Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality technology has begun revolutionizing industries. Yet, it is still in its nascent stage of growth with much left to discover. In the final of our five-part blog series on virtual reality technology, we showcase the patent landscape and the role of intellectual property in developing this tech domain.
With every new invention in virtual reality technology, engineers are crossing interesting hurdles and inching closer to creating a highly effective simulating experience. VR is already poised to become a booming business and the development of these viable platforms is increasing the importance of intellectual property and enhancing patenting activities. Practically every company that has a handle on virtual reality technology has begun patenting its inventions and is engaging in serious litigations and licensing activities.
Through the last four blogs of this series we walked you through various technological developments and interesting patents in augmented reality that are impacting our lives in all spheres. A simple way to understand the VR patent landscape is by categorizing them into two major dimensions and several sub-dimensions:
Through our final blog of the VR series we aim to draw a picture of the overall patent landscape of virtual reality technology based on patent filing trends over a 20-year period and the IP activities of top patent holders using publicly available data from the USPTO.
Data generation in VR – much left to be explored
Data storage in a VR system has been little explored VR function. However, this is one category that needs a lot of focus owing to the potential future usability of storage techniques. Data storage is crucial for VR technology in healthcare. Predefined parameters and historical data of patients need to be stored in order to effectively use VR in healthcare. Modern gaming also calls for data storage mechanisms that allow gamers to save their games and other related data. From an e-commerce point of view, user data from previous sales need to be stored and recalled to provide a more personalized advertising experience.
How to make the virtual world more real?
Virtual Reality offers two types of display for a user – Immersive Display that gives the user a perception of being physical present in a non-physical world (virtual world); and Non-Immersive Display where a user’s physical movements or reactions in the physical world are projected in the virtual world using an avatar.
Most users prefer systems that can make them feel as close to reality as possible. However, a primary challenge plaguing this tech domain is to maintain a very high resolution of video display with extremely quick streaming and refresh rates for scenes to look and change as they do in real life; wide view angle with realistic shadows and lightning effect to maintain the illusion of a real scene.
Bridge the gap between the real and not-so-real
Virtual reality peripherals act as a medium to connect the physical world to the virtual world. Peripherals, such as head mounted devices, and feedback peripherals such as reactive grip provide the user with real life sensations such as vibration or a jerk track by tracking user movements. (Read: Virtually Real or Really Virtual?)
While Head Mounted Devices (HMDs) that come with two small color LCD screens to offer a binocular vision to each eye are most popular, it faces the challenge of developing high resolution, uniform luminance and brightness for outdoor and surgical environments. Researchers are also exploring reproducing sensations of sound, touch and motion that are critical to offering a holistic reality feel in a virtual world using VR peripherals. Simultaneously, they are also trying to tackle the critical issue of allowing a user to spend significant amounts of time in a virtual world without any dizziness or motion sickness.
Sony seems to inching closer to cracking this code and offering a holistic haptic experience in the virtual world through its Project Morpheus. In addition to sounds coming from the front, back, left and right, it re-creates stereoscopic sounds heard from below and above players, such as footsteps going up a staircase or engine noises of helicopters flying overhead. Sounds that players hear change in real-time depending on their head orientation, creating a highly realistic audio environment within an immersive 360-degree virtual world.
Patent filing trends
Patent filing activities in virtual reality technology grabbed industry attention only in 1992 and since then it rose steadily until 2008. Post 2009, the number of patentees rose dramatically owing to new developments in VR gadgets and great consumer demand from various industries. Virtual reality data processing techniques witnessed the highest patent filing. The graph below shows how the patent filing trend has changed over the years in the VR space.
A major chunk of VR patent applications were filed in the early years of the 1990s. Trends suggest that these patents may now remain unenforceable due to various reasons that also include a failure to pay the maintenance fee. This could result in a massive opportunity for open source projects to kick off in the virtual reality space.
Who owns the most VR patents?
Microsoft and Sony have continuously been on a gaming console battle. They are both spending intensely to improve the gaming experience they bring to users. Intellectual Ventures and IBM hold predominantly VR patents relating to E-commerce. The following table shows the top patent holders in the virtual reality space:
Popular VR apps
Nokia JobLens: Released in June 2013, this is an augmented reality app that overlays available job opportunities when the user holds the screen. The app uses data from social networking sites like Linkedin to find suitable jobs for users and augment it on the Here maps.
Nokia LiveSight API: Released in July 2014, this is a powerful location augmented reality technology that is integrated with Nokia’s Here Map, Here Drive and Here Transit and overlays geographical information on top of a live camera.
PrimeSense: Apple acquired this Israel-based 3D sensor technology company that developed the app to help machines see a user’s 3D location and understand the context of the user’s situation. PrimeSense may be used by Apple in its Apple TV and to enhance features of the Apple iWatch.
Alive App: Alive, a mobile augmented reality software developed by Times Internet Ltd., augments the real world with digital elements. The app can be used to enrich any printed content with new and innovative Augmented Reality experiences.
Layar: An augmented reality and interactive print creator, has developed an app to provide Augmented Reality to iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Google glass. Layar plans to use this to offer users a better method of reading magazines. Users can browse articles using a side-scrolling card and can also view them in full screen.
BlippAR: This turns your phone into a magic lens giving you a whole new, interactive view on the physical world around you using Augmented Reality and Image-Recognition technologies. It attracts, retains and engages with consumers through an immersive experience. Through one app, Blippar becomes the lens through which the real world can be spontaneously ‘unlocked’ and converted into content-rich, interactive experiences.
Chart the patenting landscape of virtual reality technology from 1992 to 2012 and it is but obvious that some of the oldest players such as Nortel and Virtual Technologies are among the top sellers of VR patents. Entities like Intellectual Ventures are offering licensing deals on VR patents for healthcare and E-commerce. The IP landscape for virtual reality technology has an extremely interesting story which is slowly growing into the size of an epic that is bound to change the ways of the world. While many VR patents are still on the shelf waiting to be converted into a commercially viable product, inventors are going out and out and protecting their ideas with IP rights. This phenomenon is beginning to enhance VR transactions and encourage companies to up their ante in bringing these virtually real ideas to the real world.
(Featured image source: https://pixabay.com/en/superhero-girl-speed-runner-534120/)