Who invented the Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch has created a lot of interest since its recent announcement. It appears to comprise several different innovations, with perhaps the most important feature being that it is designed to work in close cooperation with an iPhone. This is a quite a change to say what many people had earlier imagined as a smartwatch, such as the Samsung’s 2009 phone watch. However this does provide more design options as it reduces the requirement for the watch to be all inclusive

But did Apple invent this concept? Did they, in the words of Apple CEO Tim Cook, “invent their own stuff“?

The answer to this question, as is so often the case, found in the patent literature. A search for US patents filed by Apple that refer to the word ‘watch’ brings up a few early patents that refer to compact antennas, but in April 2007 three key patents were filed.

These were all filed on the same day, and share the title Personal area network systems and devices and methods for use thereof. These patents were

These patents disclose:

Systems and methods are provided for interfacing wireless communications between two devices such that a device devoid of a relatively long-range communications protocol can access that protocol. This may be accomplished by providing a host device having relatively short-range communications circuitry integrated therein, which circuitry may be operative to communicate with relatively short-range communications circuitry of a multi-protocol or long-range communications device that also includes relatively long-range communications circuitry.

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While the patent often refers to the host device as a media player such as an iPod, there is a later reference to a watch

In other embodiments, peripheral devices may communicate with the host device or a hybrid host/long-range communications device (e.g., a phone including short range communications circuitry) using a short range communications protocol. … The peripheral device can be used to control the operation of the host or hybrid device or may be used to display information relating to a function or feature of the host or hybrid device. For example, a peripheral device may be a fashion accessory such as a watch that may display information (e.g., the name of the currently playing song or name of the person on the call) and also allow a user to control functions (e.g., playback, volume, or telephony features such as end call and accept call) of the host device

The benefit of the patent system is that it can be very easy to find related patents. In our case, Ambercite has developed AmberScope to easily navigate the patent literature. AmberScope includes a similarity filter which can quickly identify the most similar patents to a patent of interested. These can include ‘earlier’ prior art patents. An example of the use of AmberScope is shown below (click on the image to see a dynamic form inside AmberScope):

 

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In this case, we looked at all three of the above patents into AmberScope and looked at the closest prior art. For the US8364139 patent, the closest prior art turned out to be US7652660, filed in 2006 for a Mobile device customizer. Again, this does not directly refer to a smartwatch, but instead is aimed at a handheld control device for a smartphone.

A method and system for customizing a mobile host device is disclosed. An accessory device for interfacing with and customizing a mobile host device includes a communication channel designed to establish a bi-directional communication link between the accessory device and the host device

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However, further down the specification the applicant describes what is become the Apple Watch:

In yet another implementation, the auxiliary input accelerator device may be a digital wristwatch incorporating the functionality of the input accelerator device. Digital wrist watches, especially running or exercise watches, typically have a digital display and a number of buttons for tracking lap times, heart rate and other important biostatistics. They also typically have a larger surface area than typical wrist watches. These watches may readily be programmed and retrofitted with optional additional sensor arrays to be used as an input accelerator for the host device.

This patent has a priority date of October 2005, some 18 months before Apple filed their patents.

 

Who owns this patent now?

This patent has had a series of owners, but it now owned by Japanese based Aplix Corporation. Aplix have developed electronic modules that allow the likes of RC toys and coffee machines to be controlled by smartphones.

 

Does Apple need a license to this patent?

We might leave this question to others better qualified. However what this example does show is how easy it can be to find to licenscisng risks and opportunities for key patents. This is also possible for whole patent portfolios.
 

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Drilling into the patent landscape of fracking

Fracking has had an enormous impact on energy production in the US, and could potentially do the same in the rest of the world. Production of shale gas from fracking has increased ten-fold from 0.45 trillion cubic feet [12.6 billion cubic metres] in 2005 up to 7.1 tcf [200 bcm] in 2012, and this is expected to double to around 16.7 tcf [470 bcm] in 2040. 

Not surprisingly, this has been mirrored by an increase in patent filings that has matched this increase. 

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But there is more to patent analysis than simply counting patents

There is more to patents than just counting them – there is also enormous value in reviewing them to work out the key areas of activity, key patent filings and leading patents. This is the reason why Ambercite developed Network Patent Analysis (NPA). Using NPA, Ambercite is proud to release its latest white paper highlighting the leading areas of developments, owners and patents in the areas of fracking. This was based on a review of 2360 patent families, which grew to almost 100,000 patents by the time we considered citationally connected patents. NPA was then used to identify the leading 965 patents in this industry.

The results can be summarised in the likes of the network patent maps such as shown below, which shows the leading companies in the area of fracking – with these companies includes the likes Halliburton, Schlumberger, Shell, Exxon Mobil and similar large oil companies.

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We even take a detour in one of the more interesting patents we have seen to date, covering the use of nuclear bombs in fracking. To incredible to be true? Not at all, the technology was actually trialled several times

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More seriously, the patent data shows an unusual concentration in a few areas of development and few owners compared to some patent areas we are looking at. Overall this suggests an industry yet to mature – which may not be that surprising considering that it was only in 2002 that a company by the name of Devon Energy combined ‘slickwater hydraulic fracturing’ with the already established technology of horizontal drilling to create  the modern version of fracking

“That was the ‘aha’ moment. At that point, it was this worldwide breakthrough,”

Want to read more? Check out our white paper and accompanying patent landscape maps at our white papers page – and while you are there, check out other acclaimed white papers on Alzheimer’s treatments, smartphones and hybrid cars.

 

1 December 2014 update – effect of Halliburton acquisiton of Baker Hughes

At almost exactly the same time as this blog was published, Halliburton changed things completely with their announced acquisition of Baker Hughes. And what effect did this have?

Around about a 60% improvement in their fracking patent position – read more here (or click the part image below).

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Interested in a Network Patent Analysis patent landscape map on your own area of technology?

Client engagements to date include multiple studies in the likes of ICT, medical technology, engineering, genomics and more. Pricing starts from US$10k, which we think represents excellent value for a patent landscape map which both group and ranks patent at the same time. Further details on getting started are found here – please contact us for more information.

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