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You can’t get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant

“Alice’s Restaurant” is a light-hearted, 18-minute-long, anti-war folk song from the 1960s by Arlo Guthrie that has been played on AM and FM radio during each Thanksgiving holiday over the past 40+ years.  The chorus includes the repeated line: “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.”

Well, this Thanksgiving season, the Federal Circuit has issued a decision in Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu LLC, which applies the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l to a computer-based method and reaffirms that when it comes to patenting computer-based subject matter, you can’t get anything you want [at Alice’s Restaurant].

In Alice, the Supreme Court ruled that a computer-based method of exchanging financial obligations between two parties to mitigate risk of non-performance by one of the parties was ineligible for patenting.  Using a two-part test for patentable subject matter, the Court in Alice found that (i) the claimed method was directed to the abstract idea of “use of a third party to mitigate settlement risk,” and (ii) by merely using generic computer implementation to apply this abstract idea, the claims did not include anything that transformed the patent-ineligible abstract idea into something that is patent-eligible.  The rationale for not allowing patents on abstract ideas (as well as on laws of nature or natural phenomena) is to avoid pre-emption, where the patent would effectively pre-empt or grant a monopoly over the abstract idea, which would impede innovation.

While the subject matter at issue in Alice was a so-called business method, the two-part test for eligible subject matter is applicable to all computer-implemented inventions.  The Alice decision does not describe exactly what is an abstract idea (“We need not labor to delimit the precise contours of the ‘abstract idea’ category”) and only gives limited guidance on what is the “something more” that transmutes abstract ideas into patent-eligible gold.

Thus, it falls to the lower federal courts (the Federal Circuit and the district courts) to develop case law that elucidates these concepts by applying them to other situations.  In initial subsequent rulings, defendants accused of infringement of computer-based patents have been generally successful in using the Alice two-part test to invalidate the patents they are accused of infringing for being patent-ineligible.  Patent applicants and their attorneys see the strong efficacy in such arguments and are hungry for any guidance for navigating their way through the Alice two-part test to improve the likelihood that their computer-based technology is found to be patent-eligible.

In its recent Ultramercial ruling issued earlier this month, the Federal Circuit applied the Alice patent eligibility test to claims directed to a computer-based method for distributing copyrighted material over the Internet to consumers who, in exchange for watching an advertisement, are given access to the copyrighted content.  In finding that the claims are ineligible for patenting, the Ultramercial court provided some additional data points on how the Alice test is to be applied.

Computer-based claims will likely be deemed to be directed to an abstract idea

With regard to the first prong of the Alice test, the Ultramercial court agreed with the lower court that the claims are directed to an abstract idea, namely, the use of “advertisement as an exchange or currency.”  The court stated that while the claims at issue included some features “such as ‘consulting an activity log’ [that] add a degree of particularity,” “the concept embodied by the majority of the limitations describes only the abstract idea of showing an advertisement before delivering free content,” even though these features may be novel or non-routine.  In other words, while the claims were narrower than the broad abstract idea (thereby avoiding total pre-emption of the abstract idea), these features were insufficient to avoid the claims being deemed to be directed to the abstract idea.

As a practical matter, when it comes to certain computer-implemented methods (e.g., in applications such as financial services or organizing human activities), it’s relatively easy to characterize many of the steps as describing an abstract idea.  Such methods are generally performed by conventional, generic computers, perhaps utilizing the ubiquitous Internet (as in Ultramercial), and such features have been insufficient to avoid the fate of being an abstract idea.  Claims that can be characterized as improving a technological process (e.g., improving the operation of the computer system itself) will have the best likelihood of patent eligibility, so to the extent possible, claims should be drafted with this goal in mind and existing claims should be argued to be so directed.  However, in some fields, this will be difficult to do, so such computer-based claims are likely to be found to be directed to an abstract idea.

Patent eligibility will depend on whether the claims include a transmogrifying “something more”

The battle of patent eligibility will more often be waged on the field of whether the claims recite “something more” that transforms the abstract idea to something that is patent-eligiible, the second prong of the Alice test.

Under this second prong, the Ultramercial court looked to whether the claims do “significantly more than simply describe the abstract method” by evaluating “whether the claims contain an ‘inventive concept’ to ‘transform’ the claimed abstract idea into patent-eligible subject matter.” Looking to the rationale of avoiding pre-emption of the abstract idea by the claims at issue, the court explains that to be patent-eligible, a claim that recites an abstract idea must include additional features to avoid monopolization of the abstract idea, but these additional features have to be more than “well-understood, routine, conventional activity.”

Here the court concluded that the claims did not include such additional features to provide the transformation into patent-eligible subject matter.  The court again pointed out that “[t]he majority of [the] steps comprise the abstract concept of offering media content in exchange for viewing an advertisement.”  The other steps, such as updating an activity log, were dismissed as being merely routine, conventional, specified at a high level of generality, or insignificant data-gathering steps.

Notably, the court acknowledged that some of the claimed steps had not previously been employed in the field of distributing copyright material over the Internet, but stated that this “was not enough—standing alone—to confer patent eligibility.”  Thus, the court characterized these steps as being routine, whether or not they had previously been used in the relevant field.  Apparently, determining whether there is “something more” does not ride on the novelty of the various steps.

Instead, the court focused on the technological nature of these steps, which included citing the “machine-or-transformation” test as providing a “useful clue” regarding the “something more.”  Under this test, a method claim is eligible for patenting if (i) it is implemented by a particular machine in a non-conventional or non-trivial manner, or (ii) it transforms an article from one state to another.  For a number of years, this “machine-or-transformation” test had been relied upon by the Federal Circuit as the definitive measure of whether a claim was patent-eligible or not, until the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bilski in 2008 held that the test was not the sole test of patent eligibility.  Applying this test to the claims in Ultramercial, the Federal Circuit held that the claims were not tied to a particular novel machine (generic computers and the Internet were not sufficient) and that the claims did not transform any article to a different state or thing.  Therefore, the court held that the claims failed the “machine-or-transformation” test, providing a further reason for finding a lack of “something more.”

It’s likely that the “machine-or-transformation” analysis will continue to be used as a substantive indication of patent eligibility.  While the Ultramercial court characterized its use of the “machine-or-transformation” test as merely a clue towards patent eligibility, as will future courts to avoid running afoul of Bilski, litigants and patent applicants should expect that the test will continue to be used by courts and the USPTO as strong evidence of patent eligibility or ineligibility.

You can’t always get what you want.  But if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.

The ramifications of the Alice decision are still being fleshed out by the federal courts and the USPTO, with the Ultramercial decision being the latest data point from the Federal Circuit.  The best likelihood for patent eligibility of computer-implemented methods going to claims that have technological features that can be characterized as being transformative of the underlying abstract ideas to concrete, tangible inventions.  Referring to another 1960s song, by narrowing the scope of such claims by strategically including such technological features, patent applicants may find that while they can’t get anything they want, “[they] can get what [they] need.”

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2014 in patent law

 

Patents of the 2014 Nobel Laureates in Physics

The United Nations has deemed the coming year to be the “International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies” in an effort to raise global awareness about the role optical technologies play in the development of society and providing solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health.   It is therefore fitting that the recently-announced 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three inventors of the blue light-emitting diode (LED): Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura.  As described by the Royal Society of Sweden, these three Nobel Laureates “are rewarded for having invented a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source” which can be used in combination with red and green LEDs to produce white light lamps that are long-lasting and energy-efficient.

Each of these researchers has been a prolific inventor.  To date, Prof. Nakamura is listed as an inventor or co-inventor on 171 U.S. patents, and Profs. Akasaki and Amano are listed on 53 and 65 U.S. patents, respectively, with 35 of these patents listing both of them.

I thought it would be interesting to look at a couple of their earliest patents dealing with the GaN-based semiconductor devices that are the basis for their Nobel-winning work on blue LEDs.

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U.S. Pat. No. 5,122,845, issued in 1992, is the first U.S. patent that included both Profs. Akasaki and Amano (along with others) as co-inventors.  The patent describes a sapphire wafer and an AlN buffer layer formed on the sapphire surface, which can serve as a substrate for subsequent growth of a high-quality, single crystalline layer of AlxGa1-xN with sufficiently few defects to be used in a blue LED.

I found it interesting that the patent not only explicitly covers the resulting blue LED structure of the (sapphire wafer) + (AlN buffer layer) + (light-emitting AlxGa1-xN layer), but also covers the intermediate structure of (sapphire wafer) + (AlN buffer layer) that exists before the light-emitting layer is deposited.  This patent is a good example of strategic claiming by focusing at least some of the claims on intermediate structures that include the inventive concept.  The underlying discovery in this case seems to be how to form a buffer layer that facilitates growth of a light-emitting layer with desirable morphology.  Since it is conceivable that the intermediate structure might be fabricated and sold to other entities to grow their own desired subsequent layers, having claims directed to the intermediate structure provides protection for this potential revenue stream.

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In 1996, while working for Nichia Corp, Prof. Nakamura was awarded U.S. Pat. No. 5,578,839 for a GaN-based double heterostructure device that included a light-emitting, impurity-doped layer of InxGa1-xN sandwiched between an n-type GaN clad layer and a p-type GaN clad layer, all grown using metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) on an undoped buffer layer on a sapphire substrate (e.g., the intermediate structure of the Akasaki and Amano patent described above).  The wavelength emitted by the InxGa1-xN is dependent on the level of doping, with x = 0.14-0.15 yielding blue light.

For his pioneering work on blue LEDs and blue semiconductor lasers, which resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in sales for Nichia, Prof. Nakamura received only nominal compensation, which was the standard at the time in Japanese companies.  For example, for one patent he received a paltry $180 from the company.  In 2001, Prof. Nakamura sued Nichia in Tokyo District Court and in 2004, the court awarded him $180 million, stating that “the invention was a totally rare example of a world-class invention achieved by the inventor’s individual ability and unique ideas in a poor research environment at a small company.”  The ruling helped pave the way for more adequate compensation to corporate innovators in Japan.  After Nichia appealed the decision, the case was settled in 2005 with Nichia paying Prof. Nakamura $8.1 million.  Prof. Nakamura is now a tenured professor at University of California at Santa Barbara.

 

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Patenting Hi-Tech Software: Do More Than Manipulate Information

Recently, the Federal Circuit ruled on a software patent case that illustrates an application of last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Alice v. CLS Bank on the patent eligibility of software in high-tech industries outside the financial services sector, including optics and photonics.    us5970479_fig1

The decision in Alice was acutely anticipated in the high-tech community because of its potential effect on the ability to patent software.  While the patents at issue were directed specifically to methods of using computers to carry out settlement risk mitigation in financial transactions and the computers so used, the broad question presented by the patentee Alice Corp. was whether computer-implemented inventions (e.g., software and computers running the software) in general are patentable subject matter under U.S. law.

While the Court did not directly address this broad question, the Court’s unanimous decision explained that to be eligible for patenting, such inventions had to be more than just an abstract idea or a generic computer applying the abstract idea.  The Court laid out a two-step test for a court to evaluate whether an invention is eligible for patenting.  This test was first enunciated by the Court in Mayo v. Prometheus, a 2012 case which found that a particular method of optimizing therapeutic efficacy of a drug was not eligible for patenting since it was merely an application of a law of nature using conventional steps.  Under this test, a court must first determine whether the patent claims are directed to a patent-ineligible concept (e.g., an abstract idea, a natural phenomenon, or a law of nature).  If so, the court must then determine whether the elements of the patent claims, considered both individually and as an ordered combination, transform the nature of the claim into something that is patent-eligible.

The Court applied this test to the patents at issue, and found that (i) the claims were directed to the abstract idea of “intermediated settlement,” which the Court said was “a fundamental economic practice long prevalent in our system of commerce” and (ii) the claims merely applied this abstract idea using a generic computer, and such conventional application did not transform the nature of the claims.  As a result, the patents were ruled invalid for being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.

The claims in Alice were directed to the financial services industry, but those of us involved with high-tech industries cannot take solace in this fact to think that our software inventions are not subject to this test as well.  To illustrate, a recent Federal Circuit’s application of the two-part test of Alice and Mayo shows how we can expect it to be applied to all types of computer-implemented inventions.

us6128415_fig1In Digitech Image Tech. v. Electronics for Imaging, Inc. (EFI), the patent being asserted was originally issued to Polaroid Corp. in 2000 and after Polaroid’s bankruptcy in 2001 subsequently ended up in the hands of Digitech, a subsidiary of the non-practicing entity Acacia Research Corp.  In this case, Digitech was asserting the patent against EFI as well as EFI’s customers and various on-line retailers.  The claims of the patent were directed to “a device profile” which can be used to characterize and correct for distortions of an image’s color and spatial properties introduced by components of a digital image reproduction system, and a method of generating such a device profile.  Digitech was appealing the decision by the district court that all the claims were invalid for being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.

us6128415_claim1

The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that the “device profile” was merely information in the form of “a collection of numerical data that lacks a physical component or physical manifestation.” For example, as shown on the right, Claim 1 recites that the device profile comprises “first data” regarding the color information of the image and “second data” regarding the spatial information of the image.  Since the claims were directed to information in its non-tangible form, these claims were deemed invalid for not falling within the categories of patent-eligible subject matter under U.S. law (a “process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter”).

us6128415_claim10

With regard to the claims to the method of generating the device profile, the Federal Circuit applied the two-part test of Alice and Mayo and affirmed the district court here as well.  First, the court found that the method claims were directed to an abstract idea because they described “a process of organizing information through mathematical correlations and [are] not tied to a specific structure or machine.”  For example, as shown on the right, Claim 10 recites that the process comprises taking two data sets and combining them into a single data set, namely the device profile.  Therefore, the claim recites “an ineligible abstract process of gathering and combining data that does not require input from a physical device.”  The court then found that the method claims did not include anything further that would transform the nature of the claims into something that is patent-eligible.  For example, the court held that there was nothing in the claims that expressly tied the method to an image processor.  While the preamble of the claim mentions that the device profile can be used with a digital image reproduction system, the court found that this was merely an intended use of the device profile that did not limit the scope of the claim.  Therefore, the method claims recite “a process that merely employs mathematical algorithms to manipulate existing information to generate additional information” which is an abstract idea that is not patent-eligible.

As illustrated by the Digitech case, applicants and patentees in high-tech industries outside the financial services industry should make sure that their method claims are able to traverse the two-part test for patent-eligible subject matter.  Both the Alice ruling and the Digitech ruling confirm that merely reciting an abstract idea does not doom a claim to patent ineligibility.  However, such method claims must be more than the conventional application of the abstract idea.

To be considered patent eligible, a claim to a computer-implemented process should recite more than merely “a process that employs mathematical algorithms to manipulate existing information to generate additional information.”  Even if such information or data represent physical parameters or variables, or even if such a manipulation of data had never been done before, it is possible that the claim would be deemed patent-ineligible for being directed to “a process of organizing information through mathematical correlations [that] is not tied to a specific structure or machine,” as in Digitech.

For example, explicitly reciting the acquisition of input data from the physical world (e.g., measuring a parameter using a sensor) may be helpful to tie the process to a specific structure or machine and to transform the nature of the computer-implemented process into “something that is patent-eligible.”  This is especially true if such measurements are not made conventionally.  As another example, explicitly using the resultant data in making a determination or in controlling a mechanism may also provide the additional elements that transform the nature of the claim from the abstract realm into the patent-eligible physical realm.  Such use can be an improvement to the physical system being utilized, including the functioning of the computer itself.  However, such recited use should be more than merely applying the resultant data on a computer, particularly if the process can be performed by a generic computer.

 

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Google’s glucose-sensing contact lenses: An informative case study in protecting innovation

Hand holding - zoomed inGoogle recently announced on its blog that its “Google-X” laboratory is testing a prototype “smart” contact lens that includes a miniaturized electronic sensor designed to measure glucose level in the wearer’s tears.  I thought it’d be interesting to review the relevant patents to see how the company has protected its interest in this innovation.  What I found was an instructive example of how to protect innovations that have been developed over the course of years.  The following discussion lists five lessons from Google’s example that can be emulated by start-ups as well as more mature companies. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in medical, mems, patent law, vision

 

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Hollow-core waveguide for high power lasers; Raydiance’s U.S. Pat. No. 8,554,037

Raydiance Inc. of Petaluma, CA received U.S. Patent No. 8,554,037 on October 8, 2013 for a hybrid waveguide with a hollow core having outer solid-web regions that are filled with gas to provide specific light transport characteristics for transmitting ultra-short, high-power laser pulses.

US8554037_fig5     US8554037_claim1

According to the ‘037 patent, conventional solid core and cladding waveguides are not suitable for transporting high-energy and ultra-short pulse width laser beams (e.g., greater than 0.1 joule per square centimeter, shorter than 10 picoseconds) due to light-induced distortions and damage to the waveguide.  While a hollow core waveguide can be less sensitive to such powerful laser beams, conventional hollow core waveguides (e.g., Bragg fibers and photonic bandgap fibers) require particular materials and fabrication techniques, and have stringent dimensional constraints.  The ‘037 patent discloses a hybrid waveguide having a multiple-region hollow core with a gas-filled center region and multiple gas-filled outer regions within a surrounding solid web material.  The gas species, pressures, and geometric distributions of the gases filling the center region and the outer regions are selected to tailor the refractive indices of these regions to provide the desired optical propagation.

According to the company’s website, Raydiance markets femtosecond lasers for precision micro-machining applications that can cut structures in metals, polymers, glass and other materials by laser ablation without introducing thermal damage to the remaining material.  The website also includes a few videos that show their lasers in action (one of which shows a laser machining the company logo in the head of a match without the match igniting), and a blog on laser-based precision manufacturing.

 

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Free-space optical coupling using a reflective beveled surface; Intel’s U.S. Pat. No. 8,530,818

Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, CA was awarded U.S. Patent No. 8,530,818 on September 10, 2013 for an optical coupler compatible with a wide range of optical signal wavelengths.

     US8530818_claim1     US8530818_fig4

According to the ‘818 patent, the high optical absorption of planar silicon waveguides at smaller wavelengths (e.g., 850 nm) restricts their use to longer wavelengths (e.g., 1350 nm) where the optical absorption is much less (by about 8.5 orders of magnitude).  However, to achieve high bandwidth performance at these longer wavelengths, the use of normal incidence photodetectors (NIPDs) has required small active areas and difficult-to-achieve alignment precision among the various optical components.  The ‘818 patent discloses an optical coupler that avoids using planar silicon waveguides, instead using a reflector die with an optical-quality facet that reflects optical signals propagating in free space to an underlying NIPD and alignment grooves that precisely position the reflector die relative to the NIPD.

Over the past decade, Intel’s silicon photonics research group has been working on the components needed to replace existing systems using electrical signals with high-speed optical networking systems that have the potential of providing data transmission rates greater than 1 Terabit per second.  As explained in this company video, Intel has developed an integrated silicon photonics module that achieves 100 Gigabits per second (100Gbps) by utilizing hybrid silicon lasers, modulators, waveguides, and detectors and that is fabricated using standard CMOS wafer fab techniques.  At the upcoming 2014 SPIE Photonics West conference, Intel’s Dr. Mario J. Paniccia, Intel Fellow and general manager of its Silicon Photonics Operations Organization (and co-inventor of the ‘818 patent), will be among the panelists discussing the state of “Silicon Photonics and Photonic Integrated Circuits.”

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in optical network, pic

 

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Optics for sorting spermatozoa; Sexing Technologies’ U.S. Pat. No. 8,502,976

Here’s an application of optics that I didn’t know existed: sex sorting of semen for artificial insemination. That is the motivation behind U.S. Patent No. 8,502,976 which was awarded on August 6, 2013 to Inguram LLC (dba Sexing Technologies) of Navasota, TX for its “UV Diode Laser Excitation in Flow Cytometry” invention.

                 US8502976_fig2          US8502976_claim1

The ‘976 patent describes a use of flow cytometry in which a pulsed stream of liquid containing suspended  sperm cells is irradiated by a laser beam at a wavelength chosen to cause fluorescence, e.g., by a fluorochrome dye bound to the genetic material.

According to the ‘976 patent, “[b]ecause X-chromosome bearing spermatozoa contain more DNA than Y-chromosome bearing spermatozoa, the X-chromosome bearing spermatozoa can bind a greater amount of fluorochrome than Y-chromosome bearing spermatozoa.”  Depending on the measured amount of fluorescence emitted by a droplet, the droplet can be deflected (e.g., by applying a charge on the droplet and then having the droplet fall through an electric field) into one selected container or another.  For cattle, the difference in DNA is only 3.8%, but that is enough to distinguish X-chromosome bearing cells (for producing cows) from Y-chromosome bearing cells (for producing bulls).  According to the company’s website, “[t]he sorting technique is proven to be routinely 93% gender accurate,” and the purified sperm can then be frozen for later artificial insemination.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in detector, fluorescence, laser, medical, sorting

 

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Plenoptic photography by a smartphone; Pelican Imaging’s U.S. Pat. No. 8,514,491

Pelican Imaging Corp. of Mountain View, CA was awarded U.S. Pat. No. 8,514,491 on August 20, 2013 for its “Lens Stack Array.”

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As described by the ‘491 patent, the lens stack array includes multiple optical channels spaced from one another, each channel containing an aperture, a lens, and a spectral filter, with some of the lenses having different surfaces based on the specific spectral band of light passed by the spectral filter of the optical channel. The lens stack array can be used in a plenoptic or light-field camera.  In my previous blogpost, I described how such cameras produce images that can be post-processed to achieve various effects, such as focusing on different parts of the imaged scene.

Pelican Imaging has developed a 4×4 array camera which the company touts as “a smart camera for your smartphone.”  A video shows the capabilities of such a system, for example, allowing the user to select a subject to refocus on, to have multiple focal points, and to combine images.  Pelican Imaging has grabbed the attention, and investments from Nokia, Qualcomm, and Panasonic.  Recently, the company demonstrated its technology’s capabilities in 3D imaging and video capture at the Qualcomm Uplinq™ 2013 Mobile Developers Conference.  For example, another company video shows that the technology can potentially be used with a 3D printer to create copies of a photographed subject.  According to an Engadget article, Pelican Imaging’s CEO, Chris Pickett, confirmed that the company’s camera technology is scheduled to be included in at least one new smartphone in 2014.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in imaging, plenoptic

 

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Patenting Movie Magic: Pixar’s “Super Light-Field Lens”

Pixar Animation Studios of Emeryville, CA was awarded U.S. Pat. No. 8,502,909 on August 6, 2013 for a “Super Light-Field Lens.”  The claimed invention is designed to be mated with a variety of conventional cameras and to produce light field data that can be used to produce 2D or 3D images, to move the camera angle, to provide depth of field adjustments by refocusing foreground and background images (together or separately), and to be used in a computer graphics rendering engine, such as Pixar’s RenderMan®.

us8502909_fig3      us8502909_claim1

A plenoptic camera (also called a light-field camera) contains an array of microlenses and the summed information from the various microlenses can be stored and later manipulated via computer (e.g., to refocus on different portions of the image).  According to the ‘909 patent, previous plenoptic imaging systems had the sensor positioned a few millimeters from the focal plane of the microlens array, and this small distance made such systems incompatible with conventional cameras.  The plenoptic imaging system recited by the ‘909 patent includes adjustable relay optics designed to collimate and focus light from the microlens array onto a sensor which can be 30 mm or more from the microlens array.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2013 in imaging, plenoptic

 

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Nokero wins “Patents for Humanity” award from the USPTO

nokero_lampIn a previous blogpost, I described the “Patents for Humanity” program run by the US Patent and Trademark Office to bestow awards to patent holders that are innovating to solve humanitarian issues.  Earlier this year, the 2013 results were announced with two winners in each of five fields: (i) medicine and vaccines, (ii) medical diagnostics and devices, (iii) food and nutrition, (iv) cleantech, and (v) information technology.

One of the 2013 winners in the “cleantech” field is Nokero, a company that develops and manufactures “safe, affordable, and environmentally friendly solar-based technologies,” particularly solar-powered lights and battery chargers.  As explained by Nokero’s submission to the “Patents for Humanity” program, its products are intended to bring renewable energy to the developing world.  1.3 billion people live in third-world villages without electricity, where the combustion of kerosene, candles, and wood is widely used for lighting, creating fire hazards as well as dangerous indoor air pollution from toxic smoke and fumes.  Nokero (short for “no kerosene”) seeks to replace these open flames with solar-powered lights, and Nokero maintains a blog which provides updated information on their successes.

Each of the award winners, including Nokero, received a non-transferable “Acceleration Certificate” from the USPTO, which can be redeemed by the award winner for expedited attention by the USPTO of a patent application.  Such certificates are rarely awarded, and they can drastically shorten the time it takes to get a patent issued, potentially shaving years off the patenting process.

 

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