Understanding Patents - All your transmission data belong to us

Hi all,

I like keeping my eye on upcoming sensing technologies and occasionally I browse patent filings to see what’s new. As you may or may not be aware, patents can sometimes be controversial, for example claiming new inventions when prior art exists or for claiming inventions that the author has not actually implemented.

Working on biofeedback technologies I’ve seen quite a few patent applications over the years that have made dubious claims, a particular common one is the ownership of every physiological signal under the sun as part of their invention even though the invention is only designed for a particular signal in mind (e.g. a relaxation game designed to use alpha-waves claims to need delta, theta, beta and gamma waves).

Today I came across a recent patent filing which I thought may be of interest to the QS community, especially hardware developers, because if I’m reading this right its a rather problematic invention. As I’m not a patent expert (I find understanding their particular brand of legalese a challenge) I also thought it would be interesting to open up a discussion on how patents should be interpreted. So if there are any experts out there in the forums I would love to hear your take on the following patent.

Patent: Identifying Physiological Parameters from Raw Data Received Wirelessly from a Sensor
URL: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2014/0221778.html

From the abstract the invention is defined as: the ability to process raw physiological data collected from a sensor on a generic processing device. So for example instead of your pedometer processing accelerometer data on the physical hardware and providing you a step count, the data is transmitted to a phone which does the processing instead.

If patents are protected based on their overviews then the time to get fired up is now. The patent’s title and overview have basically claimed the transmission of raw data over a wireless connection to a generic device is an invention worthy of protection. Ignoring the fact this is a very weak claim for an invention given both its simplicity and ease (e.g. I connected the raw output of my NeuroSky to my phone over the weekend, doesn’t that technically infringe this patent); prior art at the commercial, hobby and research level is abundant. Using external processing devices such as a phone to process sensor data is just such an obvious a thing to do for mobile sensor applications and has been implemented in a range of different formats for years (e.g. go to your nearest wireless sensor conference for examples).

If the methodology proposed in the overview is what defines a patent and thereby what is protected from infringement the implications for sensor technologies in QS are huge. Given there is a growing interest in obtaining raw output from QS devices for the application of personalised processing routines. Should this patent be accepted it would potentially block device manufacturers from providing that raw output because it may potentially be processed on another device thereby infringing the invention. Subsequently their goes the ability to validate a sensors capabilities and create new applications from the output.

However the patent also describes several implementations of this methodology, in this case involving a pulse oximeter and accelerometers. If it is only these particular implementations which are protected then the issue highlighted above is not as problematic. I still think its a weak claim for a patent as the implementation doesn’t appear to be particular novel (and I would imagine this particular setup has prior art) but its not as expansive.

So the question I have here, is what aspect of a patent claim is protected? Is it the overview, the described implementations or both, as the implications and the type of response required changes. At the very least if it was just the implementations that were protected, the title and overview really could do with being more representative of the claim.

  • K

Patents are protected based on the “claims” section (which also seems quite broad in this case).

Keep in mind that just because a patent was granted doesn’t mean it can’t be overturned, e.g. when the patent holder tries to sue someone for patent infringement. Unfortunately, companies often prefer to pay the patent holder a small “licensing” fee rather than contest the patent, even if it’s a weak patent.

If the patent system works as intended I would expect this patent to fail given the lack of originality (even at the individual claims level). I was just surprised that given the explosion in wearable sensors someone would try and make a patent case for processing raw sensor data collected over a radio. Perhaps 10-15 years ago this may of been a valid claim (with most sensors being wired), but not in 2014.

…then how do you explain this? :slight_smile: