After many months, and many years – I finally have a patent credited to my name. The patent is for an extension of the magnetic coupled connectors (such as magsafe connectors on Macs) to include diagnostic information through the magnets themselves. Of course watching how the sausage is made has been eye opening on a number of fronts. Read on for a quick review on the inspiration behind the patent and any interesting observations on how things went down.
The inspiration for this patent came when working at Palm, Inc (remember them) and in particular on what became the “Palm Veer“. When developing a device the serial port needs to be wired out for developers to be able to see the system booting and diagnose some failures. This is typically done by opening the device, and attaching wires to some serial port connectors and then attaching that to a USB to serial converter to allow a developer machine. The issue I’ve always had with this method is that the device need stop be opened – potentially damaging a small number of devices – or at the very least making them prone to damage. However, it is the typical way it is done.
Now with the Palm Veer, the device was originally envisioned to be hermetically sealed and consequently the typical micro-USB connector was not an option. The hardware designers came up with a magnetic connector to allow headphones or the usb cable to be connected. I’ve included a photo from Digital Trends to the right. With this connector, it seemed obvious to connect the serial to the magnetic coupling – and then have a breakout from within the connector itself.
Bingo! Something I’d never seen before that was possibly a patentable invention. I created a Invention Disclosure for the idea and sent it out.
Oh The Assignments!
As most tech-heads would be aware, shortly after 2010 Palm ran into some troubles. The patent was filed when Palm was independent. HP then acquired Palm and then promptly shut Palm down (abridged version). The USPTO tracks assignments publicly. In short, the patent application went from me to Palm, HP to Palm (most likely a post-acquisition transfer), HP to Palm, Palm to HP, HP to Palm, Palm to HP and then finally from HP to Qualcomm as part of Qualcomm’s acquisition of many of Palm’s patents.
So congratulations to Qualcomm for receiving the ultimate Patent.
The Bureaucracy (or The Many Steps in Patent Reviews)
According to USPTO’s Public PAIR information for the application (US 12/971481), there were about 60 transactions over the 4 years that the patent was under review. It was (non-finally) rejected twice, and a whole pile of patent related discussion. There are PDFs of all the transactions originating from the USPTO and most of the inbound from the legal team.
Some Other Thoughts
This is actually the second patent that I have had filed. The first is application US 12/236,189. This Patent is slowly working its way through the appeals process. Given where it is, there is probably less than 30% chance that it will survive.
Now this is a hardware oriented patent, I’m not going to wade into the relative value and correctness of software patents…
I absolutely recommend any employee of a company to file for IDFs as much as they can. For a small effort on the inventor’s side, a piece of patent history can be created.