sell. Nice work if you can get it.

There have been many gold and silver rushes over the history of the U.S., from Sutter’s Mill in California to the Klondike in Alaska to Virginia City in Montana. Some miners made money. Most did not. But the guy who owned the local hardware store and sold all those picks, shovels, sluices and panning trays made a fortune!

Digital currency is not issued by banks, but by a “blockchain” that records all cryptocurrency transactions. A blockchain, unlike a bank, does not have a physical location and it is not static, but a continuously growing list of records called “blocks” that are linked together (that’s the “chain”) and kept secure via sophisticated cryptography. Thus the term "crypto" currency. Each block contains a cryptographic hash or algorithm that links it to the previous block along with a timestamp for the transactions from that block. A proper blockchain is inherently resistant to any modification of the data in the blocks. A blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that records transactions between two parties very efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.

To access the distributed ledger, a blockchain must be managed by a peer-to-peer network that adheres to a pre-defined protocol for the validation of new blocks in the blockchain. Once it is recorded, the data in a specific block cannot be altered after the fact without altering all subsequent blocks. Since it operates in a peer-to-peer network, all blockchain transactions are fully accessible to the public. No private transactions in the world of digital currency, but full transparency.

Several intriguing digital currency patents will be available in the coming months. For example, there are patents that cover the “clicks” aspect of digital currency – buying products and services online using not a credit or debit card, but with digital currency. And then there are the “bricks” aspect of digital currency. Patents are coming to market that enable a consumer to buy a set of tires, groceries, furniture or jewelry with digital currency. Added to those are several patents that cover trading in cryptocurrencies as well as added security for the blockchain.

Digital currency will present many opportunities for those prepared to invest in services that support buyers, sellers and users of cryptocurrencies. IPOfferings will be in the thick of it. To quote Maxwell Smart, “…and loving it!”

Smart Home Section Is Added to Patent MarketPlace
Posted: 1/16/2018

We’ve taken every effort possible to make the Patents for Sale section of our website as user-friendly as possible. This month, we feature our first Smart Home patent, so it just made a lot of sense to create a Smart Home section for it and future patents in this fast-growing technology. If you’ve just returned from being stranded on a deserted island, and you do not know what “Smart Home” (we really prefer “smart house” since a “home” and a “house” are really different things, but it appears we were out-voted) is, it is a house (yes, “house”) in which the lights, the heating and air conditioning, and the electric and electronic appliances and devices in the house (yes, “house”) are all linked together and can be controlled remotely by a computer or telephone. In the more sophisticated Smart Home configurations, the doors and windows are covered by an alarm system that is also integrated into the Smart Home system, and it can even include motorized blinds, draperies and awnings.

We recently added an Internet-of-Things technology section, and Smart Home is really a subset of that. When a delivery person rings your door bell, and no one is home, the homeowner can respond from his PC or her smart phone. Is Junior really doing his homework? A Smart Home system enables mom and dad to check in with him. You left a frozen roast in the oven to thaw, and now it’s time to start the oven. You get the idea. As just one example of the growth and acceptance of the concept, Lowe’s just introduced a Smart Home section in its stores.

The RFID Product Management and Tracking portfolio will no doubt be just the first of many to be added to this section.

Anthony Verna Had a Profound Impact on Western Civilization
Posted: 12/16/2017

We are very pleased to represent two patents for which the late Anthony “Tony” Verna was the lead inventor. Tony Verna provides one of the many “back stories” for which this column is well known. And herein lies the tale.

It was the Army-Navy game of 1963 that would introduce an innovation that would change sports forever! In the fourth quarter of the game, when Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh ran for a touchdown, CBS not only showed the play live, it also showed it a second time on tape. This was the first “instant replay!” To make sure that viewers were not confused, Lindsey Nelson, the play-by-play announcer, exclaimed “This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!”

Tony Verna was the director of that broadcast, and he had figured out a method to rewind the videotape and run it again just before the start of the next play. Videotape was not new in 1963, but the technology was unwieldy, not very reliable, and large and bulky. Tony Verna had to have equipment weighing over a ton shipped from New York to Philadelphia for the game.

When tapes were made, they could not be played back immediately. Just two days earlier, Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on live television, and it took nine minutes for the first tape of the event to be broadcast. At that time, tapes of highlights of the first half of a game were played back during halftime, but an immediate re-viewing of a single play was not possible.

The challenge was locating the exact location on the tape where the replay should start. When a machine began to replay a tape, it would show seven to ten seconds of video hash before a recognizable image would appear, and it was impossible to know at precisely which point in the action this would occur. Tony had long been troubled by the dead air between plays, especially, for example, after an incomplete pass. He was also frustrated that he was able to show viewers only one perspective on a play and not what he was seeing on alternate monitors.

The solution he came up with was a pattern of audio cues – beeps that are transmitted to an unused audio track on the tape as it records the live action – that would enable him to find the location on the tape that a play was about to begin. He decided to have his first replay focus on a quarterback, so he set the first beep as the offensive team broke the huddle and added two beeps when the quarterback reached the line of scrimmage. On the day of the Army-Navy game, the video equipment had been jostled during transport and the tape in the unit had been used before. Tony later wrote that he was concerned that “bits of a detergent commercial or an episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ might appear on screen instead of a gang tackle.” But it worked on that chilly day in November of 1963, and things were never the same again!

It was actually CBS sports announcer Pat Summerall who coined the phrase “instant replay.” Today, in addition to adding value to a game for the television audience, officials regularly use instant replay when a call is in question using monitors set up on the field for just that purpose.

Tony Verna left us his memoirs – “Instant Replay: The Day That Changed Sports Forever” – that was published in 2008. Anthony Verna passed away at his home in Palm Desert, California, in 2015 at the age of 81. Quite a guy. We are truly honored to represent two of his patents.

Consider the Option Option
Posted: 11/13/2017

The article in Battery Power covered the purchase of a patent portfolio option. The concept is similar to a real estate option but it offers additional benefits. A company in lithium exploration, Lithium Exploration Group (another great name), made the decision to expand into other technologies and products in the lithium continuum (the path from refining lithium to R&D to manufacturing to packaging to distribution of finished, lithium-based products). The company came across an intriguing lithium-ion portfolio for rechargeable batteries that is represented by IPOfferings.

Lithium Exploration Group decided to buy an option on the portfolio, and IPOfferings brokered the deal. The option grants Lithium Exploration Group the right to purchase the portfolio at an agreed-to price in a defined time period. This arrangement gives the buyer time to not only complete due diligence on the portfolio, but to also thoroughly research the challenges of commercializing the technology covered by the portfolio. In this instance – this is not always the case with an option – the purchaser has retained the services of the inventor to assist in the pre-commercialization of the portfolio.

Buying an option – or, if you are the seller, offering an option – is an option that prevents the property from being sold out from under the buyer, and gives the buyer breathing room to gets its ducks in a row before it finalizes the acquisition. And, it gives the buyer the option to walk away if it turns out to not be the right deal. If the option expires, the seller is free to put the property up for sale again.

IoT and OTT Patents Are Becoming Critical Assets
Posted: 12/22/2016

In case you are not aware of what these two acronyms stand for, OTT is “Over the Top” and IoT is the “Internet of Things." And as we have often counseled our readers – and anyone else who is interested – if you want to know where the world will be in a few years, “follow the patents.” We’ve seen increased activity in Patentland for both of these technologies. These are not emerging technologies. They are here and they are affecting each of us every day. For some unexplained reason, OTT ended up with all capital letters (not really correct since the middle word is the article “the”), while IoT properly ended up with a lower case “o” for the preposition “of.”

OTT or Over the Top is the delivery of audio or video over the Internet with the involvement of a multiple-system operator to control or distribute the content. OTT is not pay television or video-on-demand, but content provided by a third party in IP packets. OTT messaging is the providing of instant messaging as an alternative to the text messaging provided by the cellular network operators. WhatsApp and Skype are two OTT providers. Telecomm industry analyst Dean Bubley is generally credited with coining the term in 2011.

IoT or the Internet of Things is the connection of multiple “things” (everyday objects) via the Internet to keep people informed about important issues, and for it to be done automatically while they go about their lives. When you look on your cell phone for the local restaurants or a gas station, that is an application of IoT. The term is credited to Kevin Ashton of MIT who believed that “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.”

How important are OTT Patents. Disney just signed an agreement to license the patents of the Kudelski Group, many of which are OTT-related. Akamai paid $107 million to acquire Codemate for its Octoshape OTT patent portfolio.

Over on the IoT side, Softbank paid $32 billion for ARM, primarily for its IoT patents. Qualcomm and Intel have been busy filing for patents in this technology. Each company now has over 500 IoT Patents.

aoiTV has some interesting OTT patents such as U.S. Patent No. 8,869,207 for a “Method and System for Delivering Video Content from Multiple Platforms to Subscribers.” Among the patents that Akamai acquired from Codemate was U.S. Patent No. 7,865,811 for a “Distribution Method, Preferably Applied in a Streaming System.”

One of Qualcomm’s IoT properties is U.S. Patent No. 9,413,827 for a “Context Aware Actions Among Heterogeneous Internet of Things (IOT) Devices.” IBM is assigned U.S. Patent No. 9,372,886 for “Data Filtering in the Internet of Things.”

For businesses looking to acquire OTT patents or IoT patents, IPOfferings represents several properties.

Here Is the Granddaddy of Router Patents
Posted: 10/16/2017

We are either fans of – or, possible, victims of – the past, but the result is the same. We are fascinated by patents from the past, and we relish going back in time to find the first patent for a technology. That is easy to do if you are looking for the first light bulb, telephone or airplane patent. A bit more challenging for the newer technologies that did not just arrive, but sort of crept up on us.

We feature this month a most intriguing telecom patent that improves data flow through a router – contrary to popular believe and practice, tapping on the mouse does NOT speed up a download just as tapping on the button does not get the elevator to your floor any faster – so we were curious to know where the concept of the modern router began, and we think we found it.

Back in the early days of the Internet – 1995 to be exact – a start-up called Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) received U.S. Patent No. 5,473,599 for a “Standby Router Protocol.” This router patent has 31 Claims, and it covers sending a plurality of packets among routers that each have a memory and a processor of their own. Just to show you how foundational this patent is, it has only four Backward Citations and a whopping 873 Forward Citations! This, Virginia, is where the Internet really started!

If you had invested $1,000 in Cisco when it went public in 1990 – before anyone had ever heard of the Internet or a router – you would today own 16,000 shares (after all the splits) worth over a half million dollars.

And the Granddaddy of OTT Patents
Posted: 10/16/2017

We also feature two OTT (Over the Top) patents this month, so we set out to find the root OTT patent and we came up with U.S. Patent No. 6,774,664 for “Enhanced Video Programming System and Method Incorporating and Displaying Retrieved, Integrated, Internet Information Segments.” While the patent has only three Claims, it covers the basics of OTT – receiving programming with video and audio signals and directing it to specific websites. As a foundational patent, it has just six Backward Citations and a super-whopping 1,141 Forward Citations.

Our scavenger hunt included this patent’s ownership trail. The patent application that was filed in 1994 was assigned to Earth Web, Inc., an early web designer that was sold to Web Media Brands which is still in business today and is a provider of original video content. The application – some sharp fellow saw the value in it – was transferred to AcTV, Inc. in 2001. We cannot find any information about AcTV, but it was based in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, and that hints at its ownership and origins.

AcTV was acquired by OpenTV in 2010, so assignment of the patent passed to OpenTV, Inc., a company out of San Francisco that sold television top-box operating systems (that’s the OTT connection) as well as middleware software and advanced advertising products.

OpenTV traded on the NASDAQ under the OPTV symbol until it was acquired by the Kudelski SA (SIX:KUD) in 1994. Kudelski, a publicly traded Swiss corporation that is better known as Nagra-Kudelski Group, manufactures security systems for transmission of digital content.

Meet Alexander Graham Bell, Aviator
Posted: 9/15/2017

Alex Bell, as his fellow Bostonians knew him, is probably the second greatest inventor after Tom Edison, as he was known among the Menlo Park community. What we bet you do not know is that A. G. Bell was an aviator, and the holder of several air craft patents!

Just a few years after the Wright Brothers received their “Flying Machine” (the term used before “aeroplane” and later “airplane” came into common usage) patent, Bell and four co-inventors received U.S. Patent No. 1,011,106 for a “Flying Machine” that looks a lot like the Wright Brothers’ configuration. We’d like to see the prior art submitted with the application for this patent.

In 1913 – ten years after the Wright Brothers' first successful manned flight – Bell received U.S. Patent No. 1,050,610 for a “Flying Machine.” Its most noticeable feature is a top-mounted – rather than traditional tail-mounted – rudder.

We find most intriguing U.S. Patent No. 1,410,874 for a “Hydrodrome, Hydroaeroplane, and the Like” granted to Bell and a partner in 1922. Bell was now 75 years old, but still heavily into aircraft. What he invented was a craft that could land on water, and that technology became very common in the 1930s, and is still in use today!

Here Is Just One Example of the Growth of OTT
Posted: 9/15/2017

As readers of this column know, OTT (Over the Top) is one of the hottest technologies out there today, and OTT patents are in demand. IPOfferings even has an OTT Section at the Patent MarketPlace at our website.

The Emmy Awards nominations were just announced and the nominees (drum roll, please) for Best Drama are:
  • Better Call Saul
  • The Crown
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • House of Cards
  • Stranger Things
  • This Is Us
  • Westworld
What is the significance of this list? Of the seven nominated shows, only three are broadcast content while four of the shows are NOT broadcast via the airwaves or cable, but are sent “over the top.” Better than half of the nominated shows are OTT content! Can you tell which?

Venture Capital:Patents::Peas:Carrots
Posted: 8/20/2017

A recent report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and CB Insights reports a strong uptick in venture capital (VC) investments in the Second Quarter of 2017. The US MoneyTree™ Report shows a three-quarter increase in VC investments with $18.4 billion in the Second Quarter of 2017, a significant increase over the $14.4 billion reported for the First Quarter of 2017. The number of deals, however, has remained fairly steady, between 1,146 and 1,247 over the last four quarters.

The headline is not a typo. We are using the colons and double colons the way they are used in analogy notation. The single colon stands for "is to" and the double colon stands for "as."" If you did not get the headline the first time, try reading it that way.

What makes venture capital and patents like Forest Gump’s relationship with Jenny? A significant number of patents are filed every year by VC-funded companies to protect the technologies on which VC-funded businesses are based. Those companies that survive benefit from the protection afforded by their patents. And when a VC startup fails – a certain number of VC-funded companies failing is a reality that is built into the formula – the only assets that are often left are the patents. And the VCs come to IPOfferings to recoup some of their investment be monetizing those patents.

US MoneyTree is a trademark of PriceWaterhouseCoopers and CB Insights.

OTT Is Hotter than Ever!
Posted: 7/15/2017

Regular readers of this delightfully witty and informative column know what OTT is. So if you are a reader, and you forgot; or you are new to IP MarketPlace; or you just want the latest on the world of OTT, here it is. OTT (Over the Top) is – in the simplest terms possible – the delivery of audio and video content over the Internet as opposed to via broadcast or broadband (what we used to call “cable”). It is called “over the top” because it skips “over” all the regular distribution channels for this content.

Since KDKA went on the air November 2, 1920, everyone on the face of the earth has received news, music, sports, drama and advertising via radio waves. Just eight years later, a one-act play, “The Queen’s Messenger,” was broadcast by RCA over W2XBS September 11, 1928. Since then, virtually everyone on the face of the earth has viewed drama, comedy, news, sports, movies and commercials via television.

In 1940, John Walson ran an appliance store in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. He had a problem selling television sets because the town was in a valley, so TV reception was very poor. He put a tower on the highest mountain, captured the TV signals from the Philadelphia stations, ran a cable down into the village, and provided the first cable TV service. Since then, hundreds of millions – in this case, not everyone on the face of the earth – have received their television signal not from an antenna on the roof or rabbit ears on the TV set, but from a local cable TV vendor.

A book could be written about why the cable TV companies got into the Internet service business instead of the local telephone companies – who were all in business with a loyal customer base 100 years ahead of the local cable companies – but they did. Today, cable TV is slowing losing customers to one form or another of OTT content delivery. The irony of it all is that the OTT content is coming in on the Internet service provided by the cable TV companies!

Cable TV companies are enormously profitable. That’s how Comcast managed to buy NBC. Cable companies sell bundles of TV networks, so consumers end up paying for many channels they never view. And the cable companies get to drop in their own ads over the ads of the original provider of the programming. We have only the greatest respect for effective marketing, and the cable TV companies are great marketers. In fact, it took OTT this long to catch on in large part because the fragmented OTT vendors did not have the marketing tools, marketing smarts and marketing umph of the cable TV companies. Never underestimate umph!

Netflix was the first company to crack the cable monopoly. Netflix licensed older programming from the TV networks, then veered around and “over” the cable guys to reach customers via the Internet. Hulu soon followed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Many marketing and technical challenges are out there for the OTT crowd, but many OTT patents have popped up to address improving the delivery of audio and video content. This month we feature a patent that creates a program guide for OTT providers so they will have a place viewers can go to see what’s on. Just like you do when you flip on cable TV.

The future: OTT is here to stay, but so is cable. It is likely that programming revenue from cable will decline as more consumers shifts to OTT content. How will cable TV operators make up the difference? They will have to charge more for the Internet service on which the OTT content flows into the homes of their customers!

E-Commerce Sales Grow Faster than Total Retail Sales
Posted: 6/16/2017

As we so often do, we shall digress before getting to the main story. Bad journalistic style, but we manage to get away with it. If you ever wondered what the U.S. Department of Commerce does, here are three things: It runs the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it runs the U.S. Census Bureau, and it runs the U.S. Weather Service. Cooler tomorrow, with rain expected over the weekend.

The Census Bureau does more than just count the population. It also reports on retail sales and other data important to the business community, and that circles us back to the headline. Take a guess. What were total U.S. e-commerce sales for 2016? Nope. Higher. $4.9 billion.

Digging through the report, here is what we find most interesting and relevant to this month’s issue of IP MarketPlace: E-commerce sales for the First Quarter of 2017 were $1.25 billion, a whopping 14.8% increase over the First Quarter of 2016. Meanwhile, total retail sales in the U.S. were up 5.1% from the First Quarter of 2016 to the First Quarter of 2017. That means that E-commerce sales are growing almost three times faster than total retail sales.

What percent of total U.S. retail sales are done on line? Nope. Lower. Just 8.5%. We really thought it would be higher, but retail sales includes items like groceries and automobiles that are still overwhelmingly a “bricks” and not a “clicks” business.

If you want to dig through all the numbers, you can download the latest report on Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales. One interesting note we could not help commenting on is that the Census Bureau logo includes a “™”. It appears that the Census Bureau finally decided to apply for a trademark after all these years.

Yield Management Changed Everything for Flyers
Posted: 6/16/2017

Our Patent of the Month is U.S. Patent No. 6,085,164 issued to Sabre back in 1997. Sabre is the airline reservation and booking system launched by American Airlines. This is the patent that covered a practice known as “Yield Management.” It was the brainchild of Robert Crandall, the legendary CEO of American Airlines from 1985 to 1998. Crandall also created AAdvantage, the first frequent flyer program. To show you how widely Yield Management caught on, the ‘164 Patent has 232 Forward Citations!

Prior to Yield Management – when the airline industry was heavily regulated – an airline ticket had a price and that was the price. Deregulation created a brave new world for airlines. Yield Management – which all the airlines and most hotels and car rental companies have now adopted – is flexible pricing based on availability at specific times. If a flight is not selling, the ticket price goes down. As a flight starts to fill, the price goes up. And as takeoff gets nearer and nearer, the price for a ticket on that flight can go up and down several times. That is why you spent $450 to fly to that convention in Seattle while the grandmother in the seat next to you paid $105.

Speaking of Frequent Flyer Programs…
Posted: 6/16/2017

Our second Patent of the Month is U.S. Patent No. 5,056,019 for an “Automated Purchase Reward Accounting System and Method.” It was granted to Citicorp back in 1991, and it established the frequent buyer or customer loyalty programs that are so popular today.

The casual watcher of television ads would think that CapitalOne invented cash-back rewards, but not so. Citicorp patented the concept over 25 years ago. And, again, to see how foundational the idea was, just look at the 923 Forward Citations the patent has!

Talk about Obsolete!
Posted: 5/25/2017

During the 19th and 20th Centuries, the Patent Office issued over 100 Patents for clothes pins, but it was U.S. Patent No. 10,163 issued in 1853 to David Smith, a prolific inventor from Vermont, that created the spring-loaded clothes pin that replaced the previous single-piece clothes pin that is illustrated in Mr. Smith's Patent. It became the standard design in clothes pins that is still in use today... for those few people who still use clothes lines.
It was a lifetime ago that backyards full of clothes drying in the wind was a common sight. The sun gave the clothes an especially fresh smell. In most jurisdictions today, the zoning laws have actually out-lawed clothes lines! We are sure Mr. Smith made a sufficient fortune during the 20 years of his Patent.

A Brief History of the Delight Known as Coffee
Posted: 4/20/2017

The crew here at Patent Leather are all hard-core coffee drinkers: Hot and Black! Before Starbucks, before Dunkin’ Donuts, and before the modern coffee makers, making coffee was a challenge. The grounds were dumped into a large urn full of water, and the whole concoction was brought to a boil. Most of the grounds settled to the bottom, so the first few cups of coffee poured off the top were pretty good, but as you worked your way down the urn you started picking up grounds in the coffee.

There were a few non-patented coffee pots that had filters behind the spout to catch the grounds. We did not really get grounds-free coffee until the invention and patenting of the first coffee percolator. It was invented by one Cora Downham of Beloit, Wisconsin, who filed her application in 1917 and received U.S. Patent No. 1,306,688 for a “Coffee-Percolator” in June of 1919. Her design was the standard for coffee makers until the Mr. Coffee-type drip coffee makers arrived 50 years later.

If you are old enough to remember cars without seat belts and black-and-white TV, you are old enough to remember the coffee percolator. You filled the canister with water, dropped in the shaft and basket, filled the basket with ground coffee, and put it on the stove. As the water boiled, it shot up the shaft and into the glass dome in the lid, splashed back down over the coffee grounds in the basket, and dripped down into the canister. As the coffee brewed – blurp, blurp, blurp – the water got darker and darker as it turned into coffee, and the room filled with the delightful smell of the most glorious beverage ever conceived by God and man!

EPO Granted 96,000 Patents Last Year versus 334,104 for USPTO
Posted: 3/17/2017

Things are hopping across the pond, at least on the patent front. The numbers are in for 2016, and the European Patent Office (EPO) reports that it issued a whopping 40% more patents in 2016 than in 2015! The EPO’s Annual Report also chronicles that 160,000 European patent applications were filed with the agency, also an increase over 2015.

EPO President Benoît Battistelli presented the agency’s results for 2016 earlier this month at a press conference in Brussels. He reported that about half of the patent applications were from one of the 38 member nations of the European Patent Office, and about half were from non-member nations. The largest growth in patent applications was from – not really a surprise – China, followed by – also no surprise – Korea. Patent applications from Japan were actually down slightly from 2015! The U.S. filed the most patent applications followed by Germany, Japan, France and Switzerland.

"The 2016 results confirm Europe's attractiveness as a leading global marketplace for innovation," said Battistelli in his presentation. "In a rapidly changing political and economic landscape,” he continued, “companies from around the world have kept up their demand for patent protection in Europe. While we see impressive growth in applications from Asia, European companies maintain their role as drivers of innovation and economic growth in their home market, and are proving their resilience in the face of unsettled economic conditions."

The European Patent Office’s activities are petites pommes de terre compared to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that issued over three times as many patents in Fiscal 2016 (October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016). The USPTO issued a record 334,104 U.S. Patents, an increase over Fiscal 2015 during which the Patent Office granted 322,449 U.S. Patents. In Fiscal 2016, 160,506 U.S. Patents were issued to U.S. applicants while 173,598 U.S. Patents were granted to foreign applicants. Japan was far and away the No. 1 foreign recipient of U.S. Patents (53,046) followed by Korea (21,867), Germany (17,564), Taiwan (12,737) and China (10,985).

This Is the Patent that Put Apple in the Smartphone Business
Posted: 1/18/2017

Since we included a patent portfolio that will revolutionize the design of all future smartphones in this month’s IP MarketPlace™, we thought we’d take a look at the patent that leapt Apple – formerly a designer and manufacturer of PCs and just PCs – into a leadership position in the smartphone segment. We are talking about U.S. Patent No. 7,479,949 for a “Touch Screen Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Determining Commands by Applying Heuristics.” The lead inventor on this patent, among the 25 named inventors, was none other than Steve Jobs himself.

This patent did two things: It patented the concept behind what would become the iPhone and, second, it got everyone asking what “heuristic” means. There is “heuristic” the noun, “heuristics” the noun and “heuristically” the adverb.

To save you looking it up, according to Miriam-Webster, “heuristic” means “involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods ; also : of or relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques (as the evaluation of feedback) to improve performance .”

Ironically, this patent was NOT a patent-at-suit in either of the patent infringement lawsuits that Apple filed – and won – against Samsung.

Drones Are a Relatively New Invention and Phenomena
Posted: 11/28/2016

The oldest drone patent we could find goes all the way back to 1995. Most of us were still upgrading to this new-fangled Windows from DOS. Remember turning on your PC and seeing just a "C:" on the screen? That was the year of the Oklahoma City bombing and the O.J. Simpson trial. Well, three mad scientists from Northrup Grumman - the aerospace and defense contractor that built the Apollo Lunar Module - were granted U.S. Patent No. 5,779,190 for a "Portable Unmanned Aerial Vehicle."

But they were not first. One Johnny Swinton was granted U.S. Patent No. 5,890,441 for a "Horizontal and Vertical Take-Off and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle" in September of 1995. It appears that Mr. Swinton not only filed for the foundational patent for drones (his patent has almost 200 forward citations), but he coined the term "Unmanned Aerial Vehicle" that is still used today and creates the acronym "UAV."

But the Great Great Grand Daddy of all drone patents belongs to none other than.....Nikola Tesla. We seem to cover Mr. Tesla every month in this space regardless of what technology we are writing about! In July of - get ready for this - 1898, Tesla was granted U.S. Patent No. 613,809 for a "Method of and Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vessels or Vehicles." This was 1898 and the Wright Brothers were not going to invent manned flight for another five years, so Tesla's drone patent was not for an aircraft but for a remote-controlled boat.

Why We Have an AC, and NOT a DC, Electric Grid
Posted: 9/26/2016

It is not by chance that the U.S. has an AC power grid. It was the result of a monumental battle among none other than Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse. The ultimate decision came down to $151,000.

Edison supported DC because (a.) he invented it, and (b.) it is simpler system. With direct current, the flow of electrons that is electricity flows in one direction. Tesla supported AC because (a.) he invented it and (b.) it has benefits over DC power. With alternating current the electrons shift back and forth (alternate) as they flow through the grid. AC power generators are cheaper to build and operate, and AC power can be transmitted more efficiently over longer distances. Also, AC controls the speed of motors that use AC power, while a motor that is feed DC power will need to have a speed regulator on it.

Thomas Edison received several patents for a Magneto-Electric Machine, but most agree that U.S. Patent No. 222,881 issued in 1789 is the major DC electric power generation patent. Known as the “long-legged Mary-Ann” it was the model for the power generation stations that Edison built throughout the New York City area.

Nikola Tesla, who had worked for Edison, and left to make his own mark on innovation (and did), was issued U.S. Patent No. 359,784 in 1887 for a “Dynamo Electric Machine,” and other patents followed for AC power generators.

The first showdown of DC versus AC was in 1893 when bids were solicited to provide electricity for the Columbian Exposition, the world’s fair of that time that was coming to Chicago. Thomas Edison, backed by General Electric, put in a bid of $550,000 to provide DC electric service. Nikola Tesla, backed by George Westinghouse and huge business he had built, under-bid them at $399,000 for AC electric storage.

Tesla’s and Westinghouse’s electrical system for the Columbian Exposition was an incredible success! It provided reliable electrical power to a world that was still largely lit by gas and kerosene. So it could be said that it was $151,000 that gave the U.S. an AC power grid.

There was a second event just a few years later that double-sealed the fate of the DC-AC debate when the Niagara Falls Commission made the decision to build its power plant to distribute AC power across the Northeastern U.S.

Edison went on to fame and riches. His power generation companies still exist today as the Consolidated Edison Companies, or “ConEd” as the Greater New York electric utility is known. George Westinghouse grew Westinghouse Corporation into a Fortune 500 company. Its broadcast business was sold off to CBS and the rest of the business is now part of Seimens. Tesla died broke and broken, but did get a car company named after him.

Paper, Paper, Paper…
Posted: 8/24/2016

Historians, anthropologists and others with time on their hands have waxed long and often about the impact that paper has had on civilization. For almost 500 years, printed documents were how humankind shared its collective knowledge. When Time Magazine picked its Top Ten of the Millennium, it is no surprise that Johannes Gutenberg made the list. Had paper not been invented first (by the Chinese, incidentally), and brought to Europe, the printing press could not exist.

Let’s not forget, however, that paper has many uses beyond the printed word and image. So, for this intriguing edition of Patent Leather, we present three U.S. Patents related to paper but not related to the printed word or image.

Paper Towel

Back in 1910, one Arthur H. Scott received U.S. Patent No. 1,141,495 for “Paper Towel.” His objective was to create a “cheap towel formed from paper and adapted for all general uses of the lavatory, factories, hospitals, laboratories, and for general use.” Well, gee, we guess so! Here is the sole diagram from his patent.

We automatically assumed that Mr. Scott was the founder of the Scott Paper Company. Not exactly. He was the son of Irwin Scott, one of the founders of the Scott Paper Company, and in charge of advertising for the company. His dad must have been very proud of him.

Paper Plate

What would a picnic or backyard barbeque be without paper plates? Ask Martin Keyes. He is credited with inventing the paper plate. In 1908, he was awarded U.S. Patent No. 903,869 for an "Apparatus for Making Pulp Articles." Keyes did not patent the paper plate itself, he patented the machine that makes the paper plate. Here is a diagram from his patent.

His company, Keyes Fibre Co., flourished and survives today as Keyes Packaging Group.

Paper Airplane

Yes, Virginia, there is a patent for a paper airplane! If you think historians, anthropologists and other academics have time on their hands, how much time must James BonDurant have had to not only dream up, configure and test, but also patent, his paper airplane. He filed for the patent in 1981, and we can only assume that after a few hundred patent examiners in Arlington had tired of flying them around from building to building, they granted U.S. Patent No. 4,377,052 for a "Folded Paper Airplane" and went back to work. Here is the key diagram from the patent.

There is no evidence that Jim ever sold or licensed his patent. We ordered in a few cartons of paper, and the IPOfferings staff will be trying out BonDurant’s patent.

Thomson Reuters Sells Its IP Unit
Posted: 7/27/2016

When Canadian newspaper publisher Thomson Corporation acquired British news service Reuters Group back in 2008, Thomson Reuters Corporation was established and they set up their global headquarters in Manhattan. The company just announced that it will sell its Philadelphia-based IP and science business unit to Onex Corporation and Baring Private Equity Asia for a whopping $3.55 billion…in cash! Thomson Reuters will use the cash to buy back shares, pay down debt and reinvest in its core businesses.

The business unit Thomson Reuters is selling provides patent, trademark and other IP and scientific content to private businesses, government agencies and universities. The business employs about 3,200 people in its 75 offices around the world. The unit’s businesses include Web of Science, Thomson CompuMark, Thomson Innovation, MarkMonitor, Thomson Reuters Cortellis and Thomson IP Manager.

From the Sheaves and Threshing Floor
Posted: 7/25/2016

There are references throughout the Old Testament to the threshing floor. Wheat was cut in the field and collected into sheaves, which were brought to the threshing floor. The stalks of wheat were flailed, causing the wheat buds to drop off. The useless part of the wheat plant, the “chaff” was burned as it had no use even as fertilizer or mulch. The wheat buds where then ground into wheat for bread. The whole process “separated the wheat from the chaff” and from that winnowing process has been drawn many lessons.
That was the process until only about 200 years ago. In 1831, Cyrus McCormick introduced his Reaper, a machine that would cut the wheat and collect it into sheaves, but he did not apply for a patent until 1834. It took him a few years to set up production, and by 1842 he had sold seven reapers. He sold 29 Reapers in 1843 and 50 in 1844. In 1847, he moved his factory to Chicago and exhibited his Reaper at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851.

When McCormick went to renew his patent in 1848, he was informed by the Patent Bureau that since one Obed Hussey had applied for a patent for a Reaper back in 1833, McCormick’s Reaper Patent would not be renewed and he was to pay royalties to Mr. Hussey! Undeterred, McCormick charged ahead, manufactured reapers that were sold all over the world, and made a fortune. He married his secretary, and had seven sons, one of whom married a daughter of John D. Rockefeller.

Now that grains could be mechanically cut and gathered into sheaves, there was still the issue of separating the wheat from the chaff. The two processes – reaping (or harvesting the grain) and threshing or thrashing the harvested grain to separate the wheat buds – needed to be merged into one operation, and that was done by Hiram Moore and John Hassall who received a patent in 1836 for a “Machine for Mowing, Threshing and Winnowing Grain.”

On December 26, 1837, A.W. Bowling received U.S. Patent No. 530 for a “Thrashing Machine,” and just three days later, John and Hiram Pitts received U.S. Patent No. 542 for a “Machine for Thrashing and Separating Grain” on December 29!

Somehow “threshing” was now “thrashing,” and both inventions were based on a drum into which the sheaves were fed, and as the drum turned, teeth in the drum broke up the stalks of wheat so the wheat buds would drop out the bottom. These units never really caught on since a combined unit to both reap and wheat from the field, and thresh and winnow out the wheat buds just made more sense.

The image from the Moore-Hassall patent is not very good, but their Mowing/Threshing/Winnowing machine was clearly very sophisticated for early 19th Century technology! From this concept came the combine harvester of today.

Solar Power Has Been Around Longer Than We Thought
Posted: 5/25/2016

So just how old is solar panel technology? Solar panel farms are common sights today. This is the result of federal dollars subsidizing solar power, the reduced cost of manufacturing solar-power-generation equipment, and the advent of net metering that puts a dollar value on solar power.

We did some research, and were surprised to find that solar power is over 100 years old! The first patent for a solar power device – well, make that the first two patents – were issued in 1888, just 10 years after Edison’s first electric lamp patent! One Edward Weston of the 19th Century high-tech city of Newark, New Jersey, was awarded
U.S. Patent No. 389,124 for “Apparatus for Generating Solar Radiant Energy” and U.S. Patent No. 389,125 for “Art of Utilizing Solar Radiant Energy.”

It is interesting to note that the Patent Office had much shorter turnaround on patent applications in the 19th Century. Mr. Weston applied for his patents in October of 1887 and both were granted just 11 months later in September of 1888.

Other solar patents soon followed. Just six years later, Melvin Sweeney of Boston was issued U.S. Patent No. 527,379 for “Apparatus for Generating Electricity by Solar Heat.” Things were really buzzing along at the Patent Office that year. Mr. Sweeney applied for his patent in February of 1894, and the patent was issued just eight months later in October 9.

Just three years later, Harry C. Reagan of Philadelphia was issued U.S. Patent No. 588,177 for “Application of Solar Heat to Thermal Batteries.”

What we find intriguing here is that the Patent Office issued 138,000 patents between 1888 and 1894! That is almost 2,000 new patents issued a month over six years! This was, of course, the height of the Industrial Revolution, and innovators were busy inventing what would be the 20th Century. It is also interesting to note that the innovators of the 19th Century were from the Northeast. Not the SunBelt or sunny California.

The First Wind Turbine
Posted: 4/26/2016

It is not uncommon to see a hill or mountain with wind turbines scattered across it, but that is a fairly recent site. Fact is, wind turbines have actually been around for well over 100 years. In fact, it was 128 years ago that one Charles Brush built a 60-foot tower with a 56-foot rotating blade that generated up to about 12kW of electricity for his lavish home on fashionable Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. Remember that in the 19th Century, Pittsburgh and Cleveland were Silicon Valley!

Mr. Brush, holder of over 50 patents and an engineer by training, was a pioneer in early electrical generation. He sold his business to the Thomas-Houston company which was one of the businesses that would become General Electric. Charles Brush is known as the father of street lighting. Remember that the next time you drop your keys coming home for dinner on the town.

Brush’s wind turbine had 144 blades that created 1,800 square feet of wind-catching surface. The turbine fed electrical current into twelve batteries with 34 cells each that powered his home for twenty years!

The First Calculator
Posted: 4/26/2016

The granddaddy of the PC was the calculator, and the forerunner of the calculator was the adding machine, a device that goes back to 1885. While Charles Brush was building his wind turbine in Cleveland, a few hundred miles to the West in St. Louis, Charles Burroughs was inventing the adding machine. Things have apparently not changed much at the Patent Office. Burroughs applied for his initial patent in 1885 and it took three years for the patent to issue. Must have been all the prior art on other adding machines.

Burrough’s first machine could add numbers up to nine digits and it included a printing mechanism that printed just the total. His second patent covered a unit that printed all numbers entered along with the total.

Burroughs called his device an “arithometer” and found the American Arithometer Company to produce and sell his newfangled machines. After his death in 1904, the company name was changed to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, and it owned the industry for years. Burroughs expanded into ledger or accounting machines, and from that into mainframe computers in the mid-twentieth century when it became Burroughs Corporation.

In 1986, as the mainframe industry consolidate, Burroughs Corporation merged with Sperry Univac to form Unisys. In 2010, the Burroughs name re-appeared when Unisys spun off its Payment Systems Division as Burroughs Payment Systems. Today Burroughs Payment Systems services ATMs.

Applications for LED
Posted: 3/25/2016

LEDs were initially used as indicator lights. They were small, so they were ideal to show that a circuit was live or as a warning light. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, LEDs blossomed as hand-held and desktop calculators hit the market. LED displays (and, also, liquid crystal displays) used what became known as a “seven segment display” to use a configuration of seven bars to create digits and letters. It is pretty clunky by today’s standards, but it was high-tech in the days of double-knit sports jackets and T-Top cars.

Today, LEDs have broad applications beyond calculators. Surface mounted diodes (SMDs) are used in most cell phones and PDAs. Their relatively low power consumption make LEDs very attractive in portable devices for which battery life is a critical factor.

In the consumer, commercial and industrial worlds, LED lighting is giving both incandescent and fluorescent lighting a run for its money. One of the newest applications are large LED ceiling panels that imitate natural sunlight. LED lighting is also being used in retail signage and traffic lights. London is currently in the middle of upgrading 350,000 of the city’s street lights to LED. LEDs are also gaining ground in architectural lighting, including decorative and functional outdoor lighting and to illuminate walkways, pools, fountains, gardens and statues.

A Brief History of the LED
Posted: 3/25/2016

We always start with the patent, although LED technology had actually been around for over 50 years before the first patent was issued. In 1907, British researcher Henry Joseph Round discovered inorganic materials that lit up when an electric current was applied. He published his findings in “Electrical World,” but his findings were largely ignored and forgotten.

In 1921, Russian physicist Oleg Lossew observed what he called the “round effect” of light emission. In 1935, a French physicist, Georges Destriau, discovered the light-emission qualities of zinc sulfide, and in honor of his Russian colleague, he called it “Lossew Light.”

In 1962, two researchers at Texas Instruments, James Biard and Gary Pittman, filed for a patent for a “Semiconductor radiant diode.” Today, it takes on average about three years to receive a patent. Things were apparently even slower in the 1960s at the old Patent Office in Arlington because it took four years for the patent to issue. U.S. Patent No. 3,293,513 was issued December 20, 1966. Like many foundational patents, it has just a few patent citations (just), but multiple forward citations (80). Patent applications filed as recently as 2013 cite this foundational patent.

In the 1960s and 70s, LEDs were developed in specific colors – initially green, orange and yellow. By 1993, there were white LEDs. In 2006, the first LED to produce 100 lumens per watt was developed, and LED is now competitive with incandescent lighting, the descendant of Edison’s original electric light concept.

Patent of the Month: What Started It All
Posted: 2/23/2016

On February 25, 1837, the U.S. Patent Office issued U.S. Patent No. 132 for an “Improvement in Propelling Machinery by Magnetism and Electro-Magnetisim” to one Thomas Davenport of Vermont. Those crafty New Englanders. The patent describes the first electric motor. It was powered by a galvanic battery and used zinc and copper plates as armatures. From this patent came everything from printing presses to washing machines, disk drives to electric cars. Just 179 years ago, and forty years before the electric light or the telephone.

Isn’t That the IBM XT?
Posted: 2/23/2016

The IT community is all abuzz about Microsoft’s newest patent. It appears that Patent Application 2016/0041582 for a “Modular Computing Device” is about to issue. The patent describes a computer device that “includes a display modular component including a housing, a display device physically and communicatively coupled to the housing via a hinge, and one or more display hardware elements disposed within the housing that are configured to output a display for display by the display device.”

So it’s a bunch of components that you connect together to make a computing device. Isn’t that what the first generation of PCs was? And didn’t we hate all the wires and cables? And why couldn’t it all be in one nice combined unit? And when you turn it on, all you got was a C: on the screen.

And We Thought They Just Gave Out Pink Cadillacs!
Posted: 2/23/2016

Mary Kay has been known for giving pink Cadillacs to its top sales performers, but the company has been busy elsewhere. Mary Kay has announced that it just passed the 1,200 mark in issued patents. According to the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, Sheryl Adkins-Green, "Mary Kay's patents play a key role in keeping our products competitive and protecting the company's unique ingredients, formulas, technologies and product designs."

Mary Kay holds patents for not just its products, but also for its product packaging. The company’s Vice President and Associate Counsel for Intellectual Property and Innovation, John Wiseman, adds that "The patent process spurs innovation. Because we can protect our inventions, we have an incentive to continue inventing great things." Which kinda sums up the whole patent concept very nicely.

Founder Mary Kay Ash, who passed away 2001 – but looked great – inspired her troops with a collection of adages. Our favorite: “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Interesting Hoverboard Events at CES
Posted: 1/24/2016

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the largest trade show in the U.S. It meets every year in Las Vegas in January, and it features two million square feet of exhibits and 170,000 attendees. As is the case with most trade shows, the really interesting stuff goes on in the evening in one of the casinos. Not the case this year!

Two U.S. Marshalls showed up (Did they need badges, or could they just walk in?) and raided the booth of Changzhou First International Trade and confiscated the company's "Trotter," a one-wheel hoverboard on display in the Changzhou First booth. U.S. hoverboard designer and manufacturer Future Motion had gone into U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, and the company had requested and received a restraining order, seizure order and temporary injunction. We do not know if the U.S. Marshalls carried or rode the hoverboard out of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Future Motion: Good for you!

Taking a defensive approach, another hoverboard manufacturer, Hangzhou Chic Intelligent Technology had on display in its booth not just its newest products, but its various U.S., European and Japanese patents and patent applications! In the patent brokerage business we have what is called a "defensive buy." Hangzhou Chic has invented the first "defensive trade show display." Bravo!

GM Does Not Like Uber
Posted: 1/24/2016

Just a few years out of bankruptcy, General Motors is profitable with cash in the bank. It is using that cash to partner with Lyft, a competitor of popular car service Uber. GM also scooped up some interesting assets from Sidecar, a recently defunct competitor to Uber and Lyft. As is often the case is such acquisitions, follow the patents.

Sidecar founder Sunil Paul comes to GM along with his intellectual property, specifically U.S. Patent No. 6,356,838 for a "System and method for determining an efficient transportation route" that features a 2000 priority date. Way, way before we ever heard of "uber" other than as a substitute for "very" as in "uber smart" or "uber angry." Talk is that GM will assert is shiny new uber patent and uber assert it against Uber.

But American Had It First!
Posted: 1/24/2016

As is almost always the case, America was first. George Selden beat Carl Benze to the patent office - in this case, the U.S. Patent Office - when he filed a patent application in 1879, seven years prior to Herr Benz's filing. However, Mr. Selden's patent for a "Road Engine" was not issued until 1895. We cannot totally blame the Patent Office or blame the 16-year pendency of Mr. Selden's patent application on prior art issue. Some believe that Selden purposely delayed the issuance of the patent because he was not ready to start manufacturing, and he wanted to delay issuance of the patent until he was.

There are not too many Seldens on the road, but there a lots of Fords. Henry Ford chose to NOT license the Selden patent, and when Ford was sued for patent infringement, he lost on the first round. However, when Ford appealed the ruling, he won on the basis that Selden's patent called for a two-cycle engine and Ford used a four-cycle engine. Gotta read those claims!

It Is the 130th Anniversary of the Automobile
Posted: 1/24/2016

It seems like yesterday, but it was January of 1886 when Carl Betz filed an application for his "Gas-Powered Vehicle." He was granted German Patent DRP 37435 and nothing was ever the same again. Benz's first car was three-wheeler.

Shortly before that, in April of 1885, another German, Gottlieb Daimler, filed a patent application for a "Riding Car." It had only two wheels, so it became the prototype for the motorcycle. When Benz introduced a larger, four-wheel model automobile, he named it after his daughter, Mercedes. Year later, Benz and Daimler decided to join forces, and the successor was the venerable Daimler-Benz AG. When Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler, it became DaimlerChrysler AG, and when the company spun off Chrysler, Carl got squeezed out and it became the Daimler AG of today.

Will Vizux Give Google a Run for Its Patents?
Posted: 12/23/2015

Google has made several acquisitions over the past few years in the "smart glasses" or "wearable technology" -  sector. It seems that Vuzix plans to challenge Google in that arena. Vuzix just acquired U.S. Patents Nos. 6,243,054 'Stereoscopic user interface method and apparatus" and 6,559,813 "Selective real image obstruction in a virtual reality display apparatus and method" from the patents' inventor. Terms of the sale were not disclosed. These two patents will bolster Vuzix's portfolio of 50 related issued patents and patent applications.

What we find interesting is that these are not newly issued or even recently issued patents. Both patents have 1998 Priority Dates, the '813 Patent was issued in 2001, and the '812 patent was issued in 2003. In Smart Glasses time, that's a century ago! So these patents, based on their dates and forward citations, cover much of the fundamental technology behind Smart Glasses. So exactly what is Vuzix up to?

Déjà Vu All over Again?
Posted: 12/23/2015

And while we are on the topic of Smart Glasses, it appears that Google has apparently switched gears - or switched eye sockets - and is moving toward a "monocle-like" Google Glasses. Google was just issued U.S. Patent No. 9,195,067 for a "Wearable Device with Input and Output Structures." The patent describes a head-mounted device that drops down over one eye instead of the previous Google Glasses that cover both eyes.

Didn't we see this in "Déjà Vu?" We do not mean a flashback or an experience in a former life. We are referring to the 2006 film starring Denzel Washington in which he wears a head-mounted drop-down monocle-eye piece attached to a time machine so he can drive through the current traffic in real time while he chases the bad guy in a second set of traffic in past time, and manages to kill no one. Or was he driving in past time and chasing the bad guy in real time? Now we are confused and will have to rent the movie. 

There Are Patents and There Are Real Patents
Posted: 11/30/2015

Remember the "hoverboard" that Marty used to escape from Biff in "Back to the Future?" Well, there are a few products on the market that use the product term "Hoverboard" but they do not actually "hover." They operate on two wheels firmly attached to the ground below.

Mark Cuban, the billionaire and star of "Shark Tank," has been back and forth with U.S. Patent No. 9,045,190 for a "Two-wheeled self-balancing motorized personal vehicle with tilting wheels" by prolific inventor Shane Chen. It appears that Cuban has licensed the patent, and while he has railed against patents as being anti-innovation, he is now threatening to sue Walmart if they introduce a hovercraft that infringes his patent!

There Are Hoverboards and There Are Real Hoverboards
Posted: 11/30/2015

A company called "Arx Pax" holds two patents for an actual hoverboard that actually hovers: U.S. Patent Nos. 9,126,487 for a "Hoverboard which generates magnetic lift to carry a person" and 9,148,007 for "Magnetic levitation of a stationary or moving object." Arx Pax has developed and is apparently commercializing what it calls "Magnetic Field Architecture," and the applications for it extend beyond really neat toys to motion and control, lift and isolation, and energy transmission.

No Wait, I Was Calling You!?
Posted: 10/29/2015

Vonage, provider of Bring-Your-Own-Broadband (BYOB) cloud and cellular products, has been awarded an interesting patent. U.S. Patent No. 9,106,673 is for "Systems and methods for connecting telephony communications." The technology provides an algorithm that determines when two parties are trying to call each other back at the same time, and it automatically connects the call rather than giving both parties a busy signal. Bravo! But why did it take so long for someone to come up with a solution to that problem?

Build a Better Mousetrap....
Posted: 9/25/2015

We've all heard this adage from Ralph Waldo Emerson a few thousand times. So in this edition of Patent Leather we celebrate the man who actually did this, one William C. Hooker. Mr. Hooker is widely recognized as the man who invented the classic, spring-loaded mousetrap, and that is supported by U.S. Patent No. 528,671 granted November 6, 1894 for an "Animal-Trap." He called it an "animal" trap because in the abstract the invention is described as catching "mice and rats." Why the hyphen? We cannot tell. In the application, no prior art was cited. And, we must assume, none was found by the patent examiner who signed off on the patent.

Taking the "better" concept seriously, Bill followed up with U.S. Patents 580,694 in 1897, 665,906 and 665,907 in 1901, 717,002 in 1902 and 744,343 in 1903. Each patent was an improvement on the previous "Animal-Trap" except it still had that pesky hyphen.

Bill Hooker's genius is still recognized today. In 1981, Sterling Drug was issued U.S. Patent No. 4306,359 for "Animal Traps." We see little significant improvement in the '359 patent over the original '671 patent other than they got rid of the hyphen. And as recently as 2006, one John Peters was issued U.S. Patent No. 7,117,631 for a "Microencapsulated animal trap bait and method of luring animals to traps with microencapsulated bait" that looks a lot like Hooker's 1894 version.

A Flexible iPhone?
Posted: 10/29/2015

Apple keeps popping up in this space, but the company does make news. Apple recently acquired U.S. Patent No. 8,855,727 for a "Mobile electronic device with an adaptively responsive flexible display." According to the patent's abstract, the invention is a mobile electronic device having a flexible display for which a request to retrieve information from a server over a wireless network is triggered based on flexing the flexible display device and other gestures. Is this a glimpse of a future generation of the iPhone?

Does Your Business Need a Patent Landscape Report?
Posted: 9/25/2015

A Patent Landscape Report (or PLR) gives an organization a snap-shot of a specific technology from an intellectual property perspective. Such a document can assist a business with its strategic planning, R&D, technology transfer, marketing and resource allocation. A PLR can also be used to analyze the value and validity of patents within the technology covered by the report.

Sounds like a pretty hefty task, right? That's why WIPO commissioned an extensive, but very helpful, document to help organizations develop a Patent Landscape Report. Patent information specialist Tony Trippi was commissioned by WIPO to create "Guidelines for Preparing Patent Landscape Reports," and it is a free download from the WIPO sites.

Apple Will Offer Even Thinner iPhones
Posted: 9/25/2015

Apple has just been issued U.S. Patent No. 9,142,925 for a "D-shaped connector" that will most likely replace the current low-profile headphone plug and receptacle. The design features external contacts positioned along a sleeve, and dielectric strips isolate contacts along that sleeve to carry left audio, right audio and microphone signals. The ground contact is in the plug's tip.

We are reminded of the old expression that you cannot be "too rich or too thin." And that apparently applies to Apple's cash position and its iPhones.

Apple Is Awarded Search Patents
Posted: 9/25/2015

One would think that a search engine would apply for search patents, but Apple was just assigned three search-related patents. The thinking by Apple watchers is that this new technology will be used to search Apple TV via Siri. The three most interesting are:

9,098,363 Search extensibility to third party applications
9,129,017 System and method for transfer among search entities
9,130,017 System and method for metadata transfer among search entities

Fuel Cells to Power Future Apple Laptops?
Posted: 9/25/2015

Looks like Apple Day around here, but that is where the patent-related backstories are coming from this month. Apple applied for some fuel cell patents back in 2011-12, but its latest is apparently specifically designed to replace a battery in a laptop. U.S. Application 20150249280 for a "Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device" is pretty straightforward in its intent.

Fuel cells have been around for decades. NASA used them for power aboard its space vessels back in the 1960s, and the major auto companies all have fuel cell-powered prototypes. The technology is very attractive. Hydrogen and oxygen are merged using a catalyst to produce H2O. The protons are permitted to join together, but the electronics must take a circuitous path, and that chain of electronics is captured as DC current. So...no moving parts and no pollution!
The challenge has been getting down the cost of extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels like methane or coal and delivering it to consumers.

Look for Liquidmetal Castings in Future iPhones
Posted: 8/25/2015

As we've written many times before in this space, to see where a company is going, follow the patents. Apple was just issued U.S. Patent No. 9,103,009 for a "Method of using core shell pre-alloy structure to make alloys in a controlled manner." Sounds like a patent for U.S. Steel or maybe Nucor, doesn't it? When almost anything cools, it shrinks, and this patent addresses controlling the size of a metal alloy cast product as it cools and solidifies. Also known as "bulk metallic glasses," casting forms from alloys is a tricky and sensitive process in which crystallization can occur if the alloy does not cool at the proper rate.

So look for cast metal cases for future Apple products. What occurred to us is that with the generally depressed price of steel company stocks, Apple probably has enough cash to just buy a steel company.

Did Yappn Just Pay $17 Million for Three Patents?
Posted: 8/25/2015

Yappn, the real-time language technology and translation company, just entered into an agreement to buy Ortsbo, a subsidiary of Intertainment Media. The purchase includes three patents assigned to Ortsbo as well as "other intellectual property including Ecommerce and Customer Care know-how" according to the official release from Yappn. The three patents are:
8,917,631 "System and method for sharing information between two or more devices"
8,983,850 "Translation system and method for multiple instant message networks"
9,053,097 "Cross-language communication between proximate mobile devices"

To be fair, in addition to these three issued U.S. Patents, there are several foreign patents. But for $17 million, there must have been significant "know-how" in this purchase!

Did Ninebot Just Pay $80 Million for 400 Segway Patents?
Posted: 8/25/2015

Ninebot, a Chinese manufacturer of personal electric vehicles will be buying Segway, the American manufacturer (and inventor) of personal electric vehicles. The purchase price was not given, but Ninebot partnered with Xiaomi, a Chinese smartphone OEM, that raised $80 million to fund its part of the deal.

Segway has over 400 patents, and it has aggressively asserted those patents. In fact, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that Ninebot infringed both patents and copyrights belonging to Segway. So the CEO of Ninebot, Wang Ye, explained, Ninebot bought Segway. If Xiaomi chipped in $80 million, and Ninebot chipped in another $80 million, that's $160 million. If half of the investment was for the 400 patents, that's only about $200,000 per patent, and the remaining $80 million is for the Segway operating business?
For the future, Ninebot and Segway will operate as separate businesses selling their products under their respective brands, but Ninebot will not have to worry about those pesky patent infringement claims coming from Segway.

Love What You Do, and Do What You Love
Posted: 8/25/2015

Brothers Dominique and Bruno Legaignoux just sold U.S. Patent No. 7,494,093 "Wing having a negative dihedron for towing a load" and its Canadian and European counterparts to Best Kiteboarding for an undisclosed amount. Some kiteboarding manufacturers had been paying a royalty to the Brothers Legaignoux, but now that Best Kiteboarding owns the patent, it will be collecting the royalties and enforcing the patents.

The '093 patent covers all kites with a concave trailing edge, and that is apparently the state-of-the-art in kiteboarding, so that's most of the kites on the market today. We cannot help but wonder if at some point in their lives young Dominique and Bruno were told to "Go fly a kite" and they did?

Ballard Flips Its Fuel Cell Patents
Posted: 7/29/2015

We congratulate Ballard Power Systems for a wonderful patent flip. "Flipping" is most usually associated with real estate, but it is done with patents more often than one realizes. Last year, Ballard bought a portfolio of patents from United Technologies - the parent of Carrier (air conditioning), Otis (elevators), Sikorsky (helicopters), Pratt & Whitney (aircraft engines) and a few other American icons - when UTC apparently decided to divest itself of its fuel cell holdings.

Ballard bought UTC's fuel cell patents for about $250,000 each. Less than a year later, Ballard sold off the fuel cell patents it did not need to VW-Audi for about $650,000 each. The Ballard-VW transaction is reported in the Second Quarter 2015 Patent Value Quotient.
And...don't forget that we have a very interesting selection of fuel cell, solar energy and power management patents in the Energy/Power Management section of our Patent MarketPlace.

Without the Patents, What Is Left?
Posted: 7/29/2015

Sony Computer Entertainment recently acquired the patent portfolio of OnLive, a popular - but, apparently, not profitable - cloud gaming service. OnLive has had a troubled past. It was originally funded with venture capital, and at one point was valued at $1.8 Billion (Billion with a "B")! Earlier this year, it ran out of cash, had massive lay-offs, and was sold for a measly $4.8 Million (Million with an "M").

Sony jumped in and bought OnLive's 140-patent portfolio for an undisclosed sum. OnLive then promptly shut down operations. No patents. No business.

Why Is Apple Buying Biometric Patents?
Posted: 7/29/2015

We've often referenced the advice that Woodward and Bernstein's secret informant "Deep Throat" gave them: "Follow the money." As you have often read in this space, our advice for investors and competitors is "Follow the patents." Apple just bought 26 biometric patents from Privaris. Terms of the deal are confidential. This follows the acquisition of four patents from Privaris back in 2012. Terms of that deal also confidential. Speculation among Apple watchers is that the patents will be used to improve Apple's touch screen features to possibly include fingerprint log-in for Apple PCs, iPhones and Watches.

We cannot help but mention that we have an exciting portfolio of Biometrics ID patents in the Network/Location Based section of our Patent MarketPlace.

Who Received Patents Last Wednesday?
Posted: 6/30/2015

Last year, the Patent Office issued over 300,000 utility patents. That works out to about 25,000 a month. We thought we'd take a look at how many patents were issued to well-known companies on just one day, Wednesday, June 23:

Samsung - 192
IBM - 136
LG - 99
Canon - 74
Google - 63
Toshiba - 55
Apple - 52
Microsoft - 52
Intel - 49
Panasonic - 46
Sony - 41
Hitachi - 41
Micron - 28
Hewlett-Packard - 26
Fujitsu - 21
Huawei - 19
Nokia - 17
Amazon - 16

Why Is Apple Buying Biometric Patents?
Posted: 6/30/2015

Remember the joke about the people waiting in line to see "Titanic?" A fellow says to his date, "I wonder if the movie includes the ship actually sinking?" And the guy behind him in line responds, "Oh, thanks for giving away the ending!"

It appears that Google wants to address exactly that issue, especially for those who are still waiting to see what happens to Stannis Baratheon in the season finale of "Game of Thrones." U.S. Patent No. 9,002,924 "Processing content spoilers" enables those who do NOT want to know how things turn out to block incoming data about that episode.

Carbonite Buys Rebit for Its Patents and Staff
Posted: 5/27/2015

As everyone knows, after Rockstar bought the Nortel patent portfolio, it sold off the juciest of the Nortel patents - those covering 4G cellular - to Apple for an undisclosed amount. We have it on good authority that Rockstar was hoping to get from $1.3 Billion to $900 Million for the remaining roughly 4,000 (about 2,500 issued U.S. patents and about 1,500 foreign patents and applications) telecom patents. The only serious taker, RPX, was willing to pay just $300 million. They settled not exactly in the middle at $900 million.

Apple Pays $3 Billion for $1 Billion Company
Posted: 5/27/2015

Apple recently laid out a cool $3 billion for Beats Electronics, a manufacturer of headphones and speakers that was founded by rapper Dr. Dre and hip hop mogul Jimmy Lovine.

Market advisory services company NPD Group had put a value on Beats Electronics of $1 billion. So we have to ask where Apple came up with a purchase price of $3 billion. Might it be the three design patents, one utility patent, three U.S. patent applications and a handful of foreign patents and applications that accounts for the additional $2 billion?

A Very Tacky Patent
Posted: 5/27/2015

U.S. Patent No. 2,794,788 for "Adhesive Compositions Containing Alkyl Esters of Cyanoacrylic Acid" was issued June 4, 1957 to Eastman Kodak. The lead inventor was legendary inventor Harry Coover. The invention relates to adhesive compositions containing certain esters of u-cyanoacrylic acid and to methods for their use. Heretofore, no one type of adhesive has been generally useful as offering an outstanding bond with all classes of articles.

Here is a hint: While this is not in the Army Field Manual, the product was routinely used by medics in Vietnam to hold skin together while an injured GI was transported to a field hospital. Second clue: The patent was sold to Loctite Corporation. The product? Super Glue.

Can a Patent Affect Stock Prices?
Posted: 4/28/2015

Apparently it can. GoPro manufactures a line of wearable cameras that has a following with mountain climbers, deep-sea divers and other adventurers who do not have the luxury of simply hanging a camera around their necks or wrists. Earlier this year, Apple was issued U.S. Patent No. 8,934,045 "Digital camera system having remote control." The application for this patent was filed by Kodak back in 2012, and Apple acquired the application when Kodak sold its patents to raise badly needed cash, so the patent issued to Apple. In fact, the images in the issued patent show a camera with "Kodak" on it.

When its many observers concluded that the patent covers a camera that is superior to the GoPro product, GoPro's stock tanked. GoPro stock had peaked at around $90 after a recent IPO, but it dipped to below $50 when news of the Apple patent issuance broke.
We have to ask: Does Apple plan to get into the wearable camera segment? The growth in this segment has been significant. In fact, one of the patents in the Spring Patent Round-Up is for wearable technology, and growth in this segment has been so strong that a trade show, Wearable Technology USA has sprung up to serve the market. We also have to wonder what would have happened if the folks at Kodak had held on to the patent application so that the patent had issued to Kodak?

Carbonite Buys Rebit for Its Patents and Staff
Posted: 4/28/2015

Apple was one of the investors in the Rockstar Consortium that purchased the Nortel patent portfolio back in 2012. Of the $4.5 billion that Rockstar paid for the Nortel patents, Apple put up $2.6 billion. Earlier this year, RPX acquired 4,000 of the Nortel patents from Rockstar for $900 million. This patent transaction will be reported in the First Quarter 2015 Patent Value QuotientTM when it is released next month. Maynard Um, an analyst at Wells Fargo, estimates that as Rockstar pays back its investors, Apple could see a profit of as much as $392 million!

Google to Apple: Just a Minute
Posted: 4/28/2015

Just as the Apple Watch is about to be released, Google launched its Android Wear updates. Google has supported smart watches for some time, so it decided to add upgrades to its Android Wear operating system. Several of the newest enhancements, such as Wi-Fi support and doodles for messaging, takes dead aim at the Apple Watch. It is nice to see that Apple has some serious competition, we just wish it were not Google.