Regardless if what reputation Microsoft may carry when it comes to the originality of its software, there’s no question that the company brings a lot of technology to both businesses and end users.
Yesterday, Microsoft was proud to announce that it had been awarded its 10,000th U.S. patent. The achievement unlocked is likely a result of the $8 billion a year Microsoft spends on R&D, more than any other company in the industry. Outside the industry, Microsoft ranks fourth among companies receiving the most U.S. patents, with just over 2,000 patents in 2008.
“Most technology companies, Microsoft included, have been increasing their emphasis on IP in recent years, trying to derive greater business value from their intellectual assets,” says Bart Eppenauer, chief patent counsel, who oversees Microsoft’s patent portfolio. “One way to value a patent portfolio is to look at the quantity of patents it contains. Another way is to look at the influence the portfolio has on others.”
There is an argument that, as much as patents protect and reward innovation, it also restricts new implementations and ideas. Microsoft did point out in its announcement that since late 2003, the company shifted “from a defensive posture to a proactive, collaborative one” when it comes to licensing its patented technologies.
“Patents are the currency of innovation,” says Eppenauer. “What we’re seeing more often in the past several years is that patents and IP are now serving as bridges to collaboration through licensing and other technology collaboration. … Let’s face it, the days of the self-contained, go-it-alone company are over. This is especially true during the current economic downturn. Open innovation is more critical than ever in today’s business world.”
The milestone patent is U.S. Patent No. 7,479,950 and Microsoft’s Surface technology. The patent is for a surface to recognize an object that is placed on top of it, which then triggers an associated program or files to open. For example, one could place an associated souvenir from a trip on the surface, which would then start a slideshow of photos collected during travel. Even the orientation or motion of the souvenir could change behavior, such as slideshow speed.
Microsoft also gave the following example as another potential use for the surface technology: “When the teenage son places his keys on a surface computer, the technology recognizes them and automatically brings up sports scores, his playlist and his homework assignment. Later, when mom puts her purse on the surface, the computer can automatically bring up several predetermined items, including her daughter’s soccer game schedule and maps with driving directions to the away games.”
Curtis Wong, one of four co-inventors of the patent from Microsoft Research, said, “Surface computing gives people instant access to digital information in a new way. The goal of this patent is to make the interaction between the physical and virtual worlds a little more seamless.”