John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

New Motion Control Patent Could Shake Up Smartphone Industry

Here’s a potentially noteworthy development in the patent litigation-riddled mobile device market. Last week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a very broad patent on motion-based smartphone control, one that could have significant implications for the industry.

The patent is #7,679,604, “Method and apparatus for controlling a computer system,” and it describes motion control as a means of interacting with smartphones and the like.

The invention, the patent’s authors explain, “facilitates an intuitive motion control of the application by physically manipulating the electronic device…it enables a user to intuitively control the state and/or displayed content of a computing device without the conventional need of pressing button(s), or manipulating a trackpad, trackball, etc. In this regard, the motion control agent represents a new paradigm in user control of computing systems.”

Sounds quite a bit like the motion control you find today in Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone, doesn’t it? Or in Palm’s (PALM) Pre. Or Google’s (GOOG) Nexus One (ironically, one of the inventors to which the patent is credited is a Google engineer). Or Motorola’s (MOT) Droid. Or Nokia’s (NOK) 5800.

Which is interesting, because none of those companies owns patent #7,679,604. It belongs to Durham Logistics, a Las Vegas limited liability company about which I can find little information.

When I contacted the Nevada Secretary of State’s office about Durham Logistics, it referred me to CSC Services of Nevada, the company that did the paperwork on Durham’s LLC status. CSC Services Of Nevada refused to provide any information. Ygomi, the company that now owns ArrayComm, the software outfit to which the patent was first assigned, doesn’t know much about it either. The law firm listed on Durham Logistics’ patent assignment hasn’t responded to my inquiries. Nor has ArrayComm founder Marty Cooper, who might be able to shed a bit of light on the transfer of the patent to Durham.

Finally, the lead inventor to which the patent is credited declined to comment on the record.

Is Durham Logistics a legitimate company? Is it an IP holding company for another entity? A patent troll? Who knows? But, it’s sitting on this patent.

Now, I’m no expert on intellectual property, but it’s worrisome to me that a patent as broad as this exists at all, let alone that it’s in the hands of some mysterious Vegas LLC we know nothing about. After all, patent #7,679,604 seems to apply not just to any smartphone with an accelerometer, but to any device that uses any method of measuring motion as a means of control. As one patent attorney told me, “It’s obscenely broad.” And it’s old enough to predate many of the motion-sensing smartphones currently on the market.

Though issued just last week, the patent was filed in July 2006. And it was preceded by a nearly identical patent granted in 2004 after a 2001 application.

The first smartphones to feature built-in accelerometers–among them, the Sony Ericsson W910i and the iPhone–didn’t begin arriving at market until 2007-2008, right around the time the companies building them began filing motion-interface patents of their own.

For example, at least two major motion-related Apple patent applications–“Movement-based interfaces for personal media device” and “Varying User Interface Element Based on Movement”–weren’t filed until October 2007.

Which means that Durham Logistics could be sitting on a powder keg of a patent, one that, if allowed to stand, extends to a technology that has been widely built into today’s smartphones–the one sitting on my desk and perhaps yours as well.

Question is, will the company assert it? And if it does, is there prior art that would render its claims anticipated?



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