Apple Patent Application Reveals iPhone FM Radio Receiver and Control

On November 18, 2010, a patent application [USPTO, PDF] owned by published showing the use of a device, such as an iPhone, to control FM radio. Other sources have noted or speculated that the iPhone  has an FM radio receiver [The Register, CNet UK, iPhone Hacks]. This patent application supports the prior reports from CNet that Apple is developing a radio app for the iPhone.

The application discloses that a mobile device, such an an iPhone, that provides an interface for controlling the station that is received through an FM receiver and played on the device. The application shows that the device can provide the use with the options for calling, texting, or sending an email to the radio station that is currently being played through the device.

The application suggests that the FM function or App can integrate with purchasing function to allow a user to purchase a song–presumably through iTunes–that is played on an FM station, as previously suggested by 9 to 5 Mac.

To be clear, the application discloses the device, i.e. iPhone, can include a FM receiver [ see ¶¶ 51, 86] however, the application does not foreclose the possibility that the FM Receiver is external to the device (e.g is an add-on accessory) [ see ¶ 86, “Example mobile devices 701 and 702 are mobile devices that are equipped with or can be coupled to an RF receiver 121 that can receive radio broadcast and a simulcast data stream.”]

The patent application also reveals the following:

  • Providing users with links to other sites (i.e. “Watch on YouTube,” “Books at”, or Wikipedia)  having content related to the song being played.
  • Serving advertising related to the content being played–i.e. on offer to buy tickets  for a concert of the artist currently being played in the geographic area of the user.
  • Suggesting other radio station having similar content as the one currently playing when the current radio station begins to become out of range.
  • Tracking the history of radio stations tuned by a user, categories of content listened to and for how long–“identify the user’s interests, which can be used by the server to make content recommendations to the user.” The application discloses that a user can turn off the tracking.
  • A social networking component where a user can disclose to other in a social network the user’s listening history–similar to Pandora or
  • Providing a location aware function that suggests radio stations based on the location of the user.
  • A library aware function that integrates with a users library of music–iTunes–were the application will refrain from suggesting the purchase of a song currently being played where the user already owns that song.

Current Radio apps are restricted to streaming the content of the FM station over the Internet because it appears currently that Apple has not allowed developers to utilize the FM receiver function in the iPhone, if it exists there. Time will tell whether Apple allow developers to utilize the FM receiver function for third party apps.

How to Create Spaces that Spark Good Ideas

How and where are great ideas born? This is the topic of a TED Talk by Steven Johnson. Anyone interested in generating good ideas–and what business isn’t–should take 18 minutes and watch Johnson’s TED Talk.

Johnson tackles the question of what are the environments that lend to unusual levels of innovation. The popularized view of how ideas are born is that they occur to you in a flash of genus or in the middle of quite solitude or study (e.g. the fable of how Isaac Newton came up with the theory of gravity while sitting alone under a tree).

However, Johnson’s research suggests that ideas aren’t born out of solitude but rather when ideas mix in groups of people. Johnson asserts that an idea is a network–i.e. cobbled and formed from many sources. Johnson suggests that if you want people to generate above average ideas you need to provide work spaces that look more like the scene in artist William Hogarth’s  “An Election Entertainment” painting. In other words, a chaotic or dynamic environment where ideas are likely to come together, and where people are likely to have new associations and ideas collide unpredictably. Johnson discusses research focused on how scientist originate important ideas. The research showed that scientist’s big idea moments were more likely to occur during weekly meeting where scientist discussed their progress, results, and problems, rather than when an individual scientist was working alone.

Johnson’s new book is Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. I look forward to reading it when its released on October 5th.

19% of INC 500 Companies Report Holding Patents

Inc. Magazine reports, in its September 2010 issue that 19% of the companies ranked in the magazine’s “Inc 500” list hold patents. This is reported on page 188 of the print magazine as a part of the CEO survey. On page 126, it is reported that the CEO survey component of the Inc. 500 list comprises data drawn from 304 responses to an online survey of the CEOs of the companies listed in Inc. 500. This post looks at what the 19% figure means and what questions it leaves open.

Inc. lists the criteria used to determine whether a company qualified for consideration in the list. The list ranks companies based on revenue growth from 2006 through 2009. To qualify, the companies had to be generating revenue by June 30, 2008, they had to be U.S.-based, privately held, and for profit. The companies could not be subsidiaries or divisions of other companies.

A number of reasons may explain why more of the companies do not hold patents. First, business operating in some sectors find more value in patents and therefore seek patent protection more than business in other other sectors. Advertising and marketing companies had more companies represented in the list than any other type of business. It is likely business in advertising and marketing, generally, seek patent protection less than say telecommunication companies. According to the graph on page 111 about 24 of the INC 500 companies were in the telecommunications sector, whereas about 60 companies were in advertising and marketing.

Next, patents are expensive to obtain. To qualify for the list, a company must be independent and not a subsidiary or division of another company. It is likely reasonable to guess that independent startup companies, at young as 3 years old, are likely to have less funds available for patent protection. See my post: Pay for a Software Patent Application or a Software Engineer?

INC. does not report the percentage of companies on the list that have a patent application pending at the U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). According to the USPTO, the average pendency of a patent application is 34.6 months based on FY 2009 statistics. That means from the date a patent application is filed it take, on average, about 3 years for the government to issue a patent on that application. Therefore it is possible that some subset of the companies on the INC 500 list might have patent applications presently pending.

Last the survey related to the INC report does not assess other types of Intellectual Property such as trademark registrations.

I am not sure that we can draw any conclusions from the 19% reported in INC. Many factors influence a companies decision to seek patent protection. Further the long patent application pendency period leaves the possibility companies that do not presently have a patent could have a patent application currently pending.