The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues the week’s new patents every Tuesday. A quick check of what some big techn companies scored this week offers a telling glimpse of their varying fortunes.

This week’s patent score:

Google: 27

Microsoft: 42

Apple: 18

Facebook: 0

Let’s take a closer look at some of the hits and misses behind those numbers.

Google Channels The Jetsons

Scanning through Google’s 27 awarded patents from the USPTO, new patent U.S. 8,261,090 stands out like a science fiction invention: It allows facial recognition check in and surveillance. Depending on your outlook, there is something distinctively Jetsons-esque about this – or it’s right out of 1984.

The deceptively dry patent illustration (below) describes the system. But a closer look reveals wide-reaching implications that are sure to get attention from privacy watchdogs.

Tom Ewing, a UN World International Patent Organization (WIPO) advisor and Silicon Valley IP attorney, said, “This is technology Mr. Spacely would use to make sure George is at work. It doesn’t cover facial recognition – but its combination of facial recognition (check-in telepresence) tech and audio allows Spacely to yell, ’Jetson! You’re not at your desk.’

“According to the patent, the system doesn’t just log you in with facial recognition," Ewing said. “It is possible to run it as an always-on system that will snap a pic any time an unauthorized user attempts to use the device.

“For example, if an unauthorized user attempts to log onto and use the computing device but fails, the camera records an image of the unauthorized user and stores the image in RAM, EEPROM or traditional storage. The ‘090 [patent] even covers instant sending of automatic photos to any mobile device associated with the authorized user,” Ewing added.


The security and monitoring implications for this system are wide-ranging. Say you work at your office. Your boss would know when you’re in front of your computer. Consumer uses are equally obvious: Just your presence can wake up your enabled system. Presumably, it can wake you up, too. “Good morning, George. It’s Mr. Spacely. Get in here!”

Microsoft Owns Geo-Temporal Tracking

Like Google, most weeks Microsoft gets a big bundle of patents - and its 42 patent awards this week puts it on top of the charts.

US patent 8,260,775 is one that’s worth digging into.

Microsoft describes this innovation as a “geo-temporal searching tool” that will make life vastly easier for people trying to track you down. That means employers, the government, advertisers and, unfortunately, stalkers and angry ex spouses.

Clearly, another one for the privacy folks to track. This shot from the patent has a description below the fold that uses the historic composer J.S. Bach as an example of tracking over time and geography. It shows a select region of Europe centering in Bach’s home region of what is now Germany - and a time window from the years 1685 to 1765.

It isn’t hard to imagine all kinds of marketing scenarios that could make use of such data on real live social network users. Potential political, marketing and data aggregation uses abound.

Microsoft’s patent on geo-temporal tracking, as you can see, could conceivably show a location portion of a search interface - finding people by time and location. In the Bach example, you get search events in a visible window onscreen.

Apple Helps You Find Starbucks - Yawn

Apple, too, typically gets bundles of patents – new and assigned – every week.

This week one of its 18 newly granted patents - U.S. patent 83260320 - included a way to find Starbucks faster. Yawn.

Specifically, the Apple patented system describes a wireless access point that permits wireless communication devices, such as any mobile device, to connect to a wireless network using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other standards. The wireless access point connects to one or more other networks - relaying messages over a variety of networks and devices.

The prior art alone makes this one look almost too obvious. Searching on local businesses based on location on a mobile device hardly sounds novel. To be fair, Apple submitted to the patent office hundreds of prior art references. But this is the sort of thing the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sniffs out for its software patent killing project – redundancy of claims. Find its patent Tk project here.

Facebook Gets Bupkiss

Facebook received no patents on Tuesday. None. Zero. And that’s unusual.

Ever since its IPO in May, Facebook has been busy beefing up its offensive and defensive patent portfolio, even going for a vanity patent – the first patent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ever filed for. But this week? Nothing.