Microsoft wants to turn your shirt into a computer

Bringing your car with you, stopping stream sniping, AR privacy and other patents from Big Tech.

Microsoft wants to turn your shirt into a computer

The height of fashion.

Image: USPTO/Microsoft

Welcome to the end another week in the longest January of all time! At least that means another patent roundup is headed your way. As ever, Big Tech had some great ones this week, ranging from the truly mad, like Microsoft computerizing fabrics, to Google making game controllers more interactive and Apple building software for cars that moves with you.

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

Getting notifications on a game controller

This one brings me back to the days of the Sega Dreamcast. It was a beautiful, flawed console, but one of its most recognizable innovations was the VMU, a small device with a little LCD display that could display in-game messages and play little mini-games when undocked from the controller. Google's latest patent seems to be inspired by the ethos of the VMU, envisioning presumably another iteration of its Stadia controller with a small screen or speakers that could announce in-game messages or other notifications to the gamer without distracting them from the game they're in. Maybe they'll even release a Godzilla edition.

Just a button that says "Go"

This patent does what it says on the tin. It's just a patent for the design of a large button in Waymo autonomous vehicles for passengers to press when they're ready to … go. Heaven forbid someone has a go button that looks like yours.

Amazon

Stopping stream sniping

This is a big issue in the world of gaming: when you're streaming and someone playing the same game as you watches your stream to see where you are. It's like back in the old days when you'd play a game with your friends and cheat by looking at their quarter of the screen. This new patent from Amazon, which owns Twitch, aims to fix this, either by obfuscating pieces of information from the streamer so another gamer can't figure out where they are, or just blocking people watching the stream from joining the game altogether. Unfortunately, it seems like if you want to be a jerk, you could just log onto the stream from another device.

Molecular authenticators

Perhaps Amazon is interested in getting into the precious gem and old Rolex game. This new patent outlines a system for using molecular-level sensors to determine an item's authenticity, purportedly to cut down on counterfeit goods. I could definitely see this being useful for items that can be relatively easily authenticated, like diamonds. But considering there have been countless issues with knock-offs and unsafe products hitting Amazon's site, perhaps there are other solutions worth looking into.

Apple

Disappearing buttons

It sometimes feels as if the platonic ideal of an Apple product is a single piece of brushed aluminum and glass, unburdened by such trivialities as buttons and sockets. And perhaps this patent helps Apple get there: It outlines methods for creating buttons or sliders that can be hidden under another material. It could be something like a power button or volume controls embedded below the aluminum surface of a MacBook, which reveal themselves when illuminated. It's like the controls of the 2003 iPod, revived for today's devices.



Bringing your preferences with you

Have you ever driven a friend's car and had to readjust everything to your preferences? The rearview mirror's in the wrong place, your seat needs to be much higher, you don't want the heated steering wheel on — it's just not how you drive. You might even have the exact same car as your friend, but it's not like you can automatically bring your setup preferences with you. Apple's new patent envisions just that scenario, with your car's system interacting with your phone and your phone then interacting with your friend's car. If Apple is serious about building software that future cars run on, this seems like a real possibility.

Facebook

A privacy sound field

As Facebook and others continue to push augmented reality into the mainstream, it's working on ways to make sure you can still hear the world around you, but the world can't hear your conversations. Instead of jamming headphones into your ears and blocking out the world, Facebook is looking at ways of broadcasting audio, while blocking the sound to potential nosy passersby. The patent outlines a system where an AR device can detect sounds around it and block out projecting sounds to certain nearby areas based on where people are. It seems like it might just be easier to wear headphones, to be honest.

Microsoft

Computerized shirts

Have you ever wished your computer was actually just your shirt? Probably not, but what if your fabrics had more computerized parts? It's something Google has pioneered with its Jacquard project, and something Microsoft is apparently looking into. But beyond just weaving electronically conductive material into fabric, Microsoft's patent goes further, suggesting embedding things like "microcontrollers, integrated circuits, solar cells, [LEDs], batteries, conductors, actuators, switches, buttons," among other things. Perhaps someday soon you could literally wear your computer. If you wanted to do that.

Letting AI decide aesthetics

Microsoft is continuing its recent trend of outsourcing creativity to AI with this patent. This particular patent is concerned with what search results pages look like, arguing "in addition to relevance and freshness, people want aesthetically pleasing search results." I haven't really ever thought about the aesthetics of what a Bing or Google search page looks like, but if an AI system could arrange and curate it to my specific tastes, I could see myself being more engaged with it. But half the time I'm just searching for the closest taco joint or when Chelsea is playing — I'm trying to spend as little time on the search place as possible and as much time eating tacos while watching soccer as possible.

Turning batteries into antennae

As devices get smaller and smaller, it becomes more difficult to get all the important components in. Some things, like batteries, just haven't been miniaturized like others, so Microsoft is looking into ways to make them pull double duty. In this patent, it outlines a setup where an array of small batteries could also double as radio antennas. For small IoT devices, you could see a design like this being useful, where space is at such a premium.

Fintech

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

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“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

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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
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Enterprise

Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

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Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

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Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Policy

The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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Biz Carson

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