Patent Application

October 15, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles - Nestle has encountered a huge setback as the European Patent Office (EPO) this week threw out a patent that has to do with its popular Nespresso single serve coffee system.   The regulatory body, which covers 28 European countries, did not set forth its exact reasons for invalidating the patent, but noted that such an explanation will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.   This blow comes at a crucial time for Nestle as it has been publicly attempting to stop several rivals, such as Ethical Coffee Company SA and Mondelez International Inc., from producing coffee pods that fit in the Nespresso machines.

The now thrown out patent was originally granted by the EPO in 2010 and covered the way the pods fit into and are ejected from the device.   With its patent protection now eliminated, Nestle is in a weakened position to prevent others from making compatible pods.  In April of this year, a London Judge ruled that Nespresso customers have a right to purchase coffee pods from any maker they choose and that Nestle could not prevent this.  Just a few months before that ruling, courts in Germany and Switzerland refused to ban the unlicensed sale of coffee pods that fit into Nespresso machines.   Notably, the Nespresso brand coffee pods are the only ones authorized by Nespresso and cost about three times the price of the rival brands.

With so many recent impediments, Nestle executives are predictably upset.   In a recent statement, a spokesperson responded to the patent revocation stating, “We believe that the decision fails to recognize the unique innovations inherent in the design of the Nespresso system.”  The statement went on to say that the invalidation was unlikely to significantly impact Nespresso sales.   This comes as welcome news for investors of the brand, which makes up about 4% of Nestle’s total $100 billion in annual sales.

Despite Nestle’s predictions of how much the recent drawbacks will or will not affect Nespresso, several outside sources have identified a negative effect already taking place.  One estimate proffered by Bank Vontobel said that Nespresso sales growth momentum has decelerated to 16% in 2012, down from 28% three years prior.

October 1, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles - A newly filed patent application by Tesla Motors reveals the company’s interest in finally finding a solution to one of the electric car’s biggest problems: how to keep cars going on long trips in between charging stations.   The  California-based company that produces only electric vehicles submitted a patent application for an innovative metal-air battery that would kick in once its normal lithium-ion battery runs out.  This technology would make it so that Tesla owners would have the option to switch to this secondary battery when running low on a charge, allowing it to continue for up to another 400 miles.

Tesla’s approach differs in comparison to other electric car manufacturers, such as Chevrolet with its Volt, which includes a four-cylinder engine that can generate backup energy for a range of 300-400 miles.  Compared to cars like the Volt, some kind of reliable secondary power source is essential for Tesla because unlike hybrid owning counterparts, Tesla owners can’t opt to stop off and fill up at a gas station.

The new patent is described by Tesla as “Electric Vehicle Extended Range Hybrid Battery Pack System” and spells out how the invention “provides a power source comprised of a first battery pack (e.g., a non-metal-air battery pack) and a second battery pack (e.g., a metal-air battery pack), wherein the second battery pack is only used as required by the state-of-charge (SOC) of the first battery pack or as a result of the user selecting an extended range mode of operation.” Thus, with the new technology, the lithium-ion battery already featured in Tesla cars would continue to do the heavy lifting, with the metal air battery serving as a backup.  The metal-air battery is useful for this specific purpose because it uses oxygen as one of its electrodes to generate power.  While the battery easier to charge, these metal-air batteries offer only short term potential as they tend to have a much shorter lifespan than traditional batteries.

Many have noted that by eliminating a conventional cell battery and replacing it with a battery that uses air, Tesla may be the first to successfully tackle the long distance charging problem and might have found a less expensive option that can be accessed by the masses.   Indeed, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long expressed his intention to make Tesla a brand that provides an electric car option for every level of the consumer market.

September 10, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles - After  years of parents calling for Apple to come up with a kid-friendly user profile for its best selling devices such as the iPad and iPhone, it appears that the tech giant has finally given in.   Obtaining patent protection last week for what it describes as, “Method, apparatus and system for access mode control of a device”, Apple seems to be exploring ways for users to limit device access to kids.

The new technology will allow owners to give different levels of access to different users of their devices.   A simple change of settings will make it so that iPad and iPhone users can, for instance, unlock only parent approved kids apps and games.  It is thought that this new addition will finally equip parents with a way to set up user profiles, those for themselves and those for their kids, who often share the same devices.

Beyond the locking and restriction of access to certain device functions, the new patent also allows for voice, keyboard, and stylus commands to control various functions.   This means that kids who cannot spell or read might be able to say a simple word command to access the iPad or iPhone profile that their parents have set up for them.

The possibilities for the new invention are already swirling, with commentators noting that this could pave the way for widespread iPad use in schools.   With the teacher in charge of the settings, the teacher could theoretically block access to non-school related apps and only allow students to work on apps that are for school.  Parents could also have more control over what types of apps their kids access at different times, perhaps allowing educational and learning applications during the week and game apps on the weekend.

Whatever the specific implication of the new addition, one thing is clear - Apple has finally gotten the message that parents want to have more control over what their kids can do on their Apple devices.   Perhaps the recent parental outcry of complaints that Apple received for not requiring a password before making App Store purchases has stirred a response.   In that controversy, parents panned Apple for failing to require a password to be entered before every single purchase, claiming that their kids were racking up their bills buying add-ons and apps available through the App Store.  Now that it seems parents will have a way to restrict this kind of behavior by their kids, Apple might be able to get back in the good graces of techie parents.

August 28, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles - Google, Inc. has granted a glimpse into its plans for advertising in technology with its newly registered patent for a “Gaze Tracking System” on its innovative future product, Google Glass.

The product, Glass, is a set of eyeglasses with a computer embedded into the side arm and a small screen displayed on the glass piece above the right eye.  A beta version of the Google Glass was introduced to developers in February 2013.

Newly minted U.S. Patent number 8,510,166 suggests that Google plans to add cameras facing both inside toward the eyes to track the gaze of the user and outside to reconcile what the user is looking at.

According to the ‘166 patent, Google intends to utilize its new Google Glass invention to track how long users look at particular advertisements.  The method, known as “pay per gaze,” would store data on what people look at and for how long.

Google has discovered the moneymaking potential of this device and plans to track users’ interaction with advertisements.  Google would store this data on a macro level, wiping the information of any personal identifiers, and then charge advertisers based on the amount of time that users spent looking at their particular ad.

The ‘166 patent further describes that Google would analyze the emotional reaction of the user to what is in view.  Google would then report this information to the advertiser, at an extra cost.  This would provide useful information to advertisers on what users respond to and how to develop engaging ads.

“Pay per gaze” could revolutionize the way that advertising operates.  Under this system, advertising both online and in traditional print media would dramatically alter its pay structure.  Instead of paying per billboard or print ad, advertisers would be charged each time a Google Glass user interacted with an advertisement.

This patent does not specifically state that the “pay per gaze” system would apply to the Google Glass.  However, the description of the product that this system would utilize matches that of the Glass.

August 12, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles - A federal circuit court on Tuesday upheld the verdict in a case between two cheese manufacturers over patent infringement of cheese vat technology, deciding in favor of Tetra Pak Cheese and Powder Systems, Inc.

The ruling, made by a three-judge panel in U.S. Circuit Court in the 7th District, ended a three year battle between Cheese Systems, Inc. and Tetra Pak over elements of the design for large, churning vats to make cheese.

The patent at issue, granted to Tetra Pak in 1999, is U.S. Patent Number 5,985,347, titled “Cheese Processing Vat and Method.”  The vat is designed for large-scale cheese manufacturing, with two large, rotating panels inside which mix and slice the cheese.  While the agitator panels of other cheese vats rotate opposite each other, the ‘347 patent claimed the innovation of panels rotating in the same direction, which leads to a more efficient cheese-making process.

Tetra Pak argued that Cheese System’s vat design infringed on the central elements of its ‘347 patent, and demanded that the company stop use of its infringing product.

Cheese Systems originally brought a complaint against Tetra Pak in 2010 in Federal Court in the Western District of Wisconsin, asking for Tetra Pak’s patent to be invalidated.  Wisconsin-based Cheese Systems argued that Tetra Pak’s patent was obvious in light of prior disclosures.

The presiding judge in this case, Barbara R. Crabb, did not accept these arguments and instead found that Cheese Systems had infringed the patent held by Tetra Pak.  Cheese Systems appealed the decision to U.S. Circuit Court, which again ruled against Cheese Systems.

The Appeals Court also granted a permanent injunction for Cheese Systems’ use of its infringing cheese vat along with its decision to uphold the district court’s decision.

Swiss-based Tetra Pak is an international food packing and processing corporation.  Its founder, Ruben Rausing, was the first to develop a sterile packaging process for foods and liquids.  This process is still in use today, as seen in juice boxes and milk cartons.

May 20, 2011, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles - Apple recently filed a patent for a hybrid display technology, combining the features of its Retina display (based on LCD technology) with Electron Ink (E-Ink) technology.  The patent claims the screen will be so advanced that it will be able to select whether to employ LCD or E-Ink technology based on displayed content, and the screen will subdivide itself, allowing portions to employ LCD technology while other areas use E-Ink.

While LCD displays are common in computer monitors and cell phones, E-Ink is rather new.  E-Ink Corporation was founded in 1997, and the first well-known product to incorporate an E-Ink display was Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, which was released in 2007.  The E-Ink display technology has certain advantages over LCD displays, namely increased battery life and reduced user eye strain.  The increased battery life is due to E-Ink only requiring power to change the image on the screen (whereas LCD displays must constantly refresh even static images) and its ability to be used without a backlight.  Use of E-Ink without a backlight is also one of the reasons for the reduction in eye strain but it therefore requires ambient light for the screen to be readable.
How exactly Apple intends to integrate these two technologies remains secretive.  The use of LCD display technology means that, barring another technological breakthrough, a backlight will remain a requirement for the LCD display to operate.  Also, with the screen able to employ both LCD and E-Ink technologies simultaneously, how an LCD style backlight will interact with an E-Ink display may cause other issues.
With this patent, Apple has once again proven to be one of the most forward thinking consumer electronics companies, but only time will tell whether this patent comes to fruition.

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