The Sony PatentMan


Sony patent takes first step towards real-life Matrix – tech – 07 April 2005 – New Scientist Tech

A Sony researcher got the bright idea in 2000 or so that sound waves could someday be used to stimulate thoughts, perhaps for use in simulations, to evoke sounds, smells, and so on. So he patented the idea, lest someone steal his ‘invention’ before he got around to actually inventing it.

No experiments were done, according to Sony. No prototype was built. No work product exists to be protected. There is only pure speculation, and of course, a patent application, which for some reason was granted by our wonderful USPTO.

The only saving grace is that it may be 2020 before anyone actually builds this kind of thing, by which time this patent will have expired. However, though I am not a lawyer, I’m pretty sure that if anyone does actually invent such a technology on their own, they have nothing to worry about — except perhaps an expensive bogus lawsuit from Sony, which Sony would ultimately lose. The patent is so clearly fraudulent that even Sony doesn’t even pretend they have anything worthwhile.

There simply is no such thing as a "speculative" or "blue sky" patent. One of the basic tenets of patent law is that a thing has to actually exist to be patentable. I mean, following Sony’s model, what’s to stop me from reading (or writing) science fiction and patenting my "VR contact lenses," or "flying cars," "subspace communications," or my fancy new method of space travel, if all I have to do is describe the thing at the high level, but not tell (or even know) how it might actually work?

Can you imagine how much worse IP law would be if all you had to do to patent something was play buzzword bingo and guess the next big breakthrough terms?

  1. #1 by A R Baboon on August 21, 2007 - 5:57 am

    How does that square with this MAKE article then?

    http://makezine.com/10/brainwave

  2. #2 by avi on August 21, 2007 - 6:56 am

    AR, The MAKE device might cause some sensory overload, but that’s a world away from a device that can cause specific intentional sensations — the taste of an orange, the touch of a feather — corresponding to specific objects in a virtual world. LSD can also induce hallucinations, however, we don’t generally use it for computer-generated virtual worlds.

    However, the point is, Sony apparently didn’t even build the MAKE device. Some guy sat in a room and wrote a patent out of pure speculation. I don’t even think he used LSD, though he must have been tripping.

    Ultrasound may indeed work to stimulate neurons. The science may be sound (no pun). However, I can also speculate that an ultra-strong spinning magnetic field can counteract the force of gravity (it can, but not enough to be useful yet, and I couldn’t build one if I had a million dollars). Does that mean I can now patent an anti-gravity device and claim monopoly rights over any actual inventions anyone else comes along with that do really exist?

    This patent provides no public benefit, only causes confusion and dampens the R&D field, thus preventing actual inventors from actually pursuing this area, which is the opposite of what patents are meant to do.

  3. #3 by Daniel on August 21, 2007 - 7:22 am

    This is happening quite a bit in the corporate sphere, Avi. Much of it due to various aspects of open information [the Internet], and the ability for the little guy to invent on the fly, and generally in the comfort of his own little space.

    You do, however, raise the most obvious concerns about the Patent office — and its relevence in this area, when corporations make these kinds of attempts.

    Truth is though, that if Sony attempted to take anyone to court to battle for a prototype that someone had built on their own time, and without any prior knowledge of the patent filed — then Sony would be hard-pressed to lay claim to the invention, and the little guy would come away with some pretty nice opportunities to fund their development on the counter-suit settlement.

  4. #4 by A R Baboon on August 21, 2007 - 10:03 am

    There was a point at which the US congress made a conscience decision to allow patent issues to be decided reactively in court. This was a cost cutting measure because patent attorneys are expensive and the number of patents filed was ramping up too quickly. Personally I feel that this has destroyed much of the US’s competitive edge in the world economy. You cannot have a competitive economy that has little manufacturing and is not strong in technological development (in a relative sense).

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