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An Overview of the Internet of Things and Patents

Audrey Lo/Jason Chuang


The Internet of Things (IoT), also known as the Internet of Everything (IoE), is an important part of the Industry 4.0 revolution. Created by Kevin Ashton in 1999, the term literally means that a network can be formed by the interconnection of objects. Although it has been decades since the term was created, no killer IoT application has been developed yet. Thus, IoT technology remains a topic that is mainly discussed in printed media, technology columns or the technology industry's development plans.

 

Since IoT products are not widely used in daily life, most people still do not know what exactly IoT technology is. In fact, IoT is not a new technology in itself. Rather, it often involves the integration of existing technologies. An IoT structure can be simply divided into three layers: a perception layer, a network layer and an application layer.

 

Fig. 1 IoT Structure (copied and modified from http://pure374.wixsite.com/mysite/blank-14)

 

Some people consider that an IoT structure is similar to a human neural network. After peripheral nerves (the perception layer) have detected various messages, they transmit the messages to the brain through the neural network (the network layer). After organizing and interpreting the messages, the brain will make a response (the application layer).

 

The perception layer uses devices that can detect, recognize and communicate desired information. The most commonly used devices are RFID tags and sensor devices. Since current mobile communication devices use various kinds of sensors (gyroscopes, accelerometers, GPS, barometers, microphones, cameras, etc.), the devices used in the perception layer generally include mobile communication devices, smart wearable devices and others.

 

Regarding the network layer, different protocols can be used depending on the sensors used, the transmission distance involved and the data to be collected. The technologies commonly used for connecting devices include LoRa, ZigBee and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). The table below provides some specifications of these three technologies. One can decide which of these technologies to use based on application needs (transmission distance, transmission rate, etc.)

 

Network layer Technology

LoRa

Zigbee

BLE

Transmission Distance

15-20 KM

50-300 M

>100 M

Transmission Rate

0.3 kbps-50 kbps

250 kbps

270 kbps

Peak Current Consumption

10-40 mA

5 mA

<15 mA

 

The application layer is about how to apply the data collected from the perception and network layers.

 

It is noted that advances in the technologies used in each layer of an IoT structure are indispensable in the development of IoT technology. However, the application layer is the key in determining whether an IoT product can be deeply affect our daily life. This is because many people may know how to detect, collect and transmit information, but only a few know how to effectively use the information collected.

 

From the perspective of a patent practitioner, IoT patents can cover, for example, the areas of technology listed in the table below.

 

 

Area of Technology

Possible Objects of Invention

Application Layer

Home Automation

Conduct central control and remote adjustment of settings of home appliances

Health Care

Perform diagnosis, provide information on disease prevention and send personal health reminders

Home Security

Conduct security monitoring and track location and activities of pets and kids

Object Tracking

Track and manage objects

Network Layer

Communication Protocol

Provide rules for information exchange between communication nodes

Multiplexing

Integrate multiple signals into a single signal and transmit it via a single medium

Information Security

Prevent unauthorized access to information

Power Management

Manage power consumption of different devices in the network

Perception Layer

Recognition Accuracy

Increase the accuracy of detected parameters and detectable value range

Measurement/Testing Devices

Design specific parameters for measurement and integrate them with the sensors

Sensor

Increase sensor durability and reduce sensor size, power consumption and manufacturing costs

 

It is possible that the specification and claims of some patents in the above-listed areas of technology do not use the term “Internet of Things” or the term “Internet of Everything,” or even that such patents are not categorized under international patent classification (IPC) code G06 (computing; calculating; counting) or H04 (electric communication technology). The IPC classification of such patents will be based on the subject matter involved.

 

Since IoT covers a wide variety of technologies, the three layers of an IoT structure may each involve different types of technology and inventions. Thus, a more comprehensive approach should be adopted when dealing with IoT-related inventions, whether in patent drafting, prior art search, validity analysis, or infringement assessment. This approach should take into account factors such as collection of data, transmission components and/or computation components used, application components and/or feedback components used, and application system involved. For example, during patent drafting, patent practitioners should not only pay attention to the patentability requirements in different countries, but should also take every possible enforcement scenario into consideration. In addition, they should ensure the enforceability of patent claims in order to avoid the situation of getting a valid but unenforceable patent in return for the full disclosure of an invention.

 


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