Every month or so, I will be covering a newly published patent application for virtual reality. My methodology is simple: search for patents containing the phrase “virtual reality,” and sort by newest. Keep in mind that patent applications typically publish 18 months from the earliest claimed priority date.
First up is an application for using an augmented reality display to determine a user’s eye prescription by none other than the company Magic Leap. Magic Leap is a very well-capitalized, mixed-reality startup, valued at around $4.5 billion. They have received significant and frequent criticism for their “failure” to launch a product to market.
However, the focus of this article is on U.S. Patent Publication 2017/0000329, titled “AUGMENTED AND VIRTUAL REALITY DISPLAY SYSTEM AND METHODS FOR DETERMINING OPTICAL PRESCRIPTIONS.” Technically, this application is a continuation application from another application published in September of 2016; although that application broadly covers “treating health ailments.”
Generally speaking, the invention purports to work in a simple way. The user dons a set of glasses, and the glasses have cameras around each lens and projectors that project an image onto the lenses. The camera around each lens captures backscatter light from the user’s eye, and then uses that information to determine if the user’s eye has any number of ailments.
In this very large patent application, the disclosure of specific technology ends there. However, the application lists a very large number of use cases. The application is structured to claim the use of a mixed reality headset to identify the following ailments OR perform the following functions OR have the following features:
Myopia/hyperopia/Astigmatism, presbyopia, Strabismus/Amblyopia, High Order Aberration, Chromatic Aberrations, Phoropter, Red Reflex, Intraocular Pressure, Pinhole Occluder, Initial W4LT Test, Retinoscopy, Slit Lamp, Color Blindness, Ophthalmoscope/Funduscope, Confocal Microscopy/SLO, Two-Photon Microscopy, Autorefactor, OCT, Aberrometer, Ultrasound, Electrooculography (EOG), Electroencephalography (EEG), Electroretinography (ERG), Light Therapy, Macular Degeneration, Contrast Testing, Visual Fields, Laser Therapy, Delivery of Medication, Platform for Other Treatments, Outward Looking Camera.
For each identified feature above, the specification contains a full set of claims. This takes up an extremely large amount of room, almost 1,300 paragraphs of copy-and-pasted claims that just swap out a term or two. This was probably unnecessary, and certainly extremely expensive, although it will provide literal support if for some reason Magic Leap decides to go after a specific embodiment. The ~1,300 paragraphs of very similar claims are especially surprising, considering most of the embodiments follows the same general structure:
Ultimately, the application is little more than claiming the general use of a mixed or augmented reality headset for detecting eye ailments. This is a bold strategy, but one that can pay off if it turns out the general concept is patentable. The resulting claims would cover the use and function, but not the technical details, of a medical application for mixed reality headsets. While there is an associated higher risk of an ultimate rejection with this strategy, patent protection can be pursued without divulging too many details of the Magic Leap system.
Critics of Magic Leap may point out that the lack of real augmented reality disclosure proves that the Magic Leap system is vapor ware. This is not the case here, as minimizing technical disclosure in a patent application to the bare minimum is a valid, and in this case almost certainly intentional, strategy.
The use of “virtual reality” in the specification is intriguing, as the technology is plainly augmented or mixed reality. Virtual reality is where the entire visual field of a user is created or rendered by a computer. In any event, it makes sense from a protection view point to claim the use of their technology as broad as possible.
In conclusion, I expect that we will see more of these use-based patent applications in the future. With augmented and virtual reality finally gaining mainstream traction, many companies are searching for the “killer app” or use of the technology. This patent application from Magic Leap is an excellent example of such a strategy.