New Walmart Patent will Monitor and Record Customers and Employees

By Joseph Mandour on July 18, 2018

Orange County – On July 10th, 2018, Walmart filed a patent for audio surveillance technology for quality assurance purposes. According to the patent, sound sensors will be used to collect audio data to help improve the customer experience by focusing on the details of shoppers such as how long they stand in line, beeps of the scanners, rustle of bags, and even the conversations they have.

Sam Lester, a consumer privacy lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., says, “This is a very bad idea, if they do decide to implement this technology, the first thing we would want and expect is to know which privacy expectations are in place.” Although, at this time it is unclear how the recorded conversations will be used, how long they will be kept on file and who will have access to them.

According to Walmart’s director of corporate communications Ragan Dickens, the audio would mostly be reviewed by computers and will not be “analyzing the words” it picks up. The patent states that a performance metric might be “based on the content of the conversation” to find if employees are following a specific script or greeting.

Lester is not the only one who thinks that this new surveillance technology is a bad idea. In the past, Walmart has had employees fight the company’s surveillance efforts. Walmart began using intelligence-gathering and monitoring of employee’s activities after the union-backed employees protested inconsistent schedules and low wages.

Along with the employees, customers may unknowingly have their conversations recorded. The surveillance system may be deemed illegal in the 12 states that have two-party consent laws, which does not allow the recording of people without their consent. Walmart operates in all 50 states.

Dickens says, “I can assure you if the concept became a reality, we would comply with state and local laws,” and adds that employees would be notified about the sensors before installation.

Dickens continued to say that Walmart frequently files patents, “but that doesn’t mean the patents will actually be implemented,” and that they are always working on new ideas to improve customer service. The potential cost of the system has no... Read the rest

Supreme Court Approves Legality of Patent Review Process

By Joseph Mandour on May 3, 2018

Orange County – Last week the US Supreme Court approved the inter partes review (IPR) process for patents, which many believe helps high-tech companies fight patent infringement lawsuits and “patent trolls” more easily and at a lower cost. The justices ruled 7-2 that the U.S Patent and Trademark Office’s in-house patent review does not violate a defendant’s right under the U.S. Constitution to have a case judged by a jury and federal court.

Justices John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch disagreed with the ruling. The case arose when Oil States International Inc., a Houston based company, disputed the legality of the inter partes review process by which a trial is conducted to review the patentability of one or more claims.

While Silicon Valley is celebrating the ruling, name-brand drug-makers are not as happy with the decision. Companies labeled as “patent trolls” are known for suing other companies over patent infringement instead of making any products. The drug-maker companies are calling the IPR “a threat to innovation.”

Other companies who are celebrating the ruling are popular tech companies, such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. and Apple Inc., who are often involved in patent lawsuits. Among the companies who are unhappy with the ruling are AbbVie Inc., Celgene Corp., and Allergan Plc.

The inter partes review procedure was enacted on September 16, 2012 as part of the America Invents Act to manage the rising number of poor patents issued by the U.S Patent and Trademark Office in previous years. The agency’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board has canceled part, if not all, of 80 percent of the patents it has reviewed, including a patent protecting wellhead equipment owned by Oil State.

Although Clarence Thomas has called the IPR process “an extension of the Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to grant a patent,” Oil States challenged the cancelation of its patent by saying the patents are protecting private property and can only be canceled by a federal court.

Thomas continued, “Inter partes review is simply a reconsideration of that grant, and Congress has permissibly reserved the PTO’s authority to conduct that reconsideration.” Paul Fucito, a patent office spokesman, said the office is cau... Read the rest

Nike Files Patent for Futuristic Golfing Glasses

By Joseph Mandour on March 15, 2018

Los Angeles – On Thursday, March 8th 2018, Nike filed a patent application for golfing glasses that show all types of data while playing. The glasses would allow golfers to track their ball and read putting greens with a heads-up display. Needless to say, if the glasses work as claimed, for golfers they could become as ubiquitous as golfing shoes and a visor.

Along with the patent, Nike filed a diagram illustrating a hi-tech golf ball which would communicate with the glasses. When paired together, the golf ball will send information back to the person wearing the glasses. The glasses have a display on a small screen so the golfer will be able to check the data seamlessly while playing. Some of the information the user will be able to quickly access will be the following:

• Your current score
• Golf ball’s speed and location
• Spin rate
• Carry distance
• Distance to the pin
• Velocity of your last swing
• Fairways hit
• Average putts and holes
• The slope of Greens

The patent suggests the glasses will also have a camera to help track where you are in the course, plan the trajectory of your next shot, display an enhanced image of the golf ball, and, of course, capture and record images of the golfer’s swing and then send the images to a processor for suggestions on improvement. The glasses can also warn the golfer of any hazards such as water and sand traps.

It would seem that the glasses would also be able to collect data about each golf course to allow data about how often a putt was missed and in which direction, which the golfer could factor in on the next putt. The ability to track the terrain of the course would obviously be superior to the golfers view and would help with club selection and suggested angles for the next swing. The technology that makes this possible is called augmented reality technology, which overlays the topography of the land around the golfer’s location.

Though some patents never turn into real products, it seems that there is a high likelihood that the ideas covered in this patent will come to fruition. It is easily to see the potential this technology has to improve a player’s golf game, and how it could quickly turn into an arms ... Read the rest

Amazon Wristband Patent Allows it to Track Movements of Employees

By Joseph Mandour on February 8, 2018

San Diego – Amazon has won two patents for wristbands that inform employers what their employees are doing. The patents were originally filed in 2016 and were published on January 30, 2018. The wristband can track employee movement including how active the employee is which would be a measurement of productivity. The wristband could also track how often the employee took breaks, visited a restroom, and can even vibrate when a task is performed incorrectly or if an employee becomes too inactive.

Amazon has been known for testing products internally before putting them on the market. The patent descriptions vigilantly outline that the tracking wristbands are not to collect data about specific employees, but about inventory. An Amazon representative made mention that “this idea if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfillment associates. By moving equipment to associates’ wrists, we could free up their hands from scanners and their eyes from computer screens.”

These high-tech wristbands use ultrasonic pulses to communicate with the modules on inventory bins and tracks the employee’s hands. The wristband will vibrate when an item is placed in the wrong bin. Also, since Amazon encourages employees to work faster and more efficiently, this wristband would assist Amazon in improving employee performance.

Not everyone sees the wristbands as a means of convenience. Even though the wristband’s stated purpose is not to collect data about the wearer, the data is still being collected. Which leads to the question, would the wristbands be used to track and grade employee performance? By using these wristbands in the warehouse, Amazon would obviously be able to identify their most productive workers. Workplace Fairness, an employee rights organization, says too many questions have been left unanswered.

It is still unclear if Amazon plans to manufacture and put the wristband to use. Amazon’s former employees have commented that they would not be surprised if Amazon began using the wristbands. Amazon warehouse employees have stated that a typical day at the Amazon warehouse involves receiving hundreds of items every hour and being expected to process each item in a matter of seconds and if you fall behind yo... Read the rest

Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures Seek Patent for Sensor-Filled Helmet

By Joseph Mandour on January 16, 2017

San Diego – Bill Gates and 20 other inventors filed a patent for a high-technology football helmet equipped with sensors and a processing circuit. The goal of the helmet is to try to minimize the head trauma injuries that are plaguing the football world.

The helmet has two separate features. First, the helmet is structurally designed to reduce forces, torques, and accelerations to the player’s head during collisions that occur during the game. This design is intended to reduce the severity of collisions and, as a result, the severity of injuries. The second approach looks more at recording and assessing the impact of the collisions. The helmet would assess damage according to a pre-determined impact and damage threshold.

The sensors in the helmet would measure impact that occurs using a shell and lining inside the helmet to allow the trainers and doctors to know immediately the severity of a hit to the head. For example, a trainer might immediately get an impact report sent to their cell phone. Part of a helmet’s effectiveness in reducing forces and accelerations comes from the helmet shell, which would degrade as it absorbs impacts. So it appears as if the outer shell of the helmet would crumple for large impacts. The helmet would then continuously measure its liners and report when it needs a new outer shell. When a liner is damaged beyond a pre-determined threshold, the helmet can alert a trainer.

The patent application for this helmet was filed on July 8 and made public in November. Bill Gates is one of the 21 inventors. Most of the inventors are associated with Intellectual Ventures, a company based in Bellevue, Washington that invests in intellectual property and inventions. The patent is filed under the holding company Intellectual Ventures which uses the company name “Elwha LLC.” Gates is known to be a Seattle Seahawks fan and his Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen owns the NFL team.

Other groups are also working to create an improved football helmet. A Seattle-based startup called Vicis has raised about $23 million do... Read the rest

#Walmart Seeks #Patent for Robo-Shopping Cart

By Joseph Mandour on September 19, 2016

shopping-cartsOrange County – Advancements in technology today continue to soar to new levels. Walmart has filed for a patent that would bring consumers a whole new experience at the grocery store. The patent is for “a robotic device that would create self-driving shopping carts, giving customers free hands while they shop.”

If the patent is approved, robo-carts would be summoned by customers, respond to voice commands and use scanners to notice inventory issues. The system uses a number of small “motorized transport units” that would connect to the bottom of carts, as well as a central computer, video cameras, Wi-Fi and other components.

The robo-carts are intended to make the shopping experience more enjoyable for customers, giving customers a hands free experience since the cart will automatically follow you around the store. The carts can also help with stocking and checking inventory.

While this may facilitate the experience of shoppers, the robo-cart is ”predicted to take 5.1 million jobs away from humans over the next five years, with low-paying, low-skill jobs considered those most at risk.” Walmart states: “And while it’s too early to determine how we would even potentially use this technology, our goal always is to find ways to help simplify processes to help our associates better serve our customers as they will continue to play a critical role in the success of our business.”

The patent also states, “In the modern retail store environment, there is a need to improve the customer experience and/or convenience for the customer.” It goes on to say, “Customers often require assistance that employees of the store are not always able to provide.” Since the cart will always be with you, there will be no need to search the store for an employee to assist. The robo-carts would also eliminate the human error factor in answering basic questions about the store. Walmart is known for having issues with labor unions and there have been customer complaints regarding understaffed stores w... Read the rest

#Apple #Patent Will Deter Theft of Devices by Taking Photos, Videos and Fingerprints

By Joseph Mandour on August 31, 2016

fingerLos Angeles – Stolen Apple devices, such as iPhones or tables, may soon record and send identifying information about the thief to the device’s owner, aiding law enforcement in the identification and prosecution of thieves. This capability is discussed in a patent filed by Apple and published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office titled “biometric capture for unauthorized user identification.”

The patent discusses the problem of unauthorized users accessing a device. While Apple’s technology already attempts to minimize the chances of unauthorized use, such as setting up passcodes and an automatic wiping of the device after a set number of failed attempts, these cannot prevent all use attempts. The technology discussed in the patent is an attempt to remedy this problem as well as help aide in the recovery of the device.

According to the patent, devices could capture and store biometric information of unidentified users such as fingerprints, photos or videos of the user, and geolocation and sound files of the environment. Basically, all use of the phone that could capture any personal information would be stored. The storing of this information could be triggered by a number of options including failed passcode attempts or instructions from another device of the user.

The information could then be transmitted automatically via email or upon remote initiation to another device owned by the user. A thief’s fingerprint, for example, used on a stolen iPhone could be emailed to the owner which can then relay it to authorities in hopes of catching the criminal and, ultimately, returning the device. The technology could also be used to catch a sneaky child or snooping spouse.

The patent covers a number of device options including phones, computers, and music players, but Apple phones and tablets are the only ones currently capable of fingerprint reading technology.

Apple, like other companies, often files patents for technology that they do not end up developing. It’s unclear at the moment whether the company plans on pursuing this technology or simply making sure it is there if they want it. Since this technology would be easy to include on devices, it seems this feature is likely to appear on upcoming Apple produ... Read the rest

#Google Seeks a #Patent for a Smart #Crib

By Joseph Mandour on July 14, 2016

babyOrange County – In the recent past, audio and then video monitoring of newborn babies was considered cutting edge technology. However, a new patent application filed by Google makes those advances seem quaint. Google’s patent application shows where baby monitoring technology is going which is hopefully to a place where serious concerns for parents like SIDS become a thing of the past.

Smart baby monitoring products are already on the market, but these products are either attached to the baby, integrated into the baby’s clothing, or set up under or near the baby’s crib. In contrast, Google’s crib would integrate these technological features into the crib itself. As Google wrote in its application, “because the sensors are integrated into the crib, they mitigate the risks involved in placing foreign objects near or in a baby crib.” For example, any device with a cord can be a hazard to a baby.

The smart crib builds upon existing notification features of smart monitors, allowing it to be programmed to alert parents that a child has climbed out of the crib, of potential health concerns like lack of movement and abnormal oxygen levels, that temperatures that are too hot or cold, or that an unwarranted visitor is near the crib, all sleep altering concerns of new parents. The crib can even alert parents that there is a dirty diaper.

What really sets the smart crib apart, however, is its capabilities to learn and act pro-actively. Algorithms in the crib can analyze the baby’s cries, categorizing them to needs such as a cry for a diaper change or a cry for food. The crib then can alert parents with its assessment of the problem to a cell phone or tablet. Parents would also be given the option to program the crib to act proactively once crying is detected, such as playing calming music or showing a cartoon on the ceiling.

The patent for the crib was filed in December 2014 and lists Maxime Veron, Nest’s director of product management and hardware marketing, as the inventor. Google purchased Nest in February 2014 for $3.2 billion. Nest previously created three smart home products, a home monitoring camera, a thermostat, and a smoke alarm/CO detector.

It is unknown whether Google will be moving forward with actually producing t... Read the rest

Apple Receives Patent for iPhone That is Entirely a Screen

By Joseph Mandour on June 17, 2016

apple-storeSan Diego – Apple was granted a patent for a button-less phone with a wrap-around screen the encompasses the entire phone. The innovative design is intended to take better advantage of phone space and to remove fixed buttons, such as the volume controls that are usually externally located on the sides.

The iPhone’s design would still allow for key elements of smartphones, such as microphones and a camera. Instead of buttons, however, everything would fall under the function of the touch screen. The volume control would still be found on the side of the phone, but would require a light tap rather than a button press. To lock or unlock the phone, users would do a multi-touch gesture along the side of the device.

The larger screen space could change some aspects of user experience with the phone. Five apps, instead of four, would fit across the screen. Content such as videos and pictures could be shown wrapped around the screen. As the patent states, “a flexible display can be folded in such a way as to form a continuous loop such that images (still or video) can be presented in a wrap-around manner in which the images appear to be presented in a continuous loop.” This continuous loop could present a more engaging experience with photos, videos, and articles. The design is meant to improve the overall user experience.

This design would not be the first time a screen wraps around the edges of a phone. Samsung’s S6 Edge is designed with a curved screen, which extends beyond the screen’s front into the screen’s sides. This phone, if Apple does eventually complete the design and produce it, would be the first to have the screen cover the entirety of the phone without any buttons.

It still remains to be seen whether Apple will pursue the creation of this product. The existence of the patent does indicate Apple designers view the technology as attainable at some point down the road. If Apple decides to pursue this design, it now owns a patent to it. If released it could mark a new wave of innovation in ... Read the rest

Google Granted Patent for Auto Adhesive for Collisions With Pedestrians

By Joseph Mandour on May 25, 2016

automobileLos Angeles – Google has been granted a patent for a system that would adhere victims of auto collisions to a self-driving vehicle. The adhesive material would be placed on the hood and bumper of a car, the locations where a pedestrian is most likely to be hit. The adhesive would be hidden under a protective layer on the vehicle, most likely a top coating, separated by an air gap.

In the event of a collision with a pedestrian, the impact would expose the adhesive and make contact with the pedestrian directly. Adhering the crash victim to the car reduces the risk of a “secondary collision.” This happens when a stricken pedestrian could be thrown over or to the side of the car and sustains more injuries. Rather than push the victim toward the pavement or another object, causing more injury, the sticky surface on the car would keep them from going anywhere else.

According to the details of the patent, the adhesive surface would only be exposed when the vehicle is in a collision. The top coat that covers the hidden sticky layer would shatter by the impact. Thus, the adhesive would be exposed and would attach the person to the hood or bumper of the car, in a manner similar to flypaper or double-sided tape.

In the patent, Google acknowledged that self-driving cars could hit pedestrians. That is until the technology catches up to the point that these vehicles can avoid accidents. Today, when a car runs into a pedestrian, it often carries the person along until the driver brakes, throwing the victim from the vehicle, possibly leading to further injury.

The Google patent comes at a time of rising pedestrian traffic fatalities. Distracted driving and more cars on the roads are likely factors. The idea that cars should be safe for people other than the ones inside the vehicle is a new concept. Car manufacturers have been upping the safety standards for the occupants of a vehicle, but there has been much less attention to preventing injuries to people outside the vehicle.

... Read the rest
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