So What Does Intellectual Ventures Invent Exactly?

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A new patent application filed by Intellectual Ventures demonstrates how even simple ideas can be obscured in a patent through fancy language.


Image by There’s a little report by the Institute for Policy Innovation entitled “Intellectual Ventures Invents Things.” It claims that Intellectual Ventures is not a patent troll, based on one patent application it filed last year.

And believe it or not, the patent application is a spinoff of Clippy of Microsoft Office fame.

The patent application is entitled “Autogenerating Video from Text,” and is Patent Application No. 2013/0188887. The application lists ten inventors, two of which are Nathan Myhrvold (CEO of IV) and Bill Gates.

So what exactly do they claim to have invented?

Here’s the full text of Claim 397 (the first claim, because they chopped out the first 396):

397. A system for converting user-selected printed text to a synthesized image sequence, comprising:

processing electronics configured to receive an image of text over a network, to translate the text of the image of text into a machine readable format, and, in response to receiving the image, to generate model information based on the text translated into the machine readable format.

Wow, that sounds fancy! Let’s break it down a little.

A system for converting user-selected printed text to a synthesized image sequence: A “synthesized image sequence is defined in the application as follows:

The synthesized image sequence may be of any format (e.g., a series of pictures, a single video, a cartoon, a 2D video, a 3D video, etc.) and used in many types of media.

In other words, this part of the claim just means “A system that converts printed text into a video or animation.”

Processing electronics: This is patent-speak for a computer.

To receive an image of text over a network: the computer downloads an image.

To translate the text of the image of text into a machine readable format: the computer OCRs the image.

In response to receiving the image, to generate model information based on the text translated into the machine readable format: the computer uses the OCR text to generate something called “model information.” That term is defined as follows:

The model information may be of any format (e.g., wireframe, solid, shell, boundary, two-dimensional, three-dimensional, etc.) in any language (e.g., markup language, extensible markup language (XML) virtual reality markup language (VRML), X3D, 3DXML, etc.).

In other words, “model information” is any sort of data, probably related to the video or animation (the “synthesized image sequence”). Among other things, the model information may be based on a "preference file" that specifies "types of people or characters to include in the video clip."

So now let’s put the claim back together using actual human words:

397. A computer that converts printed text into a video or animation.

  • First, the computer downloads an image.
  • Then the computer OCRs the image into text.
  • Finally, the computer makes some video data with the text, perhaps including people or characters.

And what is Bill Gates’s most famous animated character for displaying text? Clippy, of course.

So Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold are seeking a patent that hooks up OCR software to Clippy from Microsoft Office.

Many patents are exercises in taking simple ideas and complificating them with beefed-up, technical sounding language. If we want patents to protect true inventions, then the first step must include getting past the legalistic wording so we can evaluate patents on their merits rather than a bunch of filler words.

Appendix: who owns the patent application exactly? The Patent Office records indicate that the owner is someone called “Elwha LLC.” Apparently Elwha is a shell company of Intellectual Ventures. If IV is so proud of this patent application, why doesn’t it put its name on the ownership records?

Image by "Kimli," CC BY-NC 2.0, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimli/2627659036/sizes/o/in/photostream/

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