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Patent trolls gather huge attention either because of the number of lawsuits they launch or probably because of the number of high-profile companies that these patent troll target upon. Either way, patent trolls always manage to garner much publicity.

One such livid instance is of Sportbrain – a company that was virtually out of business at one time which has now emerged as an NPE and managed to sue over 100 companies by laying claims to a broad software patent, US patent no. 7,454,002, titled ‘Integrating personal data capturing functionality into a portable computing device and a wireless communication device.’

The patent relates to integration of personal data capturing functionality into a wireless communication device for analyzing and supplying feedback information to a user. The personal data is captured using a wireless communication device and is periodically transmitted to a network server for comparison of personal data for said user with personal data for at least one other different user and posting the feedback information to a web site that is accessible to said user.

Sportbrain has been filing lawsuits against many high profile companies that own range of ‘wearable’ devices and software products that gather user fitness information. Adidas, Fitbit, Nike, Apple, Samsung, HP and Microsoft have all fallen prey to these lawsuits. It has also sued watchmaking companies such as Timex, Tag Heuer, Nixon and Swatch, to name a few.

A petition for inter partes review (IPR) against all claims 1-16 of the ‘002 patent was filed last year by Unified Patents, a defense-oriented patent company that calls itself as ‘The Anti-Troll.’ It was part of Unified’s campaign to challenge the “three most prolific patent trolls” of 2016 – Sportbrain being one of them. Together, these three NPEs sued more than 200 companies in 2016, accounting for almost 15% of patent cases filed against high-tech companies.

Recently, the Patent Office has decided to institute an investigation over all 16 of the claims in the ‘002 patent. News says that the Patent Office is already aware of two earlier patents that ‘collectively’ teach “collecting, storing, and compiling performance data at a web server.”

But what if, there exists a single prior art document that disclosed each and every element of the ‘002 patent – wouldn’t that have been even better!?

Since we love to challenge our limits at IDS-IP, we got into action and soon found exactly what we were looking for! We were able to identify multiple prior art references that reveals all the limitations of the ‘002 patent! One of the prior art identified discloses a system that transfers feedback data of athlete’s performance to a remote station which is further compared with performance data of one or more athletes. The outcomes of this comparison data is then displayed over an internet website.

If you want your copy of one of such prior art you may reach us at ip.support@idsil.com. You may also share your views.

We are all aware of the fact that industries such as IoT (Internet of things) & automobile are witnessing continuous transformations and are considered to be the primary trends in today’s time. IoT, among other varied applications, is used to manage and monitor electronic devices from remote places. The automobile industry is observing a continuous need for electronic components like ICs, microprocessors and sensors that work at faster speeds and have better performing capabilities.

For such applications there remains a constant requirement for sensor-enabled devices that use flash-based storage devices to store collected data. These storage devices must be very reliable with fast boost speed and shall be packed with ability to perform efficiently even during extreme conditions. The demand for NOR flash memories is expected to increase, even further, in the coming times, due to the growing demands of IoT based applications and wearables.

Intel was the first to introduce NOR flash back in 1988. NOR Flash had revolutionized a market that was then dominated by EPROM and EEPROM devices. NOR Flash could perform without the need for any external power source and was best used for code storage and execution, usually in small capacities. At one time, NOR flash was a booming industry due to their usage in feature phones.

However, as time passed, feature phones began witnessing a stagnation in their sales growth. Also with the entry of lower-capacity NAND flash memories as substitutes, market demands for NOR flash continued to shrink. Due to very less gross margins, even the Semiconductor wafer fabs declined production orders for NOR flash memories. Several major suppliers of NOR flash have plans to reduce production or gradually exit the market. Cypress, for instance, is reducing the portion of NOR Flash as the company shifts its focus towards automotive and industrial IC markets. As GigaDevice adjusts to the domestic semiconductor policies, the company is expected to supply less NOR Flash products than before.

Today, AMOLED screens need NOR flash to supplement the brightness and electric current; Full HD models demand the installation of 8Mb NOR flash, QHD models need 16Mb NOR flash. To further add to the list, NOR flash is increasingly being applied to automotive electronics and industrial control devices. As a result, due to heavy rush because of continuous demand of NOR flash within the markets, the global supply remains constrained.

The growingly tight supply of NOR flash is driving many smaller NOR suppliers in Taiwan and China to expand production capacity. Macronix International and Winbond Electronics, both Taiwan-based firms, have shown keen interest in developing, designing and producing NOR Flash products. This is evident from the fact that their sales are up from 2% in 2012 to 20%. Winbond who is a leading IC memory company in Taiwan that manufactures serial flash memories will expand its monthly capacity for NOR flash from 44,000 to 48,000 wafers at its 12-inch wafer fab in Taichung, central Taiwan by the end of 2017, and further to 53,000 wafers by the end of 2018. Market observers indicate that the global sales of NOR flash products will experience a CAGR of 15% in the next few years to reach US$4.7 billion by 2020!

It is interesting to see that companies are stepping up the production of NOR flash at commendable rates. Winbond is producing additional wafer wholly designated for NOR Flash; Powerchip plans to resume production of NOR flash memory chips to take advantage of supply crunch; China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) reportedly has also seen sharp increases in orders from GigaDevice Semiconductor (Beijing) for NOR flash products. Etron Technology Inc. now plans to focus on production of specialized DRAM products.

It is still uncertain whether these measures will be enough to overcome the extreme scarcity of NOR flash memories, or whether the NOR flash will be replaced by something else in the coming future. Yet one thing remains true for sure – competition, R&D, and IP markets are expected to witness huge boom in the NOR Flash memory chip sector. This market is full of opportunities and threats and if investigated through right kind of amalgam of machine technology and human intelligence, the threats and the challenges can be converted into profitable business ventures!

In the month of April, the Patent Industry witnessed ripples regarding how Snap Inc. had reportedly bought a Geofilter patent from photo-sharing platform Mobli for a whopping $7.7 million! The patent US20160373805, US9459778 is titled, Methods and Systems of Providing Visual Content Editing Functions. The specific nature of this patent allows for location-based filters to be created and distributed on the server side, meaning that the app itself doesn’t have to be updated every time there is a new Geo-photo filter to push.

Sources say that Snap’s decision to buy the patent was to protect itself and Snapchat from future lawsuits. And if news is to be believed, Facebook too was very much interested in buying this patent.

So this news got us thinking at IDS-IP as to why would someone shell out such a huge amount of money for this patent. Is the patent even strong enough to protect Snap from future Litigation? Will Snap be able to leverage this patent against its biggest competitor – Facebook in future times?! We were equally baffled at IDS-IP as you might be.

This patent was subject to accelerated prosecution using the Patent Prosecution Highway, thereby quickly getting through the USPTO. The patent was also subject to multiple amendments. The granted patent’s claims are the remaining claims after a Final Rejection that removed majority of the pending claims on obviousness ground. This meant that anyone who wants to challenge the validity of the patents has an easy roadmap to attack them.

So, we at IDS-IP, did exactly what we are best at – and performed a quick prior art search against the patent in question. Within a few days’ time, our searchers were able to uncover few really good references that easily suggested that ‘ using location and current event to create geofilters’ was a known technique and was publicly available much before this patent came into existence!

Please share your views. You may also reach us out at ip.support@idsil.com to have your copy of prior art!

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