For the half-year to 31 December 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Rebecca Gulbul, Lucas Michels and Marie-Andrée Weiss.

Regular round-ups of the previous week's blogposts are kindly compiled by Alberto Bellan.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Watching the watchers: the benefits of IP scrutiny

"Quis custodiet ipsos customers?" asks Katfriend and occasional contributor Sean Gilday (Page Hargrave, Bristol), betraying at once both his ingenuity and the fact that he is not a Latin speaker from birth. Sean's thesis, here, is that the monitoring of IP developments by certain species of enthusiasts is itself worth monitoring.  As he explains:

To prospective entrepreneurs, this is the terrifying
image of the Dragon's Den. To Kats, this is the
welcome sight of comfy chairs, recently vacated
 
It might be argued that intellectual property has entered the mainstream of public consciousness over the past decade. Thanks in part to popular TV shows such as Dragon’s Den (in which prospective entrepreneurs are often quizzed over the IP rights they hold in respect of their new business idea), and the high profile ‘Patent Wars’ between Apple and Samsung, which have been covered extensively in the news, intellectual property has moved from an esoteric area of law in the 20th century to take centre-stage in the 21st. As a result, the general public is taking more of an interest in IP matters. For most businesses, this greater awareness means that it might no longer be merely competitors who are scrutinising their IP portfolio, but customers too.

An area of particular interest to me personally is that of video games. As a group, video game enthusiasts (and particularly the so-called ‘hardcore’ fans) tend to be technologically well-versed, and voracious in their consumption of news regarding the latest systems and games. In a way then, it is no surprise that this group of consumers has started taking an interest in hardware and software companies’ IP in order to get an insight into what’s around the corner in terms of upcoming releases and future business strategies.

For example, fans of the Sega game series ‘Shenmue’, who have been patiently waiting for over a decade for a new installment, recently learned that it may be time to give up on their hopes for a Shenmue III as Sega’s trade mark was cancelled in the US on the grounds of non-use. In contrast the much anticipated follow-up to ‘Fallout 3’ was tantalisingly hinted at when an application for a ‘Fallout 4’ trade mark appeared on the OHIM website back in November. Although the mark was not ultimately registered (an apparent hoax), gaming discussion forums across the internet exploded with speculation.

In addition to trade marks, patents are also keenly monitored by enthusiasts. Before the revelation of Microsoft and Sony’s new consoles, released toward the end of last year, there was much discussion about the potential set-ups of both. Would they be disk-less? Include restrictive DRM? A mandatory internet connection?

One patent in particular became infamous: Sony’s granted patent US8246454, benignly titled “System for converting television commercials into interactive networked video games”, but more colloquially referred to as “Say ‘McDonalds’ to end commercial” (Fig. 9, below, sums it up quite well). This patent stirred up quite a large backlash of ill will against Sony in the run up to their 2013 E3 reveal, although it does not appear to have ever been seriously planned for inclusion in the Playstation 4. Gamers learned the valuable lesson that not everything applied for in a patent application, or even granted in a patent, is necessarily intended for use by the patentee.

So in the brave new world of IP awareness, businesses too should be aware that potential customers are taking a greater interest than ever in corporate IP activities. When patents and trade mark applications are published, speculation tends to run rampant in the absence of official confirmation/denial. Consequently, it might be worth watching the watchers ...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

But who is watching those watching the watchers...?

Anonymous said...

"TV shows such as Dragon’s Den (in which prospective entrepreneurs are often quizzed over the IP rights they hold in respect of their new business idea)"

And were often answered "Yes, I hold a world patent", without anybody ever challenging that surprising declaration...

Anonymous said...

Some of the Dragon's at least seem aware that the claims are "the important bit" of a patent.

Roufousse T. Fairfly said...

Gamers learned the valuable lesson that not everything applied for in a patent application, or even granted in a patent, is necessarily intended for use by the patentee.

Corollary: the patentee is therefore a non-practicing entity, literally. :-)

"TV shows such as Dragon’s Den (in which prospective entrepreneurs are often quizzed over the IP rights they hold in respect of their new business idea)"

What use are IP rights if you can't critically appraise what's before you?

Friends asked me a while back my opinion on a certain contraption endorsed by the Canadian English-language edition of this rather mediocre show.

The "judges" endowed a patently nonsensical device for alledgedly reducing electrical consumption with a 6-figure prize.

From their minimalist web page:

Its proprietary energy saving technology significantly increases the efficiency of a wide range of electric motor driven devices including fans, blowers, pumps, compressors and household appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, and AC units. Device specific, cost effective circuits are being developed that will provide real power consumption decreases of many electrical products by 15% or more with no adverse effects on the form, fit or function of the product.

Only 15%? If you put two in series, couldn't you get 30%?

The promoters fortunately (?) filed two patent families, providing hints of what the hoopla is all about.

In a nutshell: both applications are a load of trite sciency-sounding material.

Strictly speaking, the device can "save" energy in the same way a light-dimmer will. But it can not, repeat not, provide more energy than you put in...

Interestingly, all references to the award winner disappeared from the CBC web site.

Anonymous said...

Apparently a fair few of the Dragon's den awards are never provided once the figures/IP protection are checked against the claims made in the pitch.

The investment shown on the programme is only provided if all that checks out.

Sometimes it doesn't.

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