Archive for category iPhone

It’s (h)IP to be Square

Square, the mobile payments startup was founded in May 2010 by Jack Dorsey and James McKelvey.  The company makes it easy for individuals and small businesses to accept credit card payments by providing a mobile app and card reader for various mobile operating systems.  Though mobile payments is a crowded space with heavyweights such as PayPal and Intuit GoPayment, The company has received funding from angel investors such as Marisa Mayer, Biz Stone and Kevin Rose and has received funding from Khosla Ventures, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins.

The key to Square’s business model is its card reader.  The company was recently in the news for inking a deal with retailers such as WalMart to sell their reader in stores for $10.  Though it has been around for a relatively short time, Square is already no stranger to IP disputes.  In fact, it appears that Square might not even own the patents on the card reader.  Square entered into litigation over the ownership and inventorship of patent No. 7,810,729, directed to the card reader, in late 2010. The ’729 patent is assigned to REM Holdings 3, Inc and currently lists Robert E. Morley Jr. as the sole inventor.  Morley, a professor, allegedly designed the card reader technology for Square based on McKelvey’s idea.  Morley wanted to assign the technology to Square in exchange for some percentage of the company, but a deal was not reached.

Thus far, it appears that there has been no resolution between Square and REM Holdings.  In fact, Square has taken the step of requesting the USPTO to perform an inter partes reexam of three REM patents.  This means that Square is currently trying to invalidate the patents to the technology on which its card reader was apparently built on.  According to PAIR, the USPTO has accepted the reexamination request and issued a Non-final office action.  This is a very interesting situation that shows how important it is for startups to have strong invention assignment agreements with cofounders, employees and contractors to make sure that all intellectual property created by those working for the company is assigned to the company.

While Square is involved in the various proceedings with REM Holding regarding the card reader patents, it has already compiled a number of other patents and patent applications.  In particular, Square owns two  U.S. Patents and several U.S. Patent Applications.  U.S. Patent Nos. 7,376,431 and 7,684,809 are both directed to location-based fraud reduction.  Interestingly, both patents are based on provisional applications filed in 2002 (at least 7 years prior to the founding of Square).  The patents list Brian J Niedermeyer as the inventor.  A number of other U.S. Published Patent Application are directed to areas such as transactions through miniaturized card readers (2011/0084139), passive identification circuitry (2011/0084147), decoding card swipe signals (2011/0084140), transactions without sharing card information (2011/0084131) and dynamic receipt generation with environmental information (2011/0087596).  It is worth noting that each of these patent applications was filed on October 13 2010, about two months prior to the lawsuit against REM Holdings begin filed and about six months after the company was founded.

Clearly, Square’s IP dealings will be worth monitoring as the company grows.  It will be interesting to see whether there will be any repercussions from Square’s failure to secure the card reader patents and if the reexam is successful.

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Can Apple Find a Friend in Glympse

Glympse, a location sharing startup, allows contacts to share their geographic location with each other for a preset period of time.  The company was started in 2008 by Microsoft alums Bryan Trussel and Steve Miller.  Th Glympse App is available for Android, iPhone, WinPhone7 and Blackberry.

With the recent release of Apple’s iOS5, Apple introduced a competitor to Glympse called Find My  Friends (announced by Apple at the iOS5 event on October 4).  Apple advertises a variety of privacy and security features built into Find My Friends,  including the ability to “choose to temporarily share your location with a group of people. It’s perfect for a weekend camping trip or a day at the amusement park. Share locations for a couple of hours — or a couple of weeks. When the trip is over, the sharing ends, too.”

As a result, Find My Friends will certainly compete with the Glympse app within the Apple App Store.  So does Glympse have any chance of surviving against competition from Apple?  Certainly, the respective product features of the apps will play a key role in the outcome.  However, both Apple and Glympse have another card up their sleeves.  PatentlyApple noted in June that Apple filed a patent application on a feature that includes a location sharing feature.  Apple’s application was filed in December 2009.

For its part, it appears that Glympse has also filed at least one U.S. Patent Application.  A published PCT Application No. WO2010009328 reveals that it is based on a provisional  application No. 61/081,313 filed on July 16, 2008.  The USPTO PAIR database reveals that a new U.S. non-provisional application No. 13/054,075 was filed based on the PCT Application on September 6, 2011 (though the files were forwarded from the International office on January 13, 2011).

The claims filed in the PCT application appear to be the same as those filed in the non-provisional, claim 1 recites (underlining added for emphasis):

1. A system, comprising,

a server, and

a source client executable on a first electronic device in communication with the server,

wherein the server is configured to provide to a second electronic device in communication with the server access to location data implementable by a user interface associated with the second electronic device, the location data enabling the user interface to display the geographical location of the first electronic device, the access to the location data being accessible to the second electronic device only during a time interval designated by a user of the first electronic device.

It will be interesting to see whether the timer feature underlined above is sufficient to get an allowance from the USPTO and if so, whether Glympse is willing to use the patent offensively (or defensively) against Apple.  However, it is clear that Glympse is positioning itself to defend its turf in the location sharing space.  If necessary, Glympse may also look to further define the “time interval” feature based on the functionality of the Find My Friends app.

In addition to the patent application, Glympse has also filed several Trademark applications. One such trademark is for the character marks “Share Your Where” and “Glympse.”

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Is Apple SIRI-ous about IP?

Siri can no longer be considered a startup since it is now part of Apple.  However, not long ago, Siri was one of the most exciting young companies participating in the Apple app store.  By now, everyone is eagerly anticipating Apple’s new Siri personal assistant in the and about to be released iPhone 4s.  It is being said that the Siri voice recognition technology is far ahead of its competition.  So it seems like the competitors have some catching up to do.  After reading about Apple’s history with Siri, I became curious what kind of IP protection has been built around the product.  However, identifying patents relating to Siri proved challenging.

Siri was founded in December 2007 by Dag Kittlaus (CEO), Adam Cheyer (VP Engineering), and Tom Gruber (CTO/VP Design), together with Norman Winarsky from SRI International’s venture group.  It was a spin-out from the SRI International Artificial Intelligence Center, and is an offshoot of the DARPA-funded CALO project, described as perhaps the largest artificial-intelligence project ever launched.  The company was acquired by Apple on April 28, 2010.

Apple’s Siri IP

A search of the USPTO assignment database revealed that there are no patents or patent applications with Siri, Inc listed as an assignor or assignee.  However, an inventor search for the Siri co-founders reveals a number of patents and patent applications.   Of these, only one has been assigned to Apple to date, U.S. Patent Application 2007/0100790 (“the ’790 application”).  The application was assigned from SRI International directly to Apple, Inc on August 25, 2010.  It is interesting to note that Siri, Inc apparently was never assigned this application prior to its acquisition by Apple.

The ’790 application originally claimed a method of “building an automated assistant.”  However, there have been several rounds of back and forth with the USPTO, forcing Apple to narrow the claims.   Apple filed a request for continued examination (“RCE”) in September of 2011, so it is possible that under the new rules for RCEs the Examiner will not pick up this application again for as much as a year.

A PCT International application relating to the Siri technology was recently noted by (If you are interested in the technical implementation of Siri, I recommend taking a look at Unwired’s post).  This International application revealed a second unpublished U.S. Application No. 12/987,982 (“the ’982 application”), which appears to be assigned to Apple, but has not yet been examined.  In the International application Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer and Tom Gruber, among others, are listed as inventors.  It is interesting to note that the PCT application claims priority to the ’982 application, as well as a provisional application filed in January 2010.  Thus, the earliest known application directly related to the Siri technology was filed just 4 months prior to Apple’s acquisition.

Since the ’982 application is unpublished in the U.S., we do not know for sure what the claims are directed to.  However, the International application likely has claims that are very similar to those pending in the U.S. counterpart and claims:

An automated assistant operating on a computing device, the assistant comprising:

an input device, for receiving user input;

a language interpreter component, for interpreting the received user input to derive a representation of user intent;

a dialog flow processor component, for identifying at least one domain, at least one task, and at least one parameter for the task, based at least in part on the derived representation of user intent;

a services orchestration component, for calling at least one service for performing the identified task;

an output processor component, for rendering output based on data received from the at least one called service, and further based at least in part on a current output mode; and

an output device, for outputting the rendered output.

This claim appears to be directed to a very basic, high level, description of the overall Siri personal assistant software.  The claim requires an input device and an output device (the iPhone’s microphone, speaker and display).  Upon further review (Thanks, Ali H), it appears that the language interpreter component is in fact on the iPhone device (and not the text-to-speech component, as I first believed).  According to the specification, the language interpreter component received the speech-to-text output processed by Nuance and determines a parse result.

Other relevant IP

Also of note is that both Adam Cheyer and Norman Winarsky were clearly working on predecessors to what became Siri while at SRI International.  Several patents and patent applications related to  voice input technology with either Cheyer or Winarsky as inventors are currently assigned to SRI.  These patents and applications are listed below.  However, I do not know whether Apple has licenses to any of these assets.

Relevant Patent Applications with Adam Cheyer as inventor:


Relevant Patents with Adam Cheyer as inventor:

1 6,757,718 Mobile navigation of network-based electronic information using spoken input
2 6,523,061 System, method, and article of manufacture for agent-based navigation in a speech-based data navigation system
3 6,513,063 Accessing network-based electronic information through scripted online interfaces using spoken input

Relevant Patents with Norman Winarsky as inventor:

1 7,844,254 Method and apparatus for collaboration and media access using mobile communications devices

Also of note

If you are interested in patents and the iPhone, PatentlyApple has an interesting blog post looking at Apple’s camera patents that have been implemented in the iPhone 4s.

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