Post #71: The weird and wonderful world of patents
What will the world look like in the future? It’s always a fun game to play, particularly when the present is so unsettling. For some light relief, we were intrigued to read recently about a handful of the most recent patent applications filed in the US. For context, over 620,000 patent applications were lodged with the US Patent & Trademark Office in 2019. However, the hit rate for approval was only 52% (in other words, 250,000+ applications were rejected – for a variety of reasons).
Lest we get too excited, just because something gets approved, this doesn’t mean that the weird and wonderful will be on our doorsteps any time soon. Many conceptions are simply speculative moonshots. More cynically, other patents get lodged in order to prevent rivals from potentially stealing a march on a possibly compelling idea. Based on recent filings though, Google wants to be your babysitter, Facebook has plans for virtual reality suits, Amazon intends to push further into drone delivery and Microsoft thinks it has cracked how to detect drowsiness (innovation in the final category is something your author would certainly benefit from!).
Begin with Google’s plans. The business bought Nest in 2014 and already has a presence in the smart home market via speakers, displays, smoke detectors, security systems, doorbells, cameras and smart locks. Next up, apparently, is a system that can sense how many people are in a room at any given time and then ‘respond’ to them by, say, remotely locking doors and/or disabling electrical sockets. Might the babysitter become a thing of the past?
In the same year that Google bought Nest, Facebook acquired Oculus. As a result, the social media group is arguably ahead of its major peers in terms of developing virtual reality (VR) products. Looking forward, its patent filings contemplate VR suits. Imagine a scenario where haptic sensors could be worn as sleeves or similar. When immersed in a virtual world, a sense of touch could then be better recreated.
With us all making more purchases online, an expansion of the drone market – for product deliveries – seems only logical. Currently, most drones land, drop the parcel and then take off again. If Amazon – the largest online retailer in the US – has its way, then future drone deliveries could be made via a winch or tether system. In other words, the drone would remain airborne while parcels were dropped down towards happy customers.
Finally, Microsoft thinks it may have a solution to combat drowsiness. Based on a recent filing, it is considering a system that could use heart rate and brain activity sensors to determine when heads start to loll. Imagine wearing a sensor that might be linked to your mobile phone. If, say, you were driving a car and start to nod off, your phone might ring or beep, hence alerting you to the need to pull over and take a break. Exciting times are ahead for sure.
Heptagon Capital is an investor in Microsoft. The author of this piece has no personal direct investment in any of these businesses. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
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