Kodak Not Enough: Google Acquires Printer and Camera Patents from Silverbrook

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A couple of weeks ago, a federal bankruptcy judge approved the sale of Kodak’s patent portfolio to a group of companies that joined together to buy them at a discounted price. The group included Apple, Google, Facebook, and others. There were more than 1,000 patents involved, related to photography, storing photos, and sharing photos.

It makes sense for Google to have been interested in those patents, considering their involvement in smartphones with cameras, and their work on Google Glass, where taking pictures and recording video will likely be one of its strengths.

I was very much surprised tonight to run across another acquisition of patents by Google from a company that I’ve seen a lot of in the past when searching for search-related patents. The company has been regularly featured as one of the “US Patent Top 50” since 2006 and is one of the most innovative companies in the world. According to the USPTO assignment database, they have close to 6,000 published pending and granted patents in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Google acquired 269 granted patents and one pending patent application. The image above is from the pending patent application, “Modular Camera and Printer.”

The assignment of these patent filings took place on August 31, 2012, and they were officially recorded with the USPTO on January 21, and January 22 of 2013. I didn’t see them in the USTPO assignment database until this evening.

The focus of most of these patents appears to be on printers and digital cameras and different photographic effects. Silverbrook Research and founder Kia Silverbrook have been extremely prolific in a number of different fields. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the Silverbrook name spring up fairly frequently while exploring search-related patents.

There is one patent describing facial recognition, and another patent that detects where eyes within photos are looking, so that focus can be shifted to what is being looked at. Here’s the title and abstract from that patent:

Utilising eye detection methods for image processing in a digital image camera


A method of processing an image taken with a digital camera including an eye position sensing means said method comprising the step of utilizing the eye position information within the sensed image to process the image in a spatially varying sense, depending upon said location information. The utilizing step can comprise utilizing the eye position information to locate an area of interest within said sensed image. The processing can include the placement of speech bubbles within said image.

This patent acquisition seems to indicate that Google still believes that people like to print out pictures that they take, but they aren’t always ordinary photos as we know them. For instance, there are a few patents that provide ways for both images and audio to be printed out at the same time.

A number of the Silverbrook patents involve variations of taking pictures on a “mobile communications device” that is tied in some way to a printer. Other photographic effects are described as well that could alter the look of an image.

Some of the patents also involve taking pictures of clothing and using a “garment” printer to print them out.

I’ve listed and linked to them below to make it easier for you to click through any that you think might be interesting. I’ve read the abstracts and titles for all of them but didn’t have time to read through the patents themselves.

Patent Application (1)

Granted Patents (269)

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14 thoughts on “Kodak Not Enough: Google Acquires Printer and Camera Patents from Silverbrook”

  1. Good for Kia ! Kia Silverbrook is the most brilliant and prolific inventor I’ve ever met — with an unbelievably deep understanding of physics at a microscopic level. John Michaelis and I investigated his MemJet technology (when we were with the RRD Technology Center) as a possible way to design digital presses at production offset press sizes and speeds. At that time Kia was focused on micro-electro-mechanical devices – MEMs chips — where 1000s of tiny ink droplet catapults were arrayed on a small chip (roughly an inch square.) We failed to convince our management to make the investment. Hopefully Google can make good use of a very unique patent portfolio.

  2. Hi Glenn,

    I’m trying to make some kind of sense of what happened between Kia Silverbrook and his US investor running Memjet these days. Silverbrook supposedly ended up assigning a lot of their patents to Memjet, though that’s not reflected at the USTPO at this point. I don’t know where these 270 patent filings fit into that.

    As I mentioned in the post, it’s been hard avoiding Silverbrook Research during patent searches. Kia Silverbrook is an incredibly prolific inventor. Most of the patents involved in the assignment to Google seem to be related more to cameras and photography, and less towards patents involving just printers, but there are a few of those. It does look like the Memjet technology brought something new and innovative to what people had thought was a fairly mature technology. Shame that management from your company didn’t get involved.

    I couldn’t help but think about what we’ve seen with Project Glass, and people taking lots of pictures and video with the devices. If you’re going to start a gold rush, why not be the guys selling the picks and shovels, too. 🙂

  3. Hi Renaud,

    There are a few patents in there that stood out to me as possibly being very useful for something like Google Glass. For instance, this one seems to make a lot of sense for a camera that someone wears as a pair of glasses:

    Camera system for with velocity sensor and de-blurring processor

    If you’re taking photos while walking or running or driving or even skydiving (like in the presentation where Google demo’ed Google Glass for the first time live, and had skydivers wearing them), that might just be useful.

    I don’t see Google building a printer into Google Glass, but I could see them building a printer accessory that could plug into Android phones and Google Glass.

  4. Bill – I haven’t seen or heard from Kia in years, so I can’t fill in those blanks. But I have similar stories regarding an early e-ink prototype, early barcode-to-cellphone technologies, etc. 🙂 Inertia in the face of change is a powerful thing.

  5. Phones that print photographs… Am I missing something?
    They will print tiny photos (with our without audio) that must surely be of little use to anyone other than kids just messing around.
    I take that back. Maybe you need a passport photo, in a hurry and cant find a photo booth!
    Either more money than sense, or they just dont want all these combined patents getting into competitors hands.

  6. “Binocular glasses with an integral printer device” => It is definitely for the Google’s glasses, I think it’s obvious!
    I definitely understand that Google has big plans for this new product, it seems to be a very hot topic at the HQ. However, I don’t get the point as I am not sure to see people with permanent glasses on their nose one day.

    But why not?

  7. These are “First Class” patents. Who has the money now, it will do so in the future after the acquisition of such patents!

    Many patents could strengthen the quality of Google smartphones compared to its competitors.

  8. I initially was thinking why someone would need a camera in a phone? Then again who thought we ever needed the ipad? let alone the mini? They obviously know something that yours truly doesnt!

  9. Who knows when a certain patent will come in handy. Printing from your smartphone will certainly be very useful. I’m often looking for soft copies of documents and if I can photograph them and print them out I’d be most gratified!

  10. People seem to be getting a little patent crazy. I mean “Method of sharpening image using luminance channel”? I don’t know. With all the lawsuits going around, its become a business in itself.

  11. I can see how possessing patents for technology could prove valuable. But I can’t help wondering how much wasted time, creative talent, and money patent suits have cost. Plus. how much more do we pay for technology because before anything can be brought to market a fortune must be spent to first research potenital patent infringements, and then file an iron clad patent to protect the new poduct.

  12. Hi Bill
    I have seen Google acquiring lots of company in last one year.If I am correct Google acquired around 119 companies and lots of patent in the last one year.Is Google trying to eliminate every possible competition from the market?
    The second thing is how this particular patent is helpful for Google.Google does not have a particular platform where this particular patent can be useful except picasa.

  13. So the next generations of smart phones could well be having a printer in them? Wouldn’t be suprised if they manage to do so.

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