Elsewhere in this newsletter we have reviewed patent disputes concerning mobile phone technology in general and Apple in particular. With the mobile phone now so ubiquitous it is easy to forget the amused cynicism with which the early mobile phone technology was greeted a generation ago. In the last few weeks we have seen significant developments in respect of wearable technology which, although currently regarded with some scepticism, may well prove to be an IP battleground in the future.
The most celebrated examples of early wearable technology are probably the Apple iWatch and Google Glass. Following the iWatch, we now have the iRing, for which the patent has just been published. According to the patent, the iRing is an “external electronic device with a finger-ring-mounted touchscreen that includes a computer processor, wireless transceiver, and a rechargeable power source”.
The iRing can apparently perform functions like sending and receiving calls, accessing apps for email and text messaging and biometric sensors, to monitor fitness for example. The use of hand gesture tracking will allow the user to control devices across the range for Apple devices, from iPhones and iPads to Apple TVs. For those who doubt whether there is any benefit to this, Apple state, among other things that the “use of existing touchpads and touch-screen displays, […] may be cumbersome, inconvenient, or inefficient for certain tasks and applications. A user’s hands may be preoccupied with another task, for example, or the user’s hands and/or arms may become fatigued after holding the device in a viewing position for extended periods of time”.
Google’s experience with Google Glass suggests that consumers will take some convincing. Google Glass, it will be recalled, projected a computer image in front of the wearer. Consumers who tried the technology found it impressive but wondered what the point was. Now Google has just received approval for a patent for technology that makes it possible to see holograms on a wearable device to go on the head. This technology will superimpose computer-generated images on top of the wearer’s current real world view. This is “augmented reality” . It is not yet clear, and may not be for some time, how Google intends to apply the new technology but it is clearly convinced that there will be a market for it.
Intellectual property law has been playing catch up across the world in recent years as rights in particular, copyright, have suddenly seemed ill-suited and inadequate to cope with new technologies. With the emergence of augmented reality, there will be more challenges for courts and legislators as they seek to apply established laws to new concepts.
 Whereas “virtual reality” replaces the real world with a simultaneous one, “augmented reality” modifies (by augmenting – though it is also possible to diminish) reality through a computer. As such one’s perceptions of reality are enhanced. Essentially, there is an illusion of digital data having a physical substance and interacting with the real, three-dimensional world.