People

Apple wants to help me and my fat fingers

The funnest (and funniest) patent applications of the week!

iPhone

Sorry, Steve Jobs, my fingers aren't built for this.

Image: Protocol

Happy Fourth of July to all who celebrate. I'm celebrating by eating some hot dogs, going swimming and rounding up some of the funnest (and funniest) patent applications of the week.

Google wants to help make credit card fraud a bit easier to spot, Amazon is worried about people spilling drinks on the Echo, Apple wants to help me not make so many typos, Facebook is looking out for my Beat Saber sessions and Microsoft wants to make parental controls a little more intuitive.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

Alphabet

Easier financial transactions

Fraudulent transactions on a credit card are a pain. It often takes the credit card provider time to gather all the information and verify that the chargers were in fact fraudulent. That's because all of that info — balances, charges, location of charges — is kept in various places, and finding the information takes a lot of resources. This patent imagines a platform where all of the information is stored in one place: an electronic ledger that acts as a single source of truth. It could be used to make transactions at merchants, send money to friends and even sign up for new accounts. That way, the next time something is amiss, the institution doesn't have to look at various forms of data to get your financial situation back on track.

Amazon

Prettier (and more durable) portable speakers

I have so many smart devices in my home, I can get anything done from the couch. But having that many gadgets can be an eyesore (I mean, I don't think it's ever an eyesore, but someone else could, I imagine). This patent takes into account the aesthetics and durability of a smart assistant. Lights and buttons and microphones and cords aren't just unsightly, but they can get messed up and ruin the whole machine if a drink is spilled nearby. It describes ways in which to build the assistants to ensure that they're sturdy, last a long time and in some cases, even keep costs down.

Apple

Phone interface for fat fingers like mine

Steve Jobs hated big phones. In the iPhone 4 era (remember antennagate?), he wasn't shy about tearing big phones apart, calling some "Hummers," saying that "You can't get your hand around it," in reference to larger form factors, and even predicting that "No one's going to buy that" big phone. (For the record, he was wrong; larger phones have been the standard for many years. A year after his death, even Apple released the taller iPhone 5 and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus a year later.)

But even on a bigger display, my fat fingers still can't type words correctly on the first try, and I certainly have a hard time scrolling through documents and emails. This patent imagines an interface that adapts to what's happening on the screen. For example, if there are a ton of apps on the screen, a menu button would come in handy to help find what you're looking for. Or the app icons could shrink to fit more on the screen and negate the need for scrolling.

Facebook

Muffling VR headset sounds

The silliest part about a VR headset is that unless you have headphones in, everyone in the room can hear what song you're playing Beat Saber to. Or they can hear a conversation you might be having. This patent wants to help mitigate sound leaking from the headset without the use of headphones. It imagines various privacy levels that the user can set that then lay an audio filter over the sound. That way, I can do the BTS Beat Saber 15 times in a row and nobody would even notice.

A yarn strap

There's really not much to say about this one, other than part of the patent application just describes what a yarn strap might be used for … such as tying two things together. But basically it's describing a method and apparatus in which to finish the ends of the strap, so that they don't fray. Whew, I was really worried about frayed straps, but I'm glad someone is looking into it.

Microsoft

Parental controls for the future

Parental controls are pretty simple: I set a time limit for the device itself or certain apps, or block certain apps from being accessed at all. But as devices change, and kids' habits change, some parental controls might feel too rigid or constrained, or might not work at all.

This patent describes a way to set parental controls that use context clues as well as hard and fast rules. For example, in the future, I might allow my kid to use Instagram (not now, he's almost 3), but not while he's driving a car. Or the system might keep track of homework hours and then automatically allocate bonus YouTube time based on settings.

Good job, Jill. Bonus YouTube time for you.Image: UPTO

Workplace

An IPO may soon be in Notion’s future

Notion COO Akshay Kothari says there’s room to grow, aided by a new CFO who knows how to take a company public.

Notion has hired its first chief financial officer: Rama Katkar.

Photo: Courtesy of Notion

It’s been a year since Notion’s triumphant $275 million funding round and $10 billion valuation. Since then the landscape for productivity startups trying to make it on their own has completely changed, especially for those pandemic darlings that flourished in the all-remote world.

As recession looms, companies looking to cut costs are less likely to spend money on tools outside of their Microsoft or Google workplace bundles. Enterprise platforms are bulking up and it could spell trouble for the productivity startups trying to unseat them. But Notion COO Akshay Kothari says the company is still aiming to build the next Microsoft, not be the next Microsoft. And in a move signaling a new chapter of maturity, Notion has hired its first chief financial officer: Rama Katkar, Instacart’s former VP of finance.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

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Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
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Illustration: iStock/Getty Images Plus; Protocol
the Protocol team
Protocol focuses on the people, power and politics of tech, with no agenda and just one goal: to arm decision-makers in tech, business and public policy with the unbiased, fact-based news and analysis they need to navigate a world in rapid change.
Fintech

How neobanks are helping consumers game credit scoring

The CFPB says it is closely monitoring secured credit cards offered by neobanks.

Regulators are scrutinizing neobanks' card offerings.

Photo: Oscar Wong/Moment/Getty Images

About one in six Americans has a credit score below 619, according to the CFPB. Another 23% have too thin a credit file to score or no file at all. That puts them in a credit trap: To build credit, these consumers need someone to give them a line of credit with which they can demonstrate good financial habits. But with scores that low, few lenders are prepared to offer them anything.

Neobanks say they can solve the problem through a new twist on secured credit cards. But regulators are already scrutinizing their offerings.

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Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

Policy

Steel decided World War II. Chips will decide whatever is next.

“Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology” foreshadows the coming battle between nations over semiconductors.

“Chip War” outlines the nature of the coming battle over semiconductors, showing how the power to produce leading-edge chips fell into the hands of just five companies.

Image: Scribner; Protocol

“World War II was decided by steel and aluminum, and followed shortly thereafter by the Cold War, which was defined by atomic weapons,” Chris Miller, a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, writes in the introduction to his latest book. So what’s next? According to Miller, the next era, including the rivalry between the U.S. and China, is all about computing power.

That tech rivalry and the story of how the chip industry got from four to 11.8 billion transistors are all part of Miller’s book, “Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology,” which comes out Oct. 4. “Chip War” outlines the nature of the coming battle over semiconductors, showing how the power to produce leading-edge chips fell into the hands of just five companies: three from the U.S., one from Japan, and one from the Netherlands.

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Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

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