Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Microsoft patents obvious idea

US patents are a strange thing. We recently consulted a patent attorney about our software product modelQED to try and determine what protection if any we could obtain for some of the more unique parts of the software. The answer we got back was not the one we were looking for. We were told that there was no chance of patenting a clever mathematical idea or software process here in the UK or the rest of Europe. However we were informed that about $30k would suffice should we wish to write (and most likely obtain) a patent in the US at very low risk.

It appears that the standards are very different on both sides of the Atlantic – so much so that even Congress is now looking at reforming the system to stop “obvious” inventions being patented.

Microsoft are sure to have an entire raft of patent and they’ve added another one into the mix in the last few days (see http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220070174117%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/20070174117&RS=DN/20070174117). This application is for an ad targeting system making use of “biometric sensors, cameras, remote controls, or other accessories” to monitor who is watching a TV or other device and adjust the content accordingly. This is akin to web surfing on a PC who knows exactly who is using it at all times.

As I’ve mentioned in the past (http://marketing-works.blogspot.com/2007/06/privacy-concerns-to-hamper-measurement.html) privacy concerns will undoubtedly throw a spanner in the works should Microsoft try to come up with a system such as this. In many ways this device would be some sort of Direct Marketing nirvana if there was a return channel to allow purchase. Obviously there is if the device is online and this is the market that Microsoft, Google and even some ad agencies are going after. However I would bet that these patents will come to little in the next five years or so. Privacy issues are becoming more and more important and “big giant head” devices that communicate with big brother aren’t exactly popular. Even if they can somehow find a way to use ad dollars to subsidise such a device, will people really embrace a new advertising channel such as “sniff you first” TV?

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