Tesla and Amazon Founders Clash Over Space Flight Patent

By Joseph Mandour on September 11, 2014

rocket-enginesLos Angeles – Elon Musk’s SpaceX is challenging a patent awarded to Blue Origin, a space venture that is being backed by Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos. Musk’s company has petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office seeking to overturn a patent awarded to Blue Origin’s method for landing booster rockets at sea. The company argues that this is not novel in the field of launching and recovering rockets and therefore it does not warrant a patent.

The procedure that is claimed in Blue Origin’s patent was considered “old hat by 2009,” according to one of two challenges that were filed last week by SpaceX. It also cites earlier work by scientists and researchers who previously proposed techniques that are not dissimilar to those outlined in Blue Origin’s patent.  SpaceX contends in its filing that Blue Origin did not originate the idea, pointing to a 1998 publication by scientist Yoshiyuki Ishijima, which talks about a similar system.

This is the latest public clash between the two companies who are both vying for a contract with NASA to send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. Recently, the Southern California-based SpaceX launched several unmanned supply missions to the space station. Previously, the companies also fought for a contract to control and operate NASA’s Launch Complex 39A located at the Kennedy Space Center.

The patent application from Blue Origin was filed in June 2010 and outlines a system for launching a rocket from a launch site along the coast and then recovering the booster by landing it vertically on a platform located at sea. This procedure controls the descent with the booster engines.

If this patent is approved, SpaceX may not be able to use the water-landing approach described in Blue Origin’s patent, which might pose challenges for the company.  Blue Origin still has not developed its technology as far as SpaceX, which is already launching satellites for commercial and government clients.

SpaceX beat out Blue Origin to lease a U.S. government launch pad last year.  At the time, Musk dismisse Read the rest

Lenovo Files Patent for Wearable Technology Similar to Google Glass

By Joseph Mandour on July 14, 2014

Glass-googleLos Angeles – Lenovo has filed a U.S. patent for a head-mounted wearable, which could potentially compete against the much-talked-about Google Glass. The patent is for wearable eyewear that has touch-based navigation, light-pump video-on-demand displays on dual screens, as well as a video and audio recorder. The displays are meant to give users “an augmented reality display” on the screen featured in their glasses.

In addition to these features, Lenovo’s glasses also have conduction microphones in the earpieces, which would make wireless communication possible. The way these microphones are set up also makes it possible to pick up the user’s voice in a system that works very much like noise canceling microphones.

But rather than use noise-canceling microphones, like Google, the Chinese tech giant would use a bone-conducting microphone positioned just above the wearer’s nose bridge. This approach will make it easier for the device to catch your voice. This also means extra privacy for Internet calls because you can speak in a low volume and still be heard on the other side.

Patenting something does not necessarily mean that it will be sold in stores any time soon. Lenovo’s patent cautiously describes this device as a “recording device” rather than a wearable. Lenovo is a lesser-known brand in the United States where only its ThinkPad products, which were purchased from IBM, have received some attention. The company’s anticipated entry into the wearables market may signal interest in making a big jump into this particular industry.

It may also mean that additional competition is very likely in the wearable market in the not so distant future. It is not certain that Lenovo will get its requested patent. Like many other companies that are working on similar products, the company may simply be getting ready just in case wearables take off in a big way. With more competition, wearable technology is likely to get more mainstream and also more affordable.

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Tesla Allows Others To Use Patent Portfolio

By Joseph Mandour on June 26, 2014

teslaOrange County – In what has been hailed as a bold and unprecedented move, Tesla Motors is opening its patent portfolio in hopes of encouraging other automakers to create new electric vehicles. The company’s CEO, Elon Musk, said Tesla will not pursue patent lawsuits against anyone who wants to use its electric car technology “in good faith.” Musk says the “wall of patents” has been removed “in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.” Musk made the announcement at the Palo Alto-based company’s annual shareholder meeting this month.

Musk seems to feel strongly about this decision. He said during the announcement that he did not want to “lay intellectual property landmines to inhibit others” who are motivated to create electric vehicles, which could pave the way to a sustainable, energy-efficient future. By giving up its patents, Tesla is hoping that electric vehicles hit the road at a faster pace. That has not been the case so far.

Automakers have only been producing electric cars with limited range because they do not have the technology to do so. Plug-in vehicles constitute less than 1 percent of new car sales in 2013 despite automakers rolling out new models. The higher price of these vehicles and their limited range is discouraging consumers. Musk says competition will not be an issue because the main competition for electric vehicles comes from the millions of gasoline vehicles manufactured each year, not the trickle of electric cars being produced.

The times have been turbulent for Tesla recently with wild stock swings and a recent announcement by the company that it will spend $5 billion to build a factory that will make batteries to power electric vehicles. Musk has claimed that the factory will increase sales by bringing down the cost to manufacture electric vehicles, while others are concerned it may be a bet the company type of decision if it doesn’t work out. There have also been delays on the much anticipated Model X Tesla SUV which was originally expected to go on sale this year.

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Apple Receives Patent on a Drop-proof iPhone

By Joseph Mandour on June 16, 2014

iphone-appsOrange County – Apple is renowned for its forward thinking patents. Recently, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the company a patent for a special construction process that involves sapphire glass displays and LiquidMetal. The patent approval happened soon after Apple announced that it has exclusive rights to LiquidMetal’s unique alloy until 2015. LiquidMetal is a “bulk amorphous alloy” that looks like metal in liquid form, but moves like molten plastic. Despite its name it is not liquid at room temperature. So far, it’s been used to make items such as SIM card ejectors, military equipment and medical devices. It has still not been used in common consumer products.

But, that’s where Apple comes in. Apple’s patent talks about the new use it has in mind for LiquidMetal and how it will help stabilize the sapphire glass displays in future devices. For example, when you drop your iPhone, stabilization will ensure that that glass does not shatter or pop off. Currently Apple uses a plastic chassis and a rubberized gasket to keep the display secure from sudden impact. But Apple’s new patent shows plans to bypass all these troublesome steps and use LiquidMetal in a new metal injection molding process. In this manner, the sapphire glass can be formed directly into the iPhone or iPad’s metal bezel. The liquid metal flows through a mold’s cavity that contains the transparent material and hardens, grabbing the glass and “eliminating tolerance issues.” According to Apple, the resulting structure is an “integrally formed display assembly.”

The patent shows that plastic is also usable, but the emphasis is on the idea to use the cutting-edge technology involving LiquidMetal to ensure the strongest bond and protection between the glass display and metal chassis.

It’s very likely you won’t see LiquidMetal technology in the iPhone6 to be released this fall. However, given Apple’s agreement with GT Technologies to make large amounts of sapphire glass, it is reasonable to expect sapphire glass displays on the much-anticipated iPhone. News of mass LiquidMetal produ Read the rest

Sony Seeks Patent Related to Household Robots

By Joseph Mandour on May 29, 2014

robotOrange County – Back in 2006, Sony closed down its entertainment robotics division when consumers gave its egg-shaped robotic music player, dubbed Rolly, the cold shoulder. It seemed at the time that Sony was done with robots. But, a recently published patent application suggests that the Japanese electronics giant still sees a future for household robots. In fact, a recent patent application (No. 20140074292) describes a robot that looks like the company’s humanoid robot.

The patent mentions Japan’s rapidly aging population pointing out the need for a robot that can perform not only tasks around the house, but also provide nursing care by communicating with humans and doing work such as grasping or fetching objects.

Sony’s robot dog, Aibo, was featured in the late 1990s in commercials and in universities for educational purposes. Aibo’s humanoid companion, QRIO, was not designed to do much of anything resembling actual work. However, the new robot described in the patent has simpler gripper hands, which can actually lift and carry objects. Also, the legs have been replaced with more practical wheels.

The main focus of the patent is not the robot itself, but a self-diagnostic software system for cameras, which can differentiate between a scratch or dust on a camera lens by comparing multiple camera images. The manner in which these robots detect or recognize an object in a working space is based on the image taken by the camera. So, when the camera’s lens is dirty, it affects the robot’s ability to detect an object. This technology is important because the robot uses camera lenses to look at the world around it. If the robot, for example, is assigned to a task inside the home, a simple scratch on the lens might mislead the robot.

Although Sony has not issued an official announcement, this patent application would seem to signal the company’s return to robotics.

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New Patent Filings Suggest Google May Have its Sights Set on Smart Contacts

By Joseph Mandour on May 14, 2014

Contact lens bended in right directionOrange County – Move over Google Glass! By the looks of recent patent filings, the tech powerhouse seems to be on to its next big thing – eyeing a new product that would enhance contact lenses with technology such as a camera and sensory input monitoring system.

According to the patent, filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO) in April, the lenses would be powered by a tiny computer chip that is able to sense light, colors, motion and even faces, without obstructing the vision of the wearer. Using algorithms that log the person’s eye activity over time, the device would be able to tell involuntary blinks from those intended to engage a function of the lenses.

The patent application details a variety of potential features of the contacts, with much of the description centered around a built-in camera, which would be controlled by the wearer’s eye movements. Using “image capture components,” the application describes how a person wearing the enabled contacts could simply look at something and snap a picture of it, which would then be accessible on a compatible device or smartphone for later editing and sharing.

The functions of the so called “smart contacts” could be far reaching as some have suggested that a product like this could provide help for persons with disabilities. Specifically, technology such as this might be used to help blind or visually impaired people by sending signals about what is around them. Smart lenses could notify a blind person approaching an intersection when it is safe to cross. Others have suggested a wide array of uses including facial recognition technology for use by law enforcement and a zoom feature to help those with normal vision to focus on far away objects.

Meanwhile, Google’s plans for its first optical-based device are well under way with initial sales of Google Glass selling out in all five available colors. With demand for the pricey product in full swing, Google even added a quick update to the device, which allows it to run on Android’s KitKat 4.4 operating system. As for whatR Read the rest

Patented Boeing Autopilot Technology Questioned in Missing Malaysia Flight MH370

By Joseph Mandour on April 23, 2014

Patent RegistrationOrange County – Back in 2003 Boeing applied for and was granted a patent for technology that allows for remote control operation of an in-air plane’s flight path.  The application suggests that the remote control autopilot system be engaged “when the security of the onboard controls is jeopardized.”

Now, in the aftermath of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, some are wondering if the technology set forth in the patent could have changed the plane’s fate.  Especially before the plane was presumed lost at sea by the Malaysian government on March 27, commentators pondered whether the plane could have been hijacked via remote control access by someone on the ground.  The purpose of the Boeing patent is much the opposite – to retake control of an aircraft hijacked in the air by initiating an autopilot program from the ground.  However, contrary to the beliefs of some who speculated that it would have been impossible for someone to overtake the plan from the ground, the technology does in fact exist (and has for years).

The text of the patent, entitled “System and method for automatically controlling a path of travel of a vehicle,” U.S. Patent No. 7142971B2, describes how an autopilot program could be initiated either by someone inside a compromised plane or by someone on the ground.  From the point of initiation, ” Any onboard capability to supersede the automatic control system may then be disabled by disconnecting the onboard controls and/or providing uninterruptible power to the automatic control system via a path that does not include the onboard accessible power control element.”

In other words, power would be completely removed from those inside the plane and the aircraft would be 100% controlled by remote operation.  The technology is so developed that upon engaging the system, a person from the ground could navigate, fly and land the plane with no involvement from the pilot whatsoever as the power controls are made inaccessible to anyone on board the aircraft.  While the technology has desirable uses that some have already suggested could have changed the outcomes of tragedies such as the September 11 hijackings and the miss Read the rest

USPTO Throws Out Most of Zillow’s “Z-Estimate” Patent Claims

By Joseph Mandour on April 8, 2014

home-price-150x150 San Diego – As a result of a case brought before the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), the patent encompassing Zillow’s popular home valuation tool has been seriously diluted.   In its ruling, the Board found 25 of the 40 claims mentioned in the patent, referred to as the ‘674 patent, unpatentable.  Zillow filed for the patent back in 2006 but wasn’t granted patent protection for its “Z-Estimate” tool, which is featured prominently on its website, until 2011.

The proceedings were instituted by Washington, D.C.-based  Microstrategy, Inc., which sought a review of Zillow’s “Z-Estimate” patent claims in an effort to have the entire patent thrown out. The Board ultimately held that two of the claims included in the ‘674 patent were invalidated because they were not novel and that 23 of them were obvious in light of prior inventions.

The ruling comes as a major blow for Zillow , less because of the fallout with Microstrategy, but more because of the effects that it will have on the outcome of its major lawsuit against rival Trulia.  Commenced last year, Zillow contends in its patent infringement lawsuit that Trulia’s automated property value estimates, called “Trulia Estimates,” infringe on its patented “Z-Estimate” calculations.  In response, Trulia filed a motion to dismiss the patent infringement lawsuit, arguing that “Abstract ideas and principles are not patentable.”  With much of the “Z-Estimate” patent now invalidated by the PTAB, Zillow will likely be waging an uphill battle in trying to stop Trulia from providing its own competing home value estimates.

The two biggest names in online real estate have been at each other’s throats for years.  Seattle-based Zillow will reportedly spend upwards of $65 million on its nationwide advertising campaign in 2014.  Not to be outdone, Trulia countered by announcing the hiring of its new Chief Marketing Officer in February and its plan to spend over $40 million this year on ads.  Though Zillow went public a year before Trulia, the smaller company has been giving Zillow a run for its money since its August 2012 Read the rest

IBM Looks to Patent Technology that Reads Human Feelings

By Joseph Mandour on March 28, 2014

face-150x150 Los Angeles – A recent patent filing by the country’s leading holder of patents may be about to take the connection people feel with computers to a whole new level.  According to an application published earlier this month by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), IBM is seeking protection over technology that takes sensory input from humans and digitizes it in order to recognize and differentiate various human emotions.

The patent is entitled, “Multiple Sensory Channel Approach for Translating Human Emotions in a Computing Environment,” and was filed by three IBM inventors from Texas.  Per the particulars of the filing, the technology is encapsulated in a computer analysis program that is able to take several indicators of physiological data, including voice commands, heart rate and facial expressions, and analyze those inputs to determine whether a person is feeling happy, sad, tired, angry, confused, etc.

Specifically, the patent filing describes how these sensory inputs will be processed by means of “standards-defined sensory channels,” which will then  provide “emotion dimensional values”, which correspond to range of human emotions.   In order to get a correct read of a person’s emotional state, the system will have the ability to give certain physiological data higher priority.  That data can then be used to activate other computer functions to interact with the user in a specific way based on their detected mood.

In addition to physiological input, the technology will also factor in environmental data as well as user-generated input, all of which will be aggregated to determine the user’s emotional state.  Structurally, the patent mentions that the system will include a processor and operating system, an audio capture device and a physiological sensor, among other parts.  It further sets forth that the system is capable of operating on general purpose computers like desktops and laptops as well as other devices, which are likely to include smartphones and tablets.

Though it is uncertain at this point whether this patent application will actually be granted (IBM files hundreds of patent applications each week), its filing exposes the technology industry Read the rest

Apple’s Latest Patent Allows for Voicemail Screening

By Joseph Mandour on March 18, 2014

mandour apple logo California – Apple was recently assigned a patent, numbered 8,666,034 , which will allow users to listen to a message as it is being left by a caller and then pick up mid-message, if desired.

In a time known as “the age of texting” where voicemail is increasingly viewed as outdated, Apple is attempting to modernize this older phone feature by adding it to its next lineup of mobile phones. As many of us recall, with land-line based voice mail machines, one could let an incoming call go to voicemail, listen to the caller leave a message, and depending how important the call was, pick up during the message.

Apple’s new patent will allow iPhone users to do exactly this, enabling remote voice message systems to relay the information instantaneously to users. Apple customers will still have the option to have an incoming call sent directly to voicemail, without screening it, but several commentators have already pointed out the irony of Apple’s attempt to update voicemail by adding a technology that is widely considered a thing of the past.

Officially termed “Audio call screening for hosted voicemail systems”, the patent comes as part of a huge collection of intellectual property originally held by Nortel Networks, until the struggling telecom firm struck a deal with its rivals. Back in 2012, Apple was part of a group of big name tech companies (including Microsoft, Research in Motion, Sony, and Ericsson), dubbed the Rockstar Consortium, that closed a deal to buy Nortel’s $4.5 billion patent portfolio. Part of the spoils Apple enjoyed as part of the acquisition, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) officially recorded the assignment of the voicemail screening patent to reflect Apple, Inc. as its owner earlier this month.

Currently, iPhones allow users to see their voicemails in list form through “visual voicemail,” a technology that was added by Apple in 2011 and which was the subject of the much talked about U.S. Patent Number 7,996,792. With visual voicemail, users do not have to call a voicemail line to access voicemails by audio, but can simply press play on the touch screen display to hear a message. With the new addition of the technology set fort Read the rest

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