Unpeeling the Onion on the Ultimate Patent Dispute (Though You Should Probably Be Barbecuing Right Now)
First, sorry that you stumbled on this July 4 post, because you should be barbecuing on your day off. And if you are BBQing, we hope that you are at the very least reading this hands-free by wearing an HMT-1 wearable computer that is rated to operate in temperatures up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
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OK, let’s peel back the onion:
It all started with he who got the “first official patent”.
(If you’re wondering what Pot ash and Pearl ash is, it’s about the making of potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer.)
Indeed, less than two years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, George Washington himself memorialized the first patent.
Next onion layer in the greatest patent dispute of all time?
Mr. Hopkin’s patent came to be called Patent X1, not Patent #1.
Herein lies the confusion.
Why the X? The reason it is called Patent “X1” is because the first 10,000 patents were put in a storage facility while a new fire-resistant facility was being built to hold this growing pile of patent paperwork.
So, the first patent ever issued with an official patent number was actually on July 13, 1836.
Nobody really knows the exact number of patents issued prior to 1836.
(If you like patent rabbit holes as much as we do, go here.)
Let’s peel this onion back a bit more.
Fast forward more than 200 years after the first patent was purportedly issued.
President Trump proudly proclaimed the 10 millionth patent (yes, that’s a lot of patents to keep track of!). The 10 millionth patent goes to another American inventor, Joseph Marron, a Raytheon employee.
Mr. Marron said it was like winning the lottery.
(Mr. Marron is the humble gentleman to the right of President Donald Trump.)
The USPTO celebrated with this celebratory YouTube video:
Mr. Marron was an optical engineer by trade. He purportedly found a new way to get real-time readings from large laser radars, which use reflected light to measure speed and distance. Raytheon says Mr. Marron holds more than 20 patents, starting with a 1991 idea to improve upon bifocal lenses.
His employer, Raytheon, put together this illustration to explain:
“As an inventor,” Marron explained, “to be able to say I have Patent 10,000,000, that’s pretty good for the resume.”
Not to take anything away from Mr. Marron, but herein lies the technicality in this particular patent story.
According to super patent geeks like those at IP Wire, due to the aforementioned fire, the technical honor of the 10 millionth patent should actually go to US Patent 9,990,043 issued on June 5, 2018, to a team of inventors including Ryan Fink, Ryan Phelps, and Gary Peck. This patent is currently assigned to Atheer of Mountain View, California, a RealWear partner, entitled Gesture Recognition Systems and Devices For Low And No Light Conditions.
But why stop here?
Patent #9990043 was issued to the group of inventors, including dear friend of RealWear, Ryan Fink, who lives near RealWear’s HQ, in Vancouver, WA. Mr. Fink is currently the CEO of Streem.pro, which has an AR consumer app called Streem.
This is our friend, Ryan Fink:
We caught up with Ryan Fink to find out how he felt about the now-famous Mr. Marron, and also to understand how this patent came to be held by Atheer.
According to Mr. Fink, he was running a start-up called ONtheGO (OTG), a computer vision and machine learning company, when he and his team came up with the idea.
“Our system could recognize the current lighting scenario and switch to the optimal sensor based on lighting condition. For instance, if it were too sunny, that’d wash out an infrared camera, so we could switch to an RGB camera and if there was little to no light, we could switch to an infrared camera to accomplish gesture or object recognition in complete darkness.”
“Does this patent have an official name?”
“The patent office has a cooler name. We nicknamed it Switch.”
He offered this Switch video:
Still Peeling that Onion
Mr. Fink then explained how Atheer now legally owns the almost-famous patent.
As it happened, in 2015, OTG was acquired by Atheer, including the almost-famous patent #9990043.
Naturally, we ever-so-sensitively asked Mr. Fink how he felt about being “the real” 10 millionth patent holder.
“It feels awesome. I’ll be framing it for sure. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be an inventor. It’s unreal having the ten millionth patent.”
Of course, we also had to ask him what he thought of Vancouver, WA.
“I love Vancouver. I’ve lived here all but four years of my life.”
10,000,000 Patent Holder Atheer Tells All
Of course, this story wouldn’t be complete without catching up with Atheer and seeing what the company thought of all of this.
After all, they were the ‘real’ 10,000,000th patent holder.
We asked Geof Wheelwright, Atheer’s director of marketing communications, to re-explain the patent what it could be used for.
“This patent deals with using ‘gesture’ technology in low and no light conditions,” Mr. Wheelwright explained. “As a company, one of our big innovation strong suits has been in what we call “multi-model interaction” – which simply means that we allow a variety of ways for users of Augmented Reality (AR) devices to interact with them – through gestures, head motion, voice or touch. This particular patent specifically deals with detecting gesture commands when it’s dark – or nearly dark. Think about situations when you might need to use a device – such as a computer, laptop, phone, tablet or pair of smart glasses with an on-board “thermographic camera” (also known as an infrared or night vision camera) – to run an Augmented Reality application.”
And how can it be used?
“There are plenty of applications where this could be a vital capability, including search and rescue work, night-time field service and maintenance tasks and scientific research,” Mr. Wheelwright explained. “When you start thinking about using gestures to control AR devices when there isn’t a lot of light around, the number of potential use cases grows pretty quickly. We look forward to working with innovative partners such as RealWear in bringing this kind of capability to their devices.”
And how does Atheer feel about all of this?
“The name on the 10 millionth patent award is not a big issue for us,” Mr. Wheelwright explained. “While it would have been nice if the Patent Office counted all the patents issued before the current patent numbering system started in 1836 in making this award, it was wonderful to have an expert from the patent community shed light on the work of our team. We are just happy to see high-profile recognition of the idea that innovation matters, as it’s the heart of everything we do.”
Short answer? It’s no biggie, and they actually have celebration on their mind.
“To celebrate, a few virtual glasses were raised, but it will definitely be something we need to find an innovative way to celebrate. Maybe not innovative enough to patent, but seriously memorable.”
Of course, we had to ask what Atheer’s views on the U.S. patent system is.
“We are a big believer in the US patent system as a way of recognizing the hard, creative work of the country’s engineers, developers, inventors, designers and other innovators as they do great work that makes a huge difference in all of our lives. We currently have 56 issued patents and our team is hard at work on more (including a number that are already pending).”
Wrapping up, it looks like the onion has been fully peeled. Time to flip the burgers and slap on those grilled onions.
Aaron is the Head of Communications for RealWear.