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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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  • I wonder ... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Sonic McTails ( 700139 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:34AM (#12164637)
    I wonder if they can do this, considering that the idea does come from the Matrix, and thus that it could be considered prior art.
    Well, if/when any lawsuits come out about this, we'll see if it does then.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 2 Thoughts... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by McBainLives ( 683602 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:43AM (#12164721)
    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?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:46AM (#12164740)

    IIRC, in ancient times it was necessary to present a working model (at least here in .de).

    Are you sure? The original purpose of patents were to protect lone inventors so that they could secure funding to build their invention without having their idea ripped off. Kinda defeats the object if they have to build one first.

  • Re:PS9 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harrkev ( 623093 ) <kfmsdNO@SPAMharrelsonfamily.org> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:48AM (#12164767) Homepage
    The funny thing is that, if real, this is most likely a worthless patent. The patent will likely expire long before something like this is even possible.

    Sort of like patenting an idea for making money by mining hydrogen gas from stars in a distant galaxy.
  • 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.

  • by netfool ( 623800 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:54AM (#12164823) Homepage
    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 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...).
  • Re:Hmmm.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mzwaterski ( 802371 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @09:56AM (#12164847)
    Have you read the patent?
  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:01AM (#12164897)
    In that case, the estate of Philip K. Dick should get real busy turning the contents of his books into patents.
  • 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?
  • Re:question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GlassUser ( 190787 ) <slashdot&glassuser,net> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:07AM (#12164953) Homepage Journal
    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.

    I doubt that's a coincidence. Without looking into it further, that says to me that nobody wanted to pay for restrictive licensing. In that case the patent system stifled innovation and likely killed people. But that's just what it says to me.
  • by Master_T ( 836808 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:13AM (#12165011)
    Thank heavens the human body is nowhere near close to a good source of energy due to its high energy usage just to stay alive. That and its really hard to power anything of a 98.6 F thermal power source.
  • by mamladm ( 867366 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:21AM (#12165088) Homepage
    That's not quite right. The original purpose of patents was for greedy monarchs to enrich themselves by granting monopolies in return for bribes. This was eventually getting out of hand and had a negative impact on economies in Europe. In 1610 King James I of Britain abandoned the system of favourist patents and introduced a new law by which patents were only to be granted for inventions deemed to be in the public interest, only to the first inventor and strictly limited to 14 years. This was the birth of the modern patent system.

    The duration was eventually extended to 20 years as it remains today, but there was never any requirement to provide a prototype nor was the idea to aid fund raising for a prototype.

    Instead, the patent system is based on the concept of a bargain between the public interest and an inventor. The bargain is for the inventor to receive a time limited monopoly in return for not keeping his invention secret and have it published. In fact, when the patent expires after 20 years, the invention become public domain.

    It does not matter whether the invention actually works or not. The public interest is served by the disclosure of the invention. Any such disclosure will enrich the public domain, which is the only reason why a patent is granted in the first place.

    If the invention is flawed and doesn't work, in most cases, there is still something to be learned from its disclosure for others to fix the flaw or not make the same mistake and instead come up with a better idea. This is what enrichment of the public domain is all about.

    Consequently, it doesn't matter if an invention works or not. If there was any such requirement as to produce a working prototype, it would actually limit the enrichment of the public domain.

    What is far more important is that the rules of patentability, ie novelty and non-obviousness are strictly enforced. Too many patent applications for inventions which are not novel or which are obvious get rubberstamped these days. That is where the problem of the patent system lies today.
  • by Felinoid ( 16872 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:23AM (#12165115) Homepage Journal
    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 matter anymore becouse all research will have to be scraped leaving Sony to start pritty much from scrap to redo the decades of research already done.

    All becouse Sony got the patent.

    Good luck Sony.. None of the researchers working on this field for over 20 years now will ever speak with you let alone share notes.

    To Sony it's just theoretical ideas to many reseachers in the medical industry it's science and to some degree a pratical reality.

    This is a grand example of abusing the patent office and an ideal example of a patent that should have never been issued.
  • Re:Lawsuits (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kyojin the clown ( 842642 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:50AM (#12165349)
    your problem there will be encouraging people to look after the children, instead of just having amazing simulated sex all the time. i know which way i would go on that one...
  • Re:I wonder ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Spencerian ( 465343 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:53AM (#12165375) Homepage Journal
    The Matrix stories didn't "steal" ideas any more than other Arthurian and messiah stories past or present.

    What the Wachowski brothers did well is the depth and detail of the story. Why the name "Thomas Anderson" (Neo's pod name) for instance? It was not just picked. "Anderson" is from the Greek andreas, meaning man. Put it together and you have "son of Man" (an name given to Jesus Christ)--an allusion to Neo's messianic destiny. "Thomas" is an allusion to "doubting Thomas", a disciple that would not believe Jesus' return until he saw and touched Christ's wounds himself--just as a doubting Neo touched his own wounds from the shots from Smith in "Matrix" before he "died" and returned with full awareness as the One.

    Treat a movie like a burger and all you'll get is a burger. Seek a story and you'll usually find one. (OK, except "Battlefield Earth", which stank on ice.) Try out some depth, just for fun. [thematrix101.com]
  • 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.
  • by kaiidth ( 104315 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @11:00AM (#12165433)
    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 accept that the patent office didn't tell them to go away and come back with a little more than a hunch.
  • by erickartman ( 873866 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @11:08AM (#12165505)
    I work with ultrasound imaging systems. There is a reason the brain is currently one of the organs that is not typically imaged with ultrasound. Bone significantly attenuates ultrasound and messes with the phase relationship between elements in the transducer array, so a) its tough to get enough signal in and out of the brain (while still staying withing FDA limits of what's acceptable), and b) its difficult to focus the beam to the area of the brain we are interested in. There are several research efforts to image the brain with ultrasound, and the approach taken is usually through the temple because the bone is thin there but the above problems still limit imaging ability. There are no easy fixes to these problems.
  • Re:Lawsuits (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WD_40 ( 156877 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @11:12AM (#12165537) Homepage
    I think it would be more like, "Men would have to be paid to impregnate women."

    I think most guys would much prefer having 'sex' without the possibility of getting someone pregnant.
  • by taneem ( 873769 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @11:22AM (#12165644) Homepage
    There are several reasons why these patents should not have been granted. Here's two:

    1. Prior art - slashdot itself has reported several times about the efforts of researchers who have allowed monkeys to control machines. with thoughts [mit.edu] In fact some of this research has now been extended to human beings as well. [bbc.co.uk]

    How then can Sony, without showing any kind of proof of concept or research, claim to have intellectual property rights in this area? Even if they have been granted this patent, I doubt that this will stand up in courts if they ever try to defend it.

    2. If Sony gets the patent rights just for conceptualizing this, shouldn't the Wachowski brothers be granted these patents instead? They after all do have a low-fidelity model (the movies).

    I find it sad that a big company like Sony can get away with these frivolous patents when genuine research work takes forever to get a patent on, and has to jump through lots of hoops too. I've had a patent application being worked through for over a year now and the hassle is just inane. And we have the the research, working prototypes and demos, not just fruity "prophetic" concepts.
  • Re:Hmmm.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by back_pages ( 600753 ) <back_pages AT cox DOT net> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @11:54AM (#12165980) Journal
    My only question is why didn't they submarine these suckers.

    Because it is no longer feasible to do so. Patent applications are published within 18 months of filing as Pre-Grant Publications, a policy adopted as part of international patent harmonization in compliance with the Patent Cooperation Treaty.

    It is possible to request nonpublication for a US national stage patent application, however this request must be rescinded if you intend to pursue patent protection in another country. In this age of global economies, very few companies in the electronics field consider it sensible to achieve patent protection in one country, therefore they cannot reasonably prevent their patent applications from being published.

    In summary, it is no longer possible to submarine a patent application unless you restrict the patent protection to a single PCT participating country. I would consider this relatively well known and required knowledge to have a meaningful discussion about the US patent system. No personal offense intended, but I would have moderated your post as overrated had I the points today.

  • by mamladm ( 867366 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @12:29PM (#12166353) Homepage

    In my opinion, US congress is overstepping their authority by extending the duration of those copyrights over and over again because the US constitution clearly says "for limited times". Extending that limit everytime it is about to expire constitutes for all practical purposes a perpetual copyright and thus goes against the spirit of the US constitution.

    Not only that, but extending anything retroactively is pretty much without any parallel in legal matters.

    If any of us was trying to be such a smart ass in court, no judge would go along with that. In fact, the chance is we would be held in contempt of the court for even trying.

    In terms of copyright we are basically still in a period the patent system was in the 16th century when the issuing of perpetual letters of patent got so much out of hand that King James I replaced it for a strictly 14 years only system.

    The duration did eventually get extended to 20 years and 25 years for pharmaceutical patents (because of the long time it takes to get approval for drugs) but it seems everybody has learned the lesson history teaches us.

    I believe that at some point the same will happen to copyrights. It will become so ridiculous that a modern King James I will step in eventually and make a clean sweep where copyrights will strictly be limited to -say- 20 or 25 years without any possibility to extend. Not sure whether this will happen in our lifetime though.
  • Re:Lawsuits (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @12:39PM (#12166461)
    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?

  • 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 Illserve ( 56215 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @01:12PM (#12166797)
    SONY can plan to fly to the moon by flapping their arms if they want, doesn't mean it will happen.

    Now it's true that directional ultrasound could, maybe, in theory, be used to selectively stimulate deep structures of the brain.

    But this is never something you would use on consumers. Not ever in a hundred years, no matter how many dozens of forms they'd signed, or how many thousands of lawyers you had in the kennel.

    It's so stupidly dangerous, especially if used repeatedly. Would you try to program your computer with a 9v battery and a pair of wires?

    This is a far dumber idea than that.

  • by mjm1231 ( 751545 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @01:21PM (#12166875)
    That's putting it mildly. If they manage to extract more energy from the human bodies than they put into them in some form (e.g., food), then they have also discovered a way to violate the second law of thermodynamics. Once you've done that, energy production isn't a problem.

  • Re:Lawsuits (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Terminal Saint ( 668751 ) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @01:50PM (#12167199)
    Let's just stop and think for a minute. Would the extinction of the human race really be all that bad? I mean, I don't want to be wiped out in a nuclear war any more than the next guy, but if we simply stopped having children and die off, who loses? Not us as individuals, we're going to die at some point anyway. Sure as hell not the biosphere. Seems win/win to me...
  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 07, 2005 @02:57PM (#12168145)
    second - the human body is one of the most efficient CONVERTERS of energy available to us.


    Solar energy is stored chemically in plants, and what is not lost is then partly converted into energy by us when we eat it (or when we eat whatever eats it.)

    Plus, a lot of that energy is wasted on tasks like supplying oxygen to the brain. I don't care if my power plant can think, I only care about energy output.
  • Re:Lawsuits (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hcsteve ( 814889 ) <hcsteveNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @04:47PM (#12169515)

    This will solve several problems such as sex with minors, rape, ...

    Rapists rape in order to exercise control over another human being. Rape is not about sexual pleasure.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.