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From Rocket Boots to Fusion Reactors: Patents Show Us Our Future

Lawrence Ashery.

Lawrence Ashery.

Would you like to see the future of technology? You can. When patents (and patent applications) are published, the public is given an opportunity to see the latest ideas that are currently in development. While many patents are not based on actual products, some are. This is why futurists study the databases of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): to learn more about the technology that will one day shape our lives. Here are some of the patents (and patent applications) that were published in 2018, and that offer a glimpse into what our world will look like in the near future.

  • Physical and Emotional Analysis (U.S. Patent 10,096,319)

Today when you speak to your virtual assistant (such as Echo and Alexa), a computer listens to your instructions and commands and responds accordingly. But what if the virtual assistant had the ability to evaluate your physical or emotional well-being? Amazon is working on the technology to make this happen. According to an Amazon patent, it is possible to design a virtual assistant that can listen to your voice and evaluate your well-being. Cough while speaking to your virtual assistant, and you may be offered one-hour delivery of cough drops or a recipe for chicken soup. Speak with a tone of voice that indicates you are bored, and the technology may suggest that you be entertained with a movie.

  •  Junk Call Filter (U.S. Application 2018/0295140)

If you are tired of receiving unwanted sales calls on your mobile phone, Apple might have a solution for you. Unsolicited calls are often received with a caller ID that makes it appear the call originated from a local number. Apple has invented a method of looking at data fields associated with an incoming phone call to obtain more information. The retrieved data can then be compared with a database to determine whether the incoming phone call is indeed desired by the recipient. In this manner, unwanted calls can be rejected so that the phone’s owner is not disturbed.

  • Rocket Boots (U.S. Application 2018/0127094)

Personal travel continues to become more technologically innovative, but one company claims they have designed an apparatus that provides a new level of personal mobility. A pair of boots attached to a passenger’s feet allows the passenger to travel in the air to a desired destination. Each boot includes turbojet engines for enabling both vertical and horizontal motion. Sensors in each boot detect foot pressure that is used to specify direction of travel. A tank stores fuel that is used to power each turbojet.

  • Flexible Displays (U.S. 10,104,787)

Flexible visual displays have actually been in development for years, and display technology is becoming more and more advanced. Manufacturers have been making steady progress in commercializing this technology, and it is expected that products with foldable displays will be available for consumer purchase within the next few months. Samsung, for example, recently demonstrated a folding smartphone at a developer conference. In the meantime, companies continue to file patent applications directed toward these products. Apple, for example, recently obtained a patent in which a foldable display includes detents, so that once the display is bent into position, the display stays in that position. A screen bent into an inverted “V” configuration allows two people sitting opposite each other to view their own respective portion of the display. This feature allows two users to watch two different movies simultaneously.

  • Smart Shopping Carts (U.S. Application 2018/0240554)

Navigating a large store with a shopping cart can be very challenging, but Walmart has developed technology to improve the experience. A shopping cart includes sensors in its handle to measure a shopper’s biometrics. For example, the sensors can monitor a shopper’s heart rate, body temperature and force against the handle. In addition, the sensors allow monitoring of the speed at which the shopper is pushing the cart through the store. The data from the sensors can indicate if the shopper is experiencing anxiety or a potentially dangerous medical condition. An alarm signal can be transmitted to a central location to advise of a potential problem, along with the location of the shopping cart. A store employee can then approach the customer and ask whether any type of assistance is needed.

  • U.S. Patent 10,000,000

The 10 millionth U.S. patent certainly relates to cutting-edge technology, but what is more astonishing is the fact that the U.S. patent and trademark office has issued 10 million patents in its history. The ten millionth U.S. patent relates to LADAR, a technology similar to radar that uses lasers to measure object distance. The patent issued on June 19, 2018, and the USPTO conducted a ceremony to commemorate the historic events. At that time, Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld stated: “The U.S. patent system serves as a reminder that our nation values and continues to be built by those who are willing to take risks, challenge traditions, push the boundaries of convention and test new limits in design and thought.”

  • Block Chain (U.S. Application 2018/0240112)

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have been prominently featured in the news over the past year, mostly because of  large value fluctuations. This technology, however, has attracted significant interest from the financial industry due to its robustness and flexibility. As a result, many financial institutions have been developing and attempting to patent blockchain processes. For example, Bank of America has filed a patent application for a blockchain system that encrypts data elements using an encryption key and that embeds the encrypted data elements into a blockchain.

  • Fusion Reactor (U.S. Application 2018/0047462)

Fusion power is in early stages of development and is believed to be a significant source of energy in the future. While large quantities of funding have been devoted to fusion power research, commercializing the technology has not yet been possible. Lockheed Martin, however, has been developing a possibly world changing fusion reactor, and it has filed many patent applications related to various advancements. In particular, large amounts of plasma are generated at a temperature much higher than can be held in any physical container. Thus, the plasma is contained in magnetic fields. Lockheed Martin’s patent application relates to a fusion power device that is small enough to be mounted on a vehicle such as a truck, aircraft, ship, train, spacecraft or submarine.

Lawrence E. Ashery is a partner in the Philadelphia office of Caesar Rivise. He focuses his practice on all aspects of intellectual property law. He can be reached at lashery@crbcp.com.