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Sony Patents Matrix-Like Game Technology 532

howman writes "Reuters is reporting that Sony has been granted 2 patents, both describing 'Method and system for generating sensory data onto the human neural cortex'. These are patents 6,729,337 and 6,536,440. The patents go on to 'describe a technique for aiming ultrasonic pulses at specific areas of the brain to induce sensory experiences such as smells, sounds and images'. The story was first broken by New Scientist magazine." Commentary also available via Ars Technica.
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Sony Patents Matrix-Like Game Technology

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  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:32AM (#12164616)
    Wonder why Reuters left this one out...

    There was a third patent, entitled "Method and system for utilization of the human body as a clean, renewable energy source". It goes on to describe "a process for extracting thermal, biochemical, and electrical energy from the human body, ensuring a clean, renewable power supply for the Machi^H^H^H^H^Hrest of the population".

    I'd keep an eye on Sony if I were you...
  • Lawsuits (Score:5, Funny)

    by Scoria ( 264473 ) <slashmail@initia ... g minus math_god> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:33AM (#12164619) Homepage
    So, any bets as to which pornographer Sony will be suing first? ;-)
    • Re:Lawsuits (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Seumas ( 6865 )
      This isn't real. They just filed it, knowing it would stupidly be accepted, as a publicity stunt. Is it a coincidence that The Matrix Online just came out last week?

  • PS9 (Score:2, Funny)

    by mesach ( 191869 )
    Looks like they are already working on the PS9, Hopefully they can reach the launch date of 2019.

    I Can't wait to play that wipeout like game they had in the commercial!
  • Wheeeww (Score:4, Funny)

    by Gaewyn L Knight ( 16566 ) < minus caffeine> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:33AM (#12164626) Homepage Journal
    At least with sound they don't have to stick a heavily wired icepick into my brain.

    See technology is already passing Sci-Fi up. :}
    • Re:Wheeeww (Score:3, Funny)

      by ( 782137 )
      At least with sound they don't have to stick a heavily wired icepick into my brain.

      See technology is already passing Sci-Fi up. :}

      And, apparently, Leon Trotsky [].
  • by foobsr ( 693224 ) * on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:33AM (#12164627) Homepage Journal
    ... finally [].

    Now let us just hope that we ourselves do not conflict with any (coming) patent so that we can take full advantage.

    More seriously (?):

    Sony hasn't yet built a device that works based on the ideas presented in the patent, so this is all theoretical. In fact, according to the New Scientist, Sony hasn't even conducted any experiments to see if this works. Nonetheless, most of the reporting on this patent (see the Times Online and the original New Scientist peice) claim that some independent experts have said that the idea is plausible. There's no word yet on whether or not tinfoil will stop the ultrasonic brain rays.

    Strange. I bet there are some among the crowd here who have "theoretical ideas" that level up with SONY. IIRC, in ancient times it was necessary to present a working model (at least here in .de).

    • by Gulik ( 179693 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:00AM (#12164892)
      Sony hasn't yet built a device that works based on the ideas presented in the patent, so this is all theoretical. In fact, according to the New Scientist, Sony hasn't even conducted any experiments to see if this works.

      So, they've got a patent on something that they not only haven't built, but that they have no particular evidence could even work at all?

      I'm starting to wonder what you'd have to throw together to get rejected by the patent office at this point. "Um, yeah, I think that, like, maybe you could make someone remember something by, you know, setting up a magnetic field around a specific part of their brain. Sounds like it could work, right? Can I have a patent?"
      • by mamladm ( 867366 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:41AM (#12165278) Homepage
        The requirements for patentability are simple ...

        1) the invention has to be novel
        2) the invention must not be ovious, there has to be an inventive step
        3) the specification has to be detailed enough for persons skilled in the art to carry out the invention, that is to say, build the apparatus

        These requirements are perfectly sufficient if they are properly enforced.

        requirement 1 means, no patent is to be granted if there is prior art

        requirement 2 means, no patent is to be granted for something that is obvious

        requirement 3 means, no patent is to be granted for concepts or ideas, nor for applications that are too fuzzy to be pinned down to an actual implementation

        The problem with the patent system today is that the patent offices are hopelessly understaffed to ensure that these requirements are actually enforced and consequently there are too many patents which are not novel, obvious or fuzzy or any combination thereof.

        If a requirement to produce a working prototype was introduced, it would make things even worse because the already overworked patent examiners would now also have to examine the prototype and there would likely follow a tendency to grant any application as long as the prototype appears to do what the specification says it does. The result would be even more non-novel and obvious patents.
        • by Gulik ( 179693 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:58AM (#12165417)
          1) the invention has to be novel
          2) the invention must not be ovious, there has to be an inventive step
          3) the specification has to be detailed enough for persons skilled in the art to carry out the invention, that is to say, build the apparatus ...
          The problem with the patent system today is that the patent offices are hopelessly understaffed...

          I don't think that failing to notice that 1/3 of the required elements is entirely missing can be brushed off as understaffing. Not finding some obscure prior art -- okay, it happens, though I don't think they're really trying all that hard. Questions of the invention being inobvious are often open to argument, especially after you've already seen the invention and had a chance to say "oh, yeah, I coulda done that." But failing to notice that there's not anything that even pretends to be an actual physical apparatus or any idea how to design one? Sorry -- that's incompetence.
      • Well, they do make it quite clear in the article that they were fundamentally making it up as they went along in the forlorn hope that somebody else would do the legwork:

        Elizabeth Boukis, spokeswoman for Sony Electronics, says the work is speculative. "There were not any experiments done," she says. "This particular patent was a prophetic invention. It was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us."

        Which is very sweet and all, but I am finding it hard to

        • ...come back with a little more than a hunch.

          [sung, of course, to the Brady Bunch theme]

          Here's the story
          Of a silly patent
          Granted to a sci-fi-sounding non-device.
          It just might make you smell or feel---
          It sure would be nice.

          Here's the story
          Posted here at Slashdot
          By a poster who hates patenting mere dreams.
          Thinks the Office
          Should get a cluon
          And kill these harebrained schemes.

          And so today when this poster met this patent
          We all saw that it was much more than a hunch
          That the two were never mea

    • It appears Sony is trying to patent sensory input from the nerve while having done zero research into the field.
      Yet there is a large amount of existing research into the field. Right now most of the practical application is in the area of receaving signals from the brain but the cochlear implants that restore hearing an the cybernetic eye that restores vision are practical examples of sending sensory data back to the brain.

      I'm not sure how far we are on the other sensory inputs but I guess that dosen't mat
  • by hunterx11 ( 778171 ) <> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:34AM (#12164630) Homepage Journal
    ...that Sony can patent something not only which they have not implemented, but which they do not even yet know how to implement?
    • by DJDutcher ( 823189 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:39AM (#12164684)
      If Sony dosn't know how to implement this, wouldn't the use of this technology in the Matrix be prior art? The movie makers know as much about how to do this as Sony does.
    • by Gadzinka ( 256729 ) <> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:43AM (#12164715) Journal
      No, it's perfectly good from business angle:

      1. patent some idea
      2. wait for someone to build some device implementing this idea
      3. profit

      Noticed, there is no "unknown" step between 2 and 3?

    • Not at all! I'm about to go and patent intersteller travel and quantum computing. I did physics in high school, so I figure I'm expert enough to get a patent. I'll get it eventually, or at least someone will.

      Don't worry, it's America. Get a few billion dollars behind you and you can get away with anything.
    • I was hoping this would mean they would be implementing their patent relatively soon (PS4 anyone?) but it looks like that won't be the case. Sony has held a patent [] to display images on the retina since 1992! And it still doesn't look like we'll be getting anything like that in the near future. Maybe Sony PSP2 or PSE (Playstation Eye?)
      Fairfax Underground: Fairfax County message boards, forums, and public arrest/ticket records []
      • Since patents are only valid for 17 years, makes you wonder if they're really shooting themselves in the foot? Assuming they get the retina imaging thing working this year, they'll only be able to reap the benefits of patent protection for 4 years. It would make more sense to patent something that was nearly marketable.
    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:53AM (#12164814) Homepage
      ...the idea was that if you came up with a brilliant idea, but lacked the funds to invest in R&D, materials, production equipment, distribution model etc. etc., you could patent it and then get investors. Otherwise your "investors" could just run off with your idea and cash in.

      That works quite well for items that are "non-intuitive". Where it does not work well are for items that are "intuitive" (yet probably not obvious), the technology is "coming", but there's no implementation yet.

      For example, say I went out and patented creating CPUs with nanotechnology. Obviously, if it could be done it would be a hit. You expect the product to appear, so you patent it and wait for someone else to actually do it.

      The real question is what part is there that is innovative, the idea or the implementation? Or maybe it is both? Patents have been made to protect ideas. But there's a whole chunk of "innovation" that it doesn't cover, or is directly in opposition to.

    • Not only that, but you would think that, by the time they are able to implement it on any type of broad/consumer market, that the patent would be expired. I mean, I really can't see them rolling this out anytime soon.
      Wait, wait a minute... Maybe they got one of those special Disney-like-never-ending-copyright patents? Then it would make sense.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:34AM (#12164634)
    You mean the first third is good, whilst the rest is shit?

    Interesting patent idea.
  • Nope, was just a game, hope my medical insurance covers this barfight.

  • There is no spoo...

    Ack! My neighbor is flashing me from across the street with images of his grandmother again... get this thing off of me!

  • question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by R.D.Olivaw ( 826349 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:36AM (#12164654)
    Can someone enlighten me please.
    How detailed, exact and 'can be done with the current technology'a patent claim has to be in order to get granted? I mean they can't implement these patents now, can they?
    Can I just take say the teleporter and describe it as a commuting device that works by transforming matter into energy, beaming it and retransforming it back to get a patent for it?
    • You cant patent a teleporter, Sony patented it years ago.
    • Re:question (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Yerase ( 636636 )
      This is one of the fundamental flaws with the US patent system. You can get a patent on just about anything so long as you can write a plausible explanation for it (and "plausible" is all up to the examiner). If you can't honestly built the item you're proposing, then the patent office just gets your money for free. If one day someone else does, and you try to sue them for Patent Infrigement, then they can file a countersuit proposing that you don't know what you're talking about. At that point, it's up
    • given the way things are goin they may come up with some home or personal device with voice recognition, and then you'll just have to say "Patent teleporter" and you're done
    • A patent is only good for 20 years from the first filing. Apparently, Sony believes this tech will be possible within that timeframe.

      If you really think teleporters will be feasible withing 20 years, I'd say go for it. But remember Allen Breed. He's the fellow who patented the first automobile airbag in 1968. When did the automotive industry make airbage generally available? 1988. Do the math.

      Fortunately, Breed kept inventing and does hold active patents on the second generation airbags as well as other au

  • Now Tank can just upload the experience of having played the game into my cortex; no longer will I have to waste hours of my life mastering some shitty game!
  • Unfortunatly nobody can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself.
  •'re going to shoot what now? At my brain???!

    I'll grant you, it's not really doing much else, so it could, in a pinch, substitute for a targetting dummy. However, as I am firmly attached to it, this seems like an idea who's time will never come.
  • Patenting Ideas (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak ( 773371 ) <> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:38AM (#12164670) Homepage Journal
    I love how they've patented a method that is as of yet unimplementable. Regardless of who actually goes to the trouble of researching and spending the time prototyping an idea, patent holders usually get to skim off the cream, because, well.. we thought of it first.

    Would some slashdotters please hurry up and patent AI, warp drive and/or superhuman genetic mutation please. Wait! better yet, patent methods for processing the new social security system on a computer! Then deny anyone the right to use it. That ought to make all the old trips on Capitol Hill wake up and notice!!
  • Patent on Vapor ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Peeteriz ( 821290 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:38AM (#12164677)
    'Elizabeth Boukis, spokeswoman for Sony Electronics, says the work is speculative. "There were not any experiments done," she says. "This particular patent was a prophetic invention. It was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us." '

    Hey - so it basically means that they do NOT have made an invention, but have a patent to get all the profit, when some real inventor makes it real 10 years later ?

    This is ridiculous. Patents should be granted for novel implementations, not for ideas that someone might implement in future. The scientists that find a working solution should get the patent, not some lawyer who is just speculating on where technology might go.
  • by janek78 ( 861508 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:39AM (#12164678) Homepage
    The skull is well known for being a barrier almost impenetrable for ultrasound, it is only possible to use US imaging for certain areas accessible through foramen magnum (the big hole at the bottom) or more recently also through the thin bone at the sides.

    I wonder how they manage to get it in and focus it.

    Sounds very exciting though, I'll be glad to see it put to some sensible use. Focused neurostimulation to treat tremor associated with Parkinson's could be one (done by implanting electrodes today). Or treatment od epilepsy could be also one application.
  • First of all, the idea itself is decades if not centuries old. Second of all, by the time anything is built, they just limited the amount of time they can collect royalties or whatever it's called when someone has to pay for using someone else's patent. What in the world are they thinking?
  • Just what we need (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CDarklock ( 869868 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:40AM (#12164687) Homepage Journal
    Remember all the old "smell-o-vision" jokes? Insert your favorite one here.

    The thing that scares me is how any new technology is used *badly* for the first three to five years. Force feedback was around for a good long time before anyone did anything sensible with it, and even stereo sound was heinously abused in the early days. I can just imagine the hideous misfeatures that will pop up with this.

    And for the conspiracy theorists among us, Drs. Chaffee and Light in the UK supposedly had some limited success controlling the human brain with radio waves in the 30s. If either of those are cited in the patent application, we might want to steer clear of any game using this technology...
  • by Zate ( 687440 )
    I can see it now.. walking past a McDonalds advertising sign and suddenly hearing that stupid jingle in my head and smelling and tasking Mickey D's Fries.. gonne be great to be bombarded with advertising like this.
  • 2 Thoughts... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by McBainLives ( 683602 )
    1) Anyone ever read A.C. Clarke's "The Hammer of G-d" or "3001" - looks like Sony is working to make the "BrainMan" a reality! 2) From the discussion it seems like these patents may be subject to a (very rare) challenge on "usability" grounds. If the idea is only theoretical, how can they be said to have "reduced it to practice" in patent parlance?
  • More like "Strange Days" [], IMO. (hmmmm Angela Bassett)

    Because if you can beam stuff in, you can probably record stuff out.

    I'd rather have that sci-fi come true than the Matrix any day.
  • What sort of implications does this have for the medical world, who may be able to use this (should it ever actually be implemented) to help those who are blind and/or deaf? Will they have to go through Sony?
  • Smells? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Aumaden ( 598628 ) <Devon.C.Miller@gma i l . c om> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:46AM (#12164745) Journal
    sensory experiences such as smells, sounds and images

    Seeing goatse and tubgirl are bad enough. But, Smells??!

    /me shudders and runs screaming

    You'll need to be brainwashed just to feel clean after that.

  • Is that you have to take a blue pill first, otherwise you wake up in a bathtub with millions of others, wired to the national grid.
  • If this ever gets implemented, this will obviously change how we "see" entertainment forever. But even more important, as the article hints, think about the blind and deaf! Could this technology be used to send the data directly to their brains and allow them to see and hear again? I personally have lost more than 50% of my hearing in one ear because of a childhood infection to the ear drum and I can tell you that I would really much like to hear how the world sounds at full stereo again. Exciting technolog
  • What happend? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Apreche ( 239272 )
    What happened to the times when you had to actually invent something before you could patent it?
  • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:56AM (#12164845) Journal
    Maybe I'm stating the obvious here, but this is a perfect example of why the current patent system needs to be reworked, or tightened up at the very least. If SONY's patent on this technology is actually upheld and valid, then this absolutely discourages innovation.

    Why should some engineer or company try to actually make the proposed design work? As soon as they do, they lose the invention to SONY, who didn't do anything. By owning a patent on something that doesn't yet exist, they make it unlikely that the thing will ever be invented. Only SONY would have any incentive to develop this technology.

    The only possible upshot is that if silly companies patent far-fetched ideas too early, then the patent might be running out exactly at the time when it is becoming technically feasible to build the damn thing. Then again, this would probably prompt court fights for extension of the patent (but your honour, we are only now starting to be able to make money off of the mistake we made years ago...).

  • It's just a short hop to the tasp - the device used by the puppeteer in Niven's Ringworld books designed to remotely stimulate the pleasure center of the brain.

    What a wonderful world it would be if you could "make someone's day" on the metro, or in the middle of a traffic-jam, or in the midst of a mob scene.

    Think of how valuable a device like the tasp would be for subduing violent criminals - one second, a rampaging hoodlum, the next second a vegetable-like mass, drooling with uncontrollable pleasure
  • Previous Art (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Exitar ( 809068 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:01AM (#12164900)
    Obviously I'm wrong but however...
    if someone patents an idea he cannot realize but is based on some form of fiction (i.e. Matrix), couldn't that fiction be considered "prior art" and make that patent invalid?
  • Set of all sets (Score:3, Interesting)

    by obender ( 546976 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:08AM (#12164959)
    Could somebody patent the act of patenting and put an end to this? Or patent the act of suing people for all possible future patents? I am sure that if things like the one in the story can be patented you should be able to work out a paradox and halt the system.
  • Such Gibberish.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Illserve ( 56215 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:52AM (#12165372)
    I am a Neuroscientist.

    There is no way in God's Green Earth that you can transnsmit a meaningful signal to the brain wirelessly through the skull. They even say it themselves in the article that you can't even target *groups* of neurons.

    It's about the laws of physics. The fields just spread too much to allow you to target neurons.

    Maybe with vast (!!!!) improvements in technology, we could selectively activate a region of the brain, making someone feel a particular way (happy, sad, horny, religious), but it would be sloppy, dangerous and need to be tuned to a particular individual.

    Under NO conceivable circumstances within the universe that we currently live could you uninvasively transmit any detailed information, through the skull as the article (and presumably the patent) implies.

  • Good idea SONY! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aonaran ( 15651 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @11:19AM (#12165605) Homepage
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but any invention can only be patented once.

    We should set up a charity to patent these sorts of "prophetic" inventions, so that when the day comes that they can actually be implemented the patents will have expired and the technology will be free of any restrictive licensing.

    I suggest these as starters:
    Cold Fusion
    Personal laser weapons
    Warp drives
    Jump gates
    Nanobot based immune systems
  • Prior Art.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by un1xl0ser ( 575642 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @11:25AM (#12165670)
    As far as feeding my neural cortex with sensory information, my body parts do a good job of that.

    I'll volunteer my sexual organs as prior art.
  • And in other news... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dark_requiem ( 806308 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @12:16PM (#12166201)
    Microsoft today acquired a patent on time travel. Commenting on this development, Steve Balmer had this to say: "We don't know how to do it, but I'll be damned if I let someone else get credit when they figure it out. We had the idea first." Also, a patent for the flying car has been issued to General Motors. Company officials obtained the patent amid concerns that someone else might be able to develop the technology first, and then how would GM make money on it?

    Seriously, this is just another example of why the patent office should be eliminated in favor of private licensing agreements, contracts, and NDAs. Let the company worry about enforcing their IP rights, which has the added benefit of preventing them from "protecting" IP they don't have.
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @12:35PM (#12166412) Homepage Journal
    Sony and Microsoft top my list of companies I don't want patenting Matrix-like technology. Agent Smith will be dropping by later to discuss your MP3 collection...


  • by TechnoGrl ( 322690 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @12:47PM (#12166537)
    Iam SO thinking of putting in an application for a patent for a device (shaped like a beanie and uses lots of tinfoil) that nullifies ultrasonic waves directed to the brain. Base it on noise cancelling technology or something similar.

    Hey it *must* be plausible because there's a patent for soney's device right??
  • by Flyboy Connor ( 741764 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @02:52PM (#12168067)
    Elizabeth Boukis, spokeswoman for Sony Electronics, says the work is speculative. "There were not any experiments done," she says. "This particular patent was a prophetic invention. It was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us."

    If you are allowed to patent pure speculation, doesn't that mean science fiction novels may constitute prior art? In that case, there is abundant prior art, I would say.

    Really, the US patent system is ridiculous. Please let us Europeans be spared this nonsense.

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner