Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) of New York, NY, is an American company offering a wide array of broadband and telecommunications services, both for consumers and business enterprises. The company has been very vocal about the possible development of net neutrality rules, having recently complained to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that the agency cannot lawfully regulate paid interconnection deals between broadband providers and media companies like Netflix, even if the Internet is reclassified as a common carrier service. The company is installing its XLTE service, offering enhanced 4G LTE bandwidth, in more communities around the country, having just announced the unveiling of its latest XLTE network in Hattiesburg, MS. The company is also poised to expand its profile in its hometown of NYC when it opens its new 4,500 retail space next year, which it just leased from the Herald Center at the corner of 34th and Broadway.
Verizon’s inaugural appearance in the Companies We Follow series revealed plenty of patent applications in the realm of retail kiosk services, including one that discusses a kiosk which allows users to purchase mobile devices and activate subscriber services. Other recent patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office referenced some useful technologies involving vehicles, including one designed to restrict the use of mobile devices when an owner is driving a vehicle.
Patent portfolios are incredibly important in the realm of telecommunications and Verizon has kept up a steady pace of U.S. patent grants. We were intrigued by one patent protecting a method for consolidating the user interfaces of a multitude of messaging applications into a single display. Patents for television technologies protect Verizon technologies including methods of designating a master set-top box within a home network as well as a remote control with a display for showing television listings. We also noted a patent protecting a method of using a mobile device as a dermatological analysis tool.
Verizon’s Patent Applications: From Retail Kiosk Services to Vehicular Wireless Network Repeaters
There is a lot of investment placed by Verizon in the development of inventive ideas, whether they come from within the company or elsewhere. The Verizon Innovation Program developed by this corporation actively seeks applicants who have developed innovations and require technical expertise and business consultative services to bring their idea to market. This program has supported intriguing projects in healthcare, education, public safety and sustainability, including one initiative to restore native oyster populations in the New York Harbor to one billion by the year 2030. Net neutrality rules have been a flashpoint for debate among large telecommunications companies and it’s interesting to note that Verizon’s CFO Francis Shammo remarked at a recent conference that changing broadband Internet to a Title II utility will not affect network investment for the company; others, such as AT&T, have argued the other side of this debate.
A few of the patent applications that we ended up exploring in detail discuss a few innovations in retail technologies designed to improve Verizon’s ability to get its products into the hands of consumers. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140351075, which is titled Kiosk for Dispensing and Activating User Devices, discusses technological innovations that allow customers to purchase wireless devices and activate data subscription plans without having to visit an actual store. The patent application would protect a device with one or more processors that determines device information associated with a user device housed within a kiosk, dispenses the user device, receives subscription information associated with the device’s purchaser and provide activation information permitting a user device to be activated on a network. Through this system, a purchaser could visit a website to begin the purchase of a device, including selection of subscription package, and then purchase and activate the device from a kiosk instead of an actual store. Tools for providing more personalized customer service in retail establishments are described within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140324638, titled Near-Field Communication (NFC)-Based Retail Experience Using a Retail Kiosk or Mobile Device. The retail kiosk claimed by this patent application includes a display unit, a user-input interface and an NFC reader that establishes an NFC-based communication link with a compatible user device to authenticate the user and provide a personalized retail experience through the user-input interface and display unit. The resulting invention provides customers with a kiosk through which they can access information for a meaningful comparison of mobile wireless devices; the kiosk is capable of detecting what device the customer may be interested in purchasing through the use of the NFC link.
We were intrigued to find a number of patent applications filed for technologies which either involve vehicles or the use of mobile devices within vehicles, and we wanted to share a couple of those with our readers today. Driver safety is a key component of the technology explained within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140364153, entitled System and Method for Preventing Driver Use of a Mobile Device. This technology is intended to restrict the availability of mobile devices while driving to reduce distracted driving and resulting accidents. The method claimed by this patent application involves the establishment of a link to a mobile device within the vehicle, determining the device’s location within the vehicle and the restriction of mobile device operations if the location data shows that the device is in the vehicle and the vehicle is moving. The use of automobiles as wireless repeaters to prevent dead zones from occurring in wireless networks is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140355511, filed under the title Extending Network Signal Range Via Vehicles. The patent application claims a method of activating an antenna device through a device in a repeating system implemented within a vehicle and using the antenna to receive a network signal and transmit an amplified network signal to an area around the vehicle. Although this invention is directed at the use of repeater systems in vehicles, other embodiments can be implemented in buildings, towers, signs or other stationary objects.
Verizon’s joint venture with Redbox to create a streaming video-on-demand (VOD) service to compete with Netflix may have failed in October of this year, but the partnership yielded some intriguing technologies for which patent applications were filed by Verizon and Redbox Digital Entertainment Services, LLC. We had to take a closer look at a technology disclosed by this joint venture in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140298169, which is titled Trip Playlist Management Systems and Methods. The patent application would protect a method of receiving data representative of a travel itinerary and generating a recommended trip playlist through a computer-implemented trip playlist management system, the playlist including media programs selected and arranged relative to the trip’s timeline. This invention seeks to automate some of the manual work necessary to ensure that an individual has sufficient entertainment for long trips, such as downloading a movie to a tablet or laptop so that it can be watched during a flight.
Some of the video-on-demand services developed by Verizon and Redbox can be seen directly in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140359669, entitled Video-on-Demand Content Based Channel Surfing Methods and Systems. The patent application claims a method of maintaining a VOD channel surfing list associated with a device user, the list identifying a plurality of VOD content instances from a library and associating those VOD content instances with a plurality of VOD channels and directing a user to those channels when a channel surfing command has been initiated. This system is designed to better present content of interest to users of a VOD service when those users want to browse for new material to explore.
We also took note of a technology which Verizon is seeking to protect which would improve the ability of those attending a crowded event to stay connected even when they become physically separated. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140350840, filed under the title Crowd Proximity Device, achieves this by taking advantage of the nearly ubiquitous presence of mobile devices among members of any crowd. The device that would be protected includes at least one processor to determine that multiple user devices are associated with an event, the location of those devices and the relationship of those devices; each device is then presented with event information derived from this relationship. This innovation is intended to support collective interactions among people at an event, such as a music concert, who may be unknown to each other or help those who do know each other to send each other location information relative to the crowd.
Issued Patents of Note: From Message Application Interfaces to Dermatological Skin Analysis
Although we likely won’t have Verizon’s 2014 totals in hand for a couple of months yet, the company’s 2013 performance in obtaining U.S. patent grants from the USTPO showed some exceptional increases in activity. That year, Verizon was 60th overall among patenting entities worldwide having earned 668 U.S. patent grants, a 44.6 percent increase over the previous year’s totals. Recently, the company effectively added Google’s patent portfolio to the intellectual property upon which it can capitalize by signing a five-year cross-licensing agreement preventing patent infringement lawsuits between the companies; the agreement also protects both parties in the event that either sells a patent to a third party that files a lawsuit.
A couple of patents which protect innovations related to various telephone services, including audio calling and text messaging, were among some of those which caught our eyes today. A technology designed to help mobile device users more effectively navigate between the various user interfaces presented by different messaging services is disclosed by U.S. Patent No. 8910262, titled Supporting Multiple Messaging Services on Mobile Devices in a Single User Experience. The system protected by this patent includes a device with a memory within which a management application is installed. The management application includes a manager mechanism which generates an umbrella data structure using first and second messaging account credentials. This innovation reduces the inefficiency in using multiple messaging applications, such as Google Chat, Facebook Messenger and others, which each utilize their own interface. Methods of ensuring that a caller reporting an emergency situation is properly located are protected by U.S. Patent No. 8903051, which is titled Returning Calls to Emergency Callers Without Valid Telephone Numbers. The device claimed here utilizes at least one processor to detect an emergency call from a user device associated with a device identifier and determine a temporary originating telephone number if the user device is not associated with a valid originating telephone number. In the event that a network drops an emergency call, this invention enables emergency personnel to reconnect with a caller who may be using a cell phone without a service provider account for regular telephone services.
We were interested to note that Verizon had a number of patents issued in the area of television and video technologies, echoing a trend that we noticed in our recent Companies We Follow profile of its telecommunications rival, AT&T. Enabling television set-top boxes to interact with a home network and serve as a central media hub is the aim of the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 8910218, which is titled Method and Apparatus for Providing Control of Set-Top Boxes. The patent claims a method of establishing communications among a plurality of set-top boxes with a server and designating one of the set-top boxes as a master set-top box which can be configured to control remaining set-top boxes on the network. This innovation enhances coordination of multiple set-top boxes connected to a single home network and reduces the time that a consumer typically has to spend in programming individual set-top boxes for use on the network.
We just focused on wireless remote control technologies with our Evolution of Remote Controls recently published on IPWatchdog, which is why we were intrigued to see Verizon developing a new product protected by U.S. Patent No. 8891024, issued under the title Remote Control With TV Listing Display. The device protected by this patent includes a processor configured to receive various television operation commands as well as a television listing from a set-top box. This device also has a display unit a portion of the television listing and a recording alert. This provides television viewers with a display close at hand for viewing television listing information without obstructing the view of the content currently being displayed on the television.
We’ve already explored a Verizon innovation in the area of near-field communication (NFC), listed in the patent application section above. Although those systems require devices in communication to be within very close physical proximity, the company has developed a technology for very-far-field communications (VFC) which is protected through U.S. Patent No. 8909218, issued under the title Very Far-Field Communication. The method claimed by the patent involves the selection of particular base stations within a wireless access network from which to broadcast a tag query for a VFC tag, inserting the tag query into a broadcast signal and receiving a tag response from a mobile device which is prompted by the tag query. This development would enable VFC protocols to extend the capability of far-field communication (FFC) networks from a distance of 30 meters up to several miles or more.
Finally, we wanted to share one novel patent developed by Verizon which allows a mobile device owner to utilize his or her smartphone as a health diagnostic tool. U.S. Patent No. 8891841, entitled Mobile Dermatology Collection and Analysis System, protects a system enabling a device user to get professional medical advice for a developing skin condition, such as a rash, without having to visit a physician. The patent protects a mobile communications device method of obtaining one or more images, extracting features from those images to create feature vectors and determining a dermatological classification of the images based on a dermatological analysis model.