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

Apple Lands Patent for Health Tracking Earbuds

By Joseph Mandour on February 24, 2014

LA Patent AttorneyOrange County – Apple was recently granted an interesting patent that has to do with health monitoring earphones.  The new technology is intended for use in sports and fitness and would track vital health statistics in real time.  The new product would allow users to control the connected device through the use of hand gestures and would provide feedback as to body temperature, perspiration, and heart rate.

According to the particulars of the filing, Apple is exploring ways to alert users when they have reached a certain goal in a workout by beeping when a certain distance, heart rate, or speed is reached.  Other features described in the patent show ways that users could adjust the device with hands-free signals.  Specifically, the filing details how a person might be able to turn the volume up or down or change music tracks with the tilt of the head or other slight body movement.

The technological details of the patent reveal how accelerometers and other sensors will be implemented in each of two earbuds, which will then communicate to the attached Apple device by either a physical cord or through bluetooth.  As for its ability to measure physical phenomena occurring within the user’s body, the filing describes how biometric technology will work to transfer information from the earbuds’ contact with the skin and ear cavity to the attached device.

This patent adds to Apple’s attempt to integrate  technology and fitness.  The company already offers Nike+iPod to its many health conscious customers, which allows users to track their workout progress with a small sensor that works in conjunction with the iPhone or iPod and specially designed Nike running shoes.   According to this patent, the new earbuds would eliminate the need for users to buy an intermediate sensor device.  Instead, a user can simply plug the earbuds into their existing Apple iPhone or iPod and the tracking technology will work.  The patent filing makes note of this improvement, stating, “Assuming the user is otherwise using the hearing device, such as to provide audio output by a portable media player, the user gains monitoring capabilities wit... Read the rest

Patent Filings Point to “Hot Corners” as Part of New Samsung Smartphone Interface

By Joseph Mandour on February 6, 2014

Intellectual Property Infringement California – A series of recently unveiled patents give a glimpse into what we might see as part of the next line of Samsung smartphones.

With the new Samsung Galaxy S5 set to be released in March, all eyes are on the Korean based company for what’s to come for the new generation of devices. After doing some digging, Korean Intellectual Property Rights Information Service (KPRIS) was able to uncover patent documents that offer some fresh details about the new phones.

Among the new developments showcased in the filings is a new feature called “Hot Corners,” which comes as part of Samsung’s efforts to make its larger screens easier to navigate. With the overall size of smartphones growing (Samsung’s Galaxy Mega has one of the biggest screens on the market, at 6.3 inches), the company has been looking for new ways improve ease of use.

The new “Hot Corners” concept will be featured in the revamped TouchWiz interface and will make it so that one-handed operation is more manageable on the large phones. The “Hot Corners” platform of the new TouchWiz features four semi circles in each corner of the display. Each corner has a few shortcuts to commonly accessed applications and phone functions, such as weather, maps, and favorite calls.

In addition to the more accessible “Hot Corners” home display, the patent filings describe some other features to be included in the updated interface, including a more socially focused music and media application. Specifically, the patents describe ways in which users will be able to see which of their friends have listened to a song that they are listening to and what ranking that friend gave the song. Beyond that, the new TouchWiz music app will allow Samsung users to comment back and forth on songs and videos, similar to Spotify or YouTube.

With the new Touchwiz patents coming out so close to the release of Samsung’s 2014 flagship device, it is almost certain that these new features will be included as part of the S5 package. The new device is said to be packed full of new technology, including an improved camera, updated operating system and a faster processor. With all of the added features, the S5 is set to ... Read the rest

New Apple Patent Reveals Cool Additions to Device Track Pad

By Joseph Mandour on January 30, 2014

Patent Infringement Claims Los Angeles – A recently filed patent provides a snapshot of what might be on the horizon for Apple’s next generation of devices.  The new technology, which is referenced in a patent that was granted last week, surrounds the sensors features in the touch pads of Apple products.  The patent is exciting news for the multitude of Apple fans eagerly awaiting the next line of MacBook devices, which have been the subject of less patent filings when compared to Apple’s other devices like the iPad and iPhone.

The patent, entitled, “Touch pad with force sensors and actuator feedback,” was filed by the Cupertino-based company by a team of eight inventors.  The filing details new plans for a track pad with an added actuator feature, which users touch to activate “force sensors.”  This differs from the current track pad included in MacBook devices, which are known as “all-in-one” designs, that are essentially one large button.

The all-in-one design that Apple has used in its laptop devices for years have been the subject of complaints, the biggest being the amount of pressure needed to click and activate the inner switch.  This problem is even more pronounced when users try to click the track pad close to the edge, where the hinges lie underneath.  While the simple appearance of the all-in-one design has added to Apple’s theme of compact sleekness, it seems that the company is finally looking to heed user complaints and make some changes its touchpad.

Specifically, the technology outlined in the new patent looks to alleviate the track pad pressure problem by implementing four sensors, rather than one, which will be situated under the four corners of the pad.  Offering an even bigger change, the new sensors will be updated “force sensors” that do not even have to move to be activated, but can respond to the vibration of human touch. Thus, with the new track pad, users might not have to press a button of any sort, but can simply tap the surface to click.   After detailing this new possible “button less” track pad technology, the patent goes on to describe how the new computers will have customizable settings so that users can select their desired leve... Read the rest

Google Squares Off Against Intellectual Ventures in Patent Fight

By Joseph Mandour on January 27, 2014

Patent DisputeOrange County – A patent dispute that began back in 2011 between Google-owned Motorola and Intellectual Ventures is finally heading to court. The lawsuit was filed by Washington-based Intellectual Ventures against Motorola over three smartphone patents, including one that involves the type of technology used in Google Play. The case is making waves in the technology industry by stirring up debate over the legitimacy of companies that achieve success by buying patents and then suing for patent infringement. While Intellectual Ventures contends that Motorola has infringed its patents, Google counters that Intellectual Ventures does not actually make anything and that it is not in the business of creating innovation, but of making profits.

Intellectual Ventures, which is headed by ex-Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold, was founded in 2000 and was initially backed by several high tech companies including Google, Apple and eBay.  Since its founding, however, many have criticized the company from going from what they considered to be a sort of patent defending firm to a patent “super troll”.

Intellectual Ventures has thousands of patents to its name and hundreds of employees working at its Bellevue, Washington headquarters.  In the years since it began filing lawsuits on the patents it owns, it is estimated that the company has made billions in profit.  It is this focus on patent acquisition and profit seeking that Motorola is centering its defense upon in the current patent dispute.

Attorneys for Motorola have already begun painting a picture of the company as a longstanding catalyst of innovation, even making reference to the fact that it was Motorola technology that created the device used to transmit Neil Armstrong’s lunar landing in the sixties.  It contends that Innovative Ventures, on the other hand, does nothing but burden innovation buy buying up patents and filing lawsuits on them, making huge financial strides with no technological advancement.

For its own defense, Intellectual Ventures claims that is not a “patent troll” and that its purchase of patents fuels innovation by rewarding and funding inventors.   It ... Read the rest

IBM Tops Annual List of Patent Assignees in 2013

By Joseph Mandour on January 21, 2014

Patent Attorney Los AngelesOrange County – A new report listing the nation’s top patent recipients of 2013 shows fascinating results.  The listing, which is compiled annually by IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, ranked IBM as the top patent assignee of the year, with a whopping total of 6,809.  IBM’s impressive numbers set the record for most patents awarded in a year to a single company ever by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Beyond IBM’s dominance of the list, another highlight of the report shows that for the second year in a row, Google beat out rival tech giant Apple in the number of patents it was awarded in 2013.   With Google coming in at number 11 and Apple securing the 13th spot on the list, both companies moved into the top 20 for the first time ever.  In front of them, Samsung came in at number 2, with Canon, Microsoft and Sony rounding out the top 5.   Of all of the companies included on the list, San Diego-based Qualcomm scored the biggest leap, jumping 62% from last year’s numbers up to number 9.  Staple American companies like GE and GM kept their spots within the top 20.

IFI CEO Mike Baycroft said of the list that there are not many surprises in the top 10, with the big name technology companies all expectedly churning out large numbers of patent filings.  He was quick to point out, however, that as you go down the list, there is more “jockeying and reordering,” making it easy to recognize the companies with the most “patent momentum.”  He brought up the “candidates that are likely to bubble up tomorrow, companies like Amazon, Verizon and China’s Huawei Technologies, to name a few.

Baycroft also added mention of the growing number of patent assignees included in the list.  While it comes as little surprise that more and more patents are being filed each year (the report states that the USPTO issued over 277,800 utility patents last year), it is notable that there are a growing number of people filing them, and many of them are small start-up companies.  Baycroft takes this point to pose the questions of whether the future of innovation may be moving out of huge heavy hitter companies and “ret... Read the rest

New Patent Filing Adds to Anticipation of iPhone 6

By Joseph Mandour on January 9, 2014

Los Angeles Patents Los Angeles – A recent patent application filed by Apple has people gearing up more than ever for the iPhone 6.   Entitled “Voice-Based Image Tagging and Searching,” the application seeks protection over technology that would let users tag and organize photos by speaking.  While iPhones have been able to sort photos by the time and location they were taken since the launch of iOS 7 in the fall of 2013, this patent takes it a step further.

The filing details how Apple users can tag photos using whatever “natural language” they want, including by naming the place, person or occasion featured.  The phone will then organize the photos based on the tags and store them in a database that is searchable by Siri.  Thus, users can easily save and recall photos in their growing photo libraries all by voice command.

The patent adds to a series of what are widely believed to be filings dedicated to technology for the next generation of iPhones.  In the past year, Apple has filed patents that reveal plans to implement a heart rate monitor into its devices and to expand the screen size.  The company has also fueled rumors of its plans to use flexible glass in its new displays and possibly add more biometric security features.

Given the ever-increasing competition between Apple and its chief rival, Samsung, Apple has also made recent attempts to file patents to differentiate the two brands’ devices.  Chief among this is one that looks to improve the hovering recognition technology already implemented in Samsung’s Galaxy S4.  While Samsung beat Apple to the punch in equipping its devices with the ability to allow users to hover their fingers over the screen to display additional information or to preview a link on a website,  Apple’s recent patent builds on this technology and streamlines the process of hover recognition.  In comparing Apple’s hover gesture patent with the hover technology already featured in some Samsung devices, commentators have noted that the Apple filing seems to shore up several problems that the Samsung products have had in differentiating the hover gesture from a traditional touch.

Though the next iPhone, already being called the iPhone 6, has no official release date... Read the rest

Nestle Seeks Patent Over Fennel Flower Plant, Stirs Up Controversy

By Joseph Mandour on December 18, 2013

fennel-150x150 Los Angeles – Nestle has come under fire for its recent patent application seeking protection over an extraction of the fennel flower seed, which comes from a plant that has been used by humans since as early as the 10th century.   At the forefront of the groups that are criticizing the Swiss-based food leader is Sum of Us, an organization that identifies itself as “fighting for people over profits.” The group claims that Nestle is attempting to profit from the fennel flower itself, which has been used as a homeopathic remedy for thousands of years.

The patent filing has angered several groups including Sum of Us, which contends that Nestle fabricated the idea that it “discovered” that Nigella sativa, the binomial name for fennel flower, could be used to alleviate food allergies, when it has been used for this purpose for hundreds of years.   Sum of Us claims that “Instead of creating an artificial substitute, or fighting to make sure the remedy was widely available, Nestlé is attempting to create a Nigella sativa monopoly and gain the ability to sue anyone using it without Nestlé’s permission.”

In response, Nestle claims on its website that it is not attempting to patent the fennel flower itself.  Instead, it claims that its “patent application relates only to the specific way that thymoquinone – a compound that can be extracted from the seed of the fennel flower – interacts with opioid receptors in the body and helps to reduce allergic reactions to food.” Nestle goes on to respond to the controversy by stating that, “The fennel flower …  is a natural species, and nobody could, or should, benefit from ownership over it” and that, “we fully support the principle of fair access and benefit-sharing when it comes to the raw materials we use.”

The patent squabble has stirred up debate over the patentability of natural elements in general, a topic that has been generating more and more talk as of late.   Last year, in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics , the United States Supreme Court ruled that human DNA could not be patented in its innate form because it is a “product of nature.”  H... Read the rest

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