Earlier this week, All Things D reported that the US Patent and Trademark Office approved a broad sweeping patent titled, “Method and apparatus for controlling a computer system”. The patent, which was first filed in December of 2004, describes methods for motion-based control of a smartphone.
According to the patent authors, the patent “facilitates an intuitive motion control of the application by physically manipulating the electronic device…it enables a user to intuitively control the state and/or displayed content of a computing device without the conventional need of pressing button(s), or manipulating a trackpad, trackball, etc. In this regard, the motion control agent represents a new paradigm in user control of computing systems.”
Seems pretty cool, and it would seem to encapsulate a feature like the iPhone’s proximity sensor which turns off the device’s display when it senses that it’s positioned next to a users ear. It would also appear to encapsulate a multitude of accelerometer functionality as well.
When first reported, John Paczkowski expressed concern that such an all-encompassing patent was granted in the first place, especially because it wasn’t apparent who the patent was granted to in the first place. After all, we already have enough patent trolls as is.
… but it’s worrisome to me that a patent as broad as this exists at all, let alone that it’s in the hands of some mysterious Vegas LLC we know nothing about. After all, patent #7,679,604 seems to apply not just to any smartphone with an accelerometer, but to any device that uses any method of measuring motion as a means of control. As one patent attorney told me, “It’s obscenely broad.” And it’s old enough to predate many of the motion-sensing smartphones currently on the market.
But after a little bit of digging, Paczkowski was able to match up the patent with its 2 authors, and what he found is almost out of a geeky soap opera.
As it turns out, one of the inventors is Dr. Chris Uhilk, an Engineering Director at Google who has been at Mountain View for over 7 years. And the second author, believe it or not, is John Orchard, a hardware engineering manager at Apple.
Like I said, a geeky soap opera.