For the past year, I have been advising my readers in the augmented reality industry to obtain patents on their inventions for quite some time now, and I’ve been warning that patent battles over this technology were just around the corner. Both that advice and that prediction were vindicated on September 25, 2012 with the issuance of a U.S. patent to Zugara, one of the most active players in the AR space today.
Zugara’s patent covers “a simulation of wearing items such as garments and/or accessories”–the same technology behind its flagship product, the “Webcam Social Shopper.” But the scope of the patent is not necessarily limited to this webcam-based project. According to Zugara, “WSS can be used with a wide variety of ‘video feeds,’ such as via PCs, tablets, smartphones, depth-sensing cameras (e.g. Kinects), connected TVs, kiosks, eyewear (e.g. Google Glass)… you name it. In essence, WSS relates to what is now commonly referred to as a ‘digital mirror’ or a ‘virtual dressing room.'”
Here’s how Zugara described the scope of the patent in a recent blog post:
- ANY VIRTUAL, WEARABLE ITEMS: This isn’t just about trying on virtual clothing. Virtual Jewelry, glasses, watches, purses, and anything else that’s “wearable”.
- SIZING & FIT: The method of using body part detection & recognition to determine a wearable item’s size and fit is covered.
- SOCIAL SHOPPING: This element is actually covered in two ways.
- Taking photos with the virtual, wearable item(s) and sharing them via social networks.
- Multiple people trying on virtual, wearable items simultaneously, and having a shared shopping experience within a video-chat or conferencing environment.
- GESTURE, MOTION AND VOICE CONTROL: Using gestures, motion and voice control to interact with, manipulate and purchase virtual, wearable items directly within the virtual dressing room interface.
In other words, Zugara has made a bold and aggressive move to bite off a large chunk of the AR market for itself. This could easily include projects that other AR companies have already invested in. Zugara itself has noted that “we’re not alone in our thinking [about the importance virtual dressing rooms]. It’s a vision of the future now shared by companies like Forrester, eMarketer, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft& eBay .” Companies such as Total Immersion already have their version of a “Magic mirror” on the market. Virtual try-on-a-product promotions are becoming fairly commonplace, and are used by high-end retailers such as DeBeers (diamonds) and Tag Heuer (watches). How technologies like these jive with Zugara’s patent remains to be seen.
Please note–this is no screed against the Zugara folks. I’m acquainted with co-inventors Matt Szymczyk and Jack Benoff, along with others from Zugara. Matt has been a frequent presenter at the annual Augmented Reality Event. They are hard-working guys with a clear vision for the industry, and my hat is off to them for this achievement.
But this is also the most important reminder to date that all AR entrepreneurs–not just the titans like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and such–need to take patents seriously. They should be making every effort to secure rights in their inventions, and researching to make sure their plans don’t step on the rights of others.
My firm has an active patent prosecution practice, including for multiple AR companies and inventions, and we would be happy to discuss whether we can be of assistance to you in this effort.