Virtual Reality Patents

Virtual reality patents refer to the patents that specifically protect virtual reality (VR), an artificial simulation of the real world that has been designed by computer programs. Virtual reality differs from augmented reality (AR) because augmented reality provides a live view of the real world. With augmented reality, the elements of the real world are augmented by data like video, sound, and GPS data. A user will put on a pair of 3D glasses or use a head mounted display (HM) to view various images when using augmented reality. Augmented reality even allows users to enjoy an interactive experience with the images that they see.

With iPhones or other types of smartphones, the GPS can retrieve information about the present geographical location of the smartphone user and provide images of that location. Additionally, this mobile device has built-in sensors, software, and other digital features that create a display of images directly onto physical objects in the real world.

In recent years, growth in both the virtual and augmented reality sectors has experienced explosive growth. An organization known as the New Zealand VR/AR association has recently developed, a compilation of 16 innovators from areas such as Christchurch, Auckland, and Wellington. The Wellington virtual reality company has big name investors including film star Ashton Kutcher and the giant software company Samsung. When many people hear about augmented reality, the first thing that may come to mind is a game like Pokémon, but this new technology is playing a role in treatment of certain medical problems too. Neurosurgery is an example of one of the treatments often performed now with the help augmented reality technology. With augmented reality, a neurosurgeon can see the ventricles on the patient's brain by using a Microsoft HoloLens screen. Regarding gaming purposes, Pokémon shows us that using augmented reality improves the user's experience with the game.

Other active participants who make up the augmented reality and virtual reality market include:

  • Sony
  • Microsoft
  • OculusVR
  • Motorola Mobility Inc.

The company Motorola Mobility Inc. recently obtained the patent “MOBILE VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY SYSTEM” from the Indian Patent Office (IPO).

The patent examiner looks at virtual and augmented reality inventions and determines whether or not they meet the standards set forth to be a part of the electronics field. When someone is using a device with augmented reality features, that person can make “virtual graffiti”. The virtual graffiti will designate a specific physical location of anything that could be considered mobile. Once the virtual graffiti is created, it is paired with the location and anyone who can see the graffiti; it is uploaded to a network server. The user's experience is made even better by allowing them to change the virtual graffiti according to their own unique preferences.

Microsoft is an example of another company that was recently granted a patent by the Indian Patent Office (IPO). This patent is called, “A METHOD FOR GENERATING AN AVATAR AND A SYSTEM THEREOF”. The patent examiner for "A METHOD FOR GENERATING AN AVATAR AND A SYSTEM THEREOF" determined that the patent was related to computer science and would fit under this category. This patent that Microsoft received has to do with computer games that tend to be based on racing in which one or several people could compete against each other. The players compete against one another by choosing a character in the video game (like Mario Andretti) and racing the other opponents in virtual race cars on the computer screen. In some cases, the human behavior of the actual human players could be sampled and replicated to enhance the player's experience when using the game. Personalization is key in regard to this computer-related patent.

A few of the leading participants in the augmented and virtual reality realm include the HTC Vive, Oculus's Rift, and headsets by Magic Leap and PlayStation. These companies are currently competing with each other to dominate the same tech-savvy target demographic while simultaneously nabbing any intellectual property that another company might try to patent.

Landscape of Virtual Reality

As of March 28, 2016, it was announced on the official Oculus VR blog that the company would be releasing its first shipment of the Oculus Rift headset. It was only about a year and a half earlier that a Kickstarter campaign reached 947 percent of its original funding goal in about one month. It's obvious that the Oculus Rift is one of the most powerful virtual reality platforms on the market today. Just to give you an idea of Oculus VR's strong presence, this company is the parent company of Facebook Inc.

Many tech-savvy individuals have speculated as to how Oculus Rift could prompt immersive video games, but that isn't the only application for this kind of technology. IrisVR and Ach Virtual are applications made for architectural purposes that both use Oculus Rift to shift 2-deminsional designs to three-dimensional designs, thus enhancing how architect professionals can articulate spatial design. Architects aren't the only people interested in the virtual reality of Oculus Rift; behavioral researches use this technology to treat certain psychological disorders such as anxiety or PTSD by immersing their patients in virtual reality. We are also witnessing, even more, applications developing on the market with 3D design and 3D printing.

The unique aspect about the Oculus Rift is that it is one product with multiple pieces, all of which add to the way the virtual world is perceived. This is different from products offered by other virtual reality companies like Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Samsung Electronics. The only thing that the Oculus Rift needs in order to create data which then becomes a 3D virtual reality environment is a computer like Microsoft Corporation's Xbox. In the headset, there are two important components: a gyroscope and an accelerometer. Both of these pieces are designed to detect the user's movement.

The Oculus Rift provides two displays called “twin active matrix OLED (AMOLED) displays that are used instead of splitting the screen of a smartphone in half. The virtual reality headset feels, even more real thanks to audio components that are built into the system. These audio components enhance the user's experience of various sensations when they are in the virtual world. Another way the virtual reality experience is enhanced is by the user's motions being tracked by a part inside the Oculus Rift headset. This sensor picks up LED constellations and projects them for the user. Every Oculus Rift headset is built with this IR LED sensor along with a cable that can connect the sensor to a computer and a mounting stand. If a user wishes, they can pair the headset with an Oculus Rift remote or remote controller that is compatible with the device. The Xbox game controller is compatible with Oculus Rift.

There has been at least one patent protection granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the Oculus VR. This utility patent protects the reality technologies that created the headset. There is one particular problem with video playback that at times causes the display to go too far left or right when the user is turning their head. This issue is addressed by the inventor and protected by U.S. Patent No. 9063330, entitled Perception Based Predictive Tracking for Head Mounted Displays. It is the inventor's intention to create more refined and accurate movement tracking predictions by applying certain tracking techniques. These techniques are meant to correct and prevent any screen jitters that the user could experience even when standing completely still.

In addition to the utility patent, Oculus VR is in possession of three design patents that protect the Oculus Rift headset's design. Along with one utility patent and three design patents, Oculus VR has several patent applications currently filed with the USPO all of which could eventually turn into official patents. A patent application that was recently filed is U.S. Patent Application No. 20160070103, titled Corrective Optics for Reducing Fixed Pattern Noise in a Virtual Reality Headset. This patent would protect the new improvements made on the virtual reality headset's display.

This patent, "Corrective Optics for Reducing Fixed Pattern Noise in a Virtual Reality Headset", is said to have minimized a “screen door” effect that often occurs when various colored sub-pixels break apart due to dark spaces and blurring lights.

The virtual reality headset, other pertinent VR components, and the personal computer that provides specific processing powers are all included in the Oculus Rift bundle. The retail price is $1,500 at its lowest, which is a considerable investment of money. The Oculus Rift headset without the other gear is still quite pricy, starting at $599. Costly though it may seem, these prices don't seem to be deterring buyers. In fact, this device is so popular that Oculus Rift Founder Palmer Luckey tweeted that all of the orders for the headset crashed the company's credit card processing servers within the first hour. It is clear that people will pay for something that is considered valuable and cutting edge in the virtual reality market.

Exploring the Possibilities of VR and AR

User Interfaces (UIs)

The function of UIs is to enable you to interact with technology. MagicLeap envisions a number of new virtual UI opportunities. One of them is a social media tree planted by a user, with each of its branches facilitating a certain action or media. Another is a spider web that employs a similar concept. The patent also includes:

  • Pull strings that a user can yank to trigger certain actions
  • A paint bucket that can be splashed onto a surface to uncover options
  • A finger brush for drawing out a menu

Avatars

Depending on the preference of the user, an avatar can be any image. For example, the user may present himself or herself as a bird flying around in a conference room. However, what an avatar can do depends on the functionalities available in VR and AR products. Leap Motion is a leading hand-tracking company in the VR and AR headset industry. Co-founder and CTO of the company David Holz is thrilled with the robotics-VR crossover, and so is MagicLeap.

AR systems may enable an avatar to control virtual robot or another kind of virtual machine in an environment. For instance, the avatar may be able to “jump” into a robot, physically change the environment, and then get out of the robot.

Home-Based Activities

While they may promote agoraphobia, AR headsets allow their users to perform a lot of tasks and enjoy a wide variety of entertainment from the comfort of their homes. They can preview many of the items they wish to purchase, from apparel to furniture. Also, they do not have to leave their homes to watch exciting concerts. Magic Leap plans to stream 3D AR concerts to users in any location.

As for sports fans, they can use AR headsets to project virtual screens onto the walls of their homes, as well as adjust camera angles and view statistics and Twitter feeds. For instance, they can track a different route for a wide receiver.

However, the AR system does not change the players' actions, except the chosen wide receiver, quarterback, and defensive players who will be covering the wide receiver. Users can execute an entire virtual fantasy play that may turn out to be very different from the actual play. For example, this may take place during a timeout or a commercial break.

VR or AR Experiences in a Local Environment

When it detects certain pertinent parameter, a VR or AR system may display time-based AR or VR images, videos, or sounds in the local environment. For instance, a Madagascar jungle seen may be displayed with or without jungle sounds or other effects when the user receives the cup of coffee he ordered.

Hand Gesture Control

Hand gestures can be the key to intuitive and immersive VR and AR experiences. However, it is not easy to come up with the right hand gestures, and patenting them is even more challenging. Some patents have paragraphs upon paragraphs detailing how a finger will touch another finger to produce a certain virtual interface. From the simplest to the most complex gestures, your hands can control anything in a virtual environment. Securing patents may require thousands upon thousands of words, but many VR and AR companies are racing to do it.

VR and AR Headsets in the Workplace

Many VR and AR developers are excited to see what their headsets can do in workplaces. Mundane jobs in factories and warehouse training courses can be turned into games for a more exciting workday. Employers can use headsets to track productivity and motivate workers who are unproductive.

Many other work-related AR products have been conceived and patented. Industrial designers and architects can concept in AR, while surgeons can use AR products to preview upcoming procedures and control robotic tools. Other possible applications in the medical industry include using virtual content on AR systems to calm patients and linking AR systems to drug delivery systems to immediately administer medication whenever patients show certain kinds of behavior.

While many of these “wacky” ideas may not be turned into reality, some of them are sensible, such as gamifying employee training. Nonetheless, similar to the iPhone, some AR advances will only occur after the headsets become more commonplace. Until then, the rush for patents will surely continue.

Patenting Basics

Mixed reality, augmented reality, and virtual reality patent applications must be filed through the United Stated Patent and Trademark Office in order to obtain and secure patent protection. The majority of virtual and augmented reality patent applications are already public, but roughly 7 percent of these patent applications nationwide are not yet published. Within 18 months following the patent application's priority date, these patent applications usually become published. In some cases, these patent applications might not ever have been received, and it isn't uncommon for some applications to be given up on after being published. The USPTO will approve a patent once all fees have been paid and formalities have been provided in the patent application.

Optical System for Virtual Reality Helmet

Virtual reality systems create immersive virtual environments where users can participate in games, test products, and discover new experiences among other activities. The virtual reality concept became fairly popular in the 1990's, and these systems always included a helmet with purchase. Helmets and headsets tend to be the simplest way for users to interact with the virtual reality environment. After all, virtual reality is built on the foundation of visuals, so it makes sense to use headsets.

Sapient and Sentient Artificial Intelligence

The idea of artificial intelligence has always fascinated people, especially when it pertains to the realms of fantasy and science-fiction. Fun, novel, and exciting though it may be, it also brings into question the meaning of being human. Society is so intrigued with artificial intelligence that many movies and books have been made on the subject matter. With so many stories being created to examine the possibilities and consequences of artificial intelligence, it is no wonder that at some point someone would decide to create and patent some form of artificial intelligence.

Device, Method, and System for Augmented Reality Security

Because of Google Glass, devices that create augmented reality are starting to make their mark in social conscious. A patent is needed to secure the inventions that focus on the users' social interactions with their devices.

Game Device for Virtual Reality Experience

For the longest time, anytime somebody heard the words “virtual reality” they would often think of an early 2000's video game. But virtual reality is far more influential today, and artificial intelligence is routinely being used in such sectors as medicine, music, and finance among many others. Now with more approved patents, artificial intelligence could play a role in helping USPTO review and approve patents.

If you need help filing a virtual reality patent or another type of utility patent or have additional questions about the process, 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, Stripe, and Twilio.