GPS patents refer to the exclusive rights that the United States government grants to inventors of GPS technologies and devices. They prohibit other parties from producing, selling, or commercializing the patented products for a specific time frame. GPS has become more advanced over the years because of many patented inventions. Today, it finds application in numerous industries and the daily lives of many people around the world.

What Is GPS?

GPS stands for “global positioning system.” It uses time-code information and satellite technology to determine an electronic receiver's location in the world. The United States government developed this navigation system to give users a three-dimensional positioning system.

GPS technology has become increasingly more accurate and advanced over the years. The receivers have become smaller, making the system suitable for application in a wide range of hand-held devices. The United States maintains 32 satellites in six orbital planes. These satellites communicate with monitoring stations and the numerous GPS signals in millions of electronic devices around the world.

When Did It All Start?

GPS was developed in 1973 and introduced to the public for the first time in the mid-1980s.

Why Was It Invented and Who Uses It Now?

GPS was initially developed for military use. It was meant to provide a constantly available global navigational platform and improve on existing navigational systems. Now, it also serves as a consumer technology, offering valuable assistance in vehicle navigation. In addition, the system helps emergency response teams navigate through difficult terrain and improve the efficiency of their search-and-rescue endeavors.

Who Invented the GPS?

Roger L. Easton, Ivan A. Getting, and Bradford Parkinson are credited with the invention of the GPS. The United States Department of Defense was largely responsible for launching the system around the world.

The Original GPS Navigation Patent and Its Abstract

About 40 years ago, Roger L. Easton applied for the “Navigation System Using Satellites and Passive Ranging Techniques” patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The navigation system functions to determine the user's location by measuring the distance between their GPS equipment and satellites of known location. Each satellite sends multi-frequency signals through a stable oscillator that is phase-synchronized with the equipment of the navigator, which delivers similar multi-frequency signals. By comparing the phases of signals from satellites and signals that are locally produced, the navigation system can determine the distance between the satellites and the navigator, as well as the navigator's location.

What Components Comprise the GPS?

The GPS system consists of three segments:

  • Space segment — This segment comprises 32 satellites orbiting the earth at an average altitude of 20,000 km. These satellites are complex mechanical structures that are specially designed to withstand pressure, cold, and radiation in space. 
  • Control segment — This segment is made up of the United States government and the governments of other countries. The governments run and maintain the system and help send GPS information to users around the world. 
  • User segment — The user segment consists of all users of GPS-enabled devices. These devices have a GPS receiver, circuit board, and a touchscreen.

How Was the Product Originally Made?

The first GPS device resembled a paper towel dispenser. Consisting of a GPS receiver, circuit board, and plastic polymers, it was significantly larger than today's GPS devices.

What Innovations Have Been Made to the Original Product and Why?

The GPS has undergone many improvements over the years. Here are some of the more notable ones:

  • Touchscreen — Most modern GPS devices come with touchscreen capability. With only one button, they are simple enough for use by the common user. 
  • Multi-functionality — Some GPS units have additional functions such as MP3 players and e-readers. 
  • Improved communication — The use of high-powered inter-atmospheric transmitters has led to improved communication between control stations and satellites. 
  • Fewer dead zones — With 32 fully-operational satellites instead of the initial 24, there are fewer dead zones on Earth.

Some Interesting GPS Patents

Patent No. 8539380

Held by Horvitz, Krumm, and Hariharan, this patent is for an innovation that uses GPS signals and location logs to determine user activities and goals.

Patent No. 8538690

Invented by Li, Teng, and Lu, this system upgrade integrates vehicle location and spatial recognition to provide alerts for avoiding impact.

Patent No. 8538667

Friedlander and Kraemer created this system upgrade to enable users to gain information about current road conditions through their devices and vehicles.

If you need help with GPS patents, you can post your legal need on Upcounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.