Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Peering Into the Patent Portfolio Behind Google Glass

After the billion-dollar Apple-Samsung patent trial, the value of the intellectual property around mobile devices is a lot less hypothetical than it used to be.

One of the areas of rapid development is head-mounted displays — most famously Project Glass, Google’s yet-to-be-released wearable devices that promise to do things like unobtrusively notify users about new text messages, help them navigate the world, and take pictures of their kids with no handheld camera necessary.

DVF models wear Google Glass at New York Fashion Week

Earlier this summer Apple was granted a patent for embedding displays in a wearable headset, something it had originally filed for back in 2006. Hmm, sounds a lot like Google Glass, right?

So I asked the folks at patent research firm Envision IP to look at the larger scope of patents around Google Glass-like technologies, from Google, Apple and other companies.

Envision just completed its analysis, finding that Google has 36 issued and four pending U.S. patents on head-mounted display and augmented reality technologies.

Google started filing around these topics in 2010, and has 10 design patents on eyeglass-like devices, plus patents for things like eye-tracking based cursor movement and selection, and the combination of hand, finger and head movements as inputs for a head-mounted device.

But Microsoft, IBM and Canon also began filing U.S. patent applications in this space as early as 1999. Microsoft has 53 HMD and AR patents, IBM has 41 and Canon has 58. Apple, Samsung, LG, Sony, Nokia and Panasonic also have small numbers of U.S. patents in the space.

Envision found that these older patent portfolios deal with general aspects of HMD involving hardware and digital processing technology — things like lenses and optical hardware.

Google’s patents are more focused on usability, input and Internet integration, Envision said.

Envision picked out two Google patents that it thought stood out from the rest: 8,235,529 covers unlocking a screen using eye tracking, and 8,184,070, which describes methods for selecting based on an accelerometer. Both of these seem to significantly improve on the existing patented technologies in the space, Envision said.

Still, it should be said that like all patent analysis, this is based on an outdated view of the world. That’s because U.S. patent applications aren’t published until 18 months after they are filed.

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