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Monday, December 3, 2012

Google Cranks Up Its Patent Engine

Google has been accelerating its patent production impressively in the last few years, even before it bought Motorola Mobility last year for $12.5 billion.

That is one nugget in a new report from Thomson Reuters. The report, “2012 Top 100 Global Innovators,” released on Tuesday, includes Google. Last year, the first time Thomson Reuters compiled the list, Google did not make the cut.

In assembling the list, the research group uses four measures of patent activity as its yardstick of innovation. The four are patent volume, patent grant success rate, global reach of the patent portfolio and citations of patents. The combination of factors seeks to take into account patent quality and the influence of patented ideas. And companies' patents are tracked over a three-year period, with the 2012 list covering applications, grants and citations from 2009 to 2011.

“So for Google, we 're looking at indigenous patents,” said David Brown, managing director of intellectual property research for Thomson Reuters. “Motorola Mobility is not in this analysis.”

Google paid $12.5 billion for Motorola, including its several thousand patents, mostly for wireless technology. In a later filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Google valued the intellectual property in the Motorola purchase at $5.5 billion.

Google had a high ratio of patents granted, 45 percent in the three-year period, Mr. Brown said. That is impressive because there is such a backlog in patent offices, it can take up to three years before an examiner even begins to study some patent applications. The comparatively high grant-success performance, Mr. Brown said, means Google is making high-quality applications. Google also invests to routinely file patent applications at all the world's major patent offices - the United States, Europe, Japan and now China.

Google's stepped-up patent activity, Mr. Brown said, combines elements of playing corporate defense and offense, as well as being a byproduct of the industries where it is investing aggressively, especially in the smartphone market.

“Patents are weapons in the smartphone patent wars,” Mr. Brown said. “But smartphones are also composites of many innovations, and the pace of innovation is only accelerating.”

The Thomson Reuters list is not ranked, so the companies and institutions are merely listed alphabetically. It is a roster of leading global companies including Apple, Boeing, Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil, I.B.M., Intel, Microsoft, Roche, Samsung Electronics, Siemens, Sony, Toshiba and Toyota Motor.

Conspicuously unrepresented on the list is China. By contrast, Japan has 25 entrants on the list, and South Korea, seven.

In recent years, China has become a prodigious producer of patents. But Chinese patents are not widely cited for influencing innovation elsewhere, and only 6 percent of the country's patents are filed overseas, as well as in China.

“But long term, we're certainly going to see China rise,” Mr. Brown said.

Activists Tackle Sexual Harassment in Tahrir

Now that Egypt's opposition has returned to the streets, activists are making a renewed effort to confront the problem of sexual harassment and assaults against women who take part in demonstrations.

Leaving aside earlier concerns that publicizing assaults would tarnish the reputation of the revolutionaries in Cairo's Tahrir Square, about 100 activists from two new groups, @OpAntiSH and @TahrirBodyguard, gathered on Monday evening at the office of The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights to coordinate their efforts to combat a pervasive social problem and defend women from their attackers.

As Wendell Steavenson reported in The New Yorker last month, the brief period of immunity from sexual harassment enjoyed by women in Tahrir Square during the first weeks of the revolution last year seemed to end just as the protesters forced the country's dictator to stand down.

Throug hout what Egyptians now call the “eighteen days” - from the first demonstrations, on January 25, 2011, until Mubarak's fall, on February 11th - Tahrir Square appeared to be a mixed and tolerant utopia. Cosmopolitan girls wearing Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses stood next to bearded Muslim Brotherhood men and to women in full niqab. People marvelled that women slept each night on the square and that there was not a single reported instance of sexual harassment. But things soon changed. The night that Mubarak fell, Lara Logan, a CBS News reporter, was sexually assaulted by a mob on Tahrir, and many women reported similar experiences. Heba Morayef, who was groped on the square at the time, told me, “From that moment, the square was not safe in the same way, and you saw, over the following year, a deterioration in terms of risk for women.”

Sexual harassment is endemic in Egypt. According to a 2008 survey, sixty per cent of Egyptian men admit to having sexually harassed a woman, and every Egyptian woman I met had a harassment story. I asked each woman I talked to how she dealt with it. Morayef said, “If I'm on my own, I don't confront it. I've seen how situations in the square can get tricky.”

As part of the effort to help women who got surrounded by gangs of men, activists have started to set up watchtowers in Tahrir Square, to allow volunteers to see harassment taking place.

Pentagon\'s Top Technologist Joins I.B.M.

Last Friday afternoon, a half-hour after he said his goodbyes at the Pentagon, where he was assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, Zachary Lemnios was discussing why his new job made sense as the next step in his career. “Exactly the right thing to do at the right time,” he said.

Mr. Lemnios joined I.B.M. Research on Monday, as vice president for research strategy. Mr. Lemnios, 58, is leaving his post in the Obama administration, after nearly four years (political appointees typically last two to four years). Before that, he was chief technology officer at M.I.T.‘s Lincoln Laboratory, a federally financed research center for advanced technology with national security applications, and previously a senior official at the Pentagon's futuristic research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

His own career charts a path from being a chip guy who would later champion and fund artificial intelligence research. Mr. Lemnios holds four patents on semiconductors that use gallium arsenide, an alternative to silicon.

Of course, he noted, the years of progress in microprocessor design and sensors are essential to the recent advances in artificial intelligence. “The hardware substrate is certainly part of it ,” Mr. Lemnios said. “But it is the software for reasoning and learning that really pushes this forward.”

In late March, for example, Mr. Lemnios announced $60 million in new Pentagon-supported Big Data research projects, as part of a $200 million administration initiative in the fast-growing field of trying to use smart technology to make sense of the explosion in data from the Web, sensors and streaming into traditional databases.

Today's technological limitations, he said, are no longer the data collection tools but the technology for making sense of it. “The real challenge is to handle, understand and use big sources of data,” Mr. Lemnios said.

At Darpa, he promoted initiatives for “cognitive systems,” an approach to artificial intelligence that embraces a learning model of computing rather than more purely statistical methods. I.B.M.'s labs have been at the forefront of “cognitive computing” research in recent years, including project s financed by Darpa.

Mr. Lemnios had praise for I.B.M.'s best-known research project, the Watson question-answering computer. “It moves toward what we think of as understanding information, which is the start of another revolution,” he said.

But Mr. Lemnios said he had also been impressed with the company product and services offerings, which include large contributions from I.B.M.'s research labs, for traffic management, energy conservation and crime prevention. They are part of the company's Smarter Planet projects. “There is a lot of deep technological meat on the bones of Smarter Planet,” he said.

Having smart people is a crucial ingredient in a successful research operation, but so is research strategy and management, Mr. Lemnios noted. On strategy, he said, “balance across a portfolio is important” - that is, balancing work on current products, research bets that may pay off in five to 10 years, and further out exploratory research.

In good times and bad, he observed, I.B.M. has had the managerial patience to continue financing long-range, exploratory research. That is a model, Mr. Lemnios suggests, that the federal government would do well to follow.

Given the need for budgetary belt-tightening in government, Mr. Lemnios said, “There is great pressure to take funding for exploratory research to pay today's bills. That can prove to be a shortsighted mistake.”

Today\'s Scuttlebot: Expanding Twitter Ads\' Reach, and Y Combinator Cuts

Here are some of the more interesting items that the tech reporters and editors of The New York Times found on the Web recently. See more here.

Y Combinator Cuts Startup Class Size: ‘We Grew Too Fast'
Venturebeat.com |  Amid funding troubles, Y Combinator, the start-up incubator, is cutting its class size from 84 to less than 50. â€" Nicole Perlroth

Summit to Buy Powder Mountain to Create Entrepreneur Community
Forbes |  Summit Series, the conference for 20-something entrepreneurs, is buying Utah's Powder Mountain. â€" Nicole Perlroth

Chris Hughes Is About to Turn 100
Nymag.com |  Chris Hughes, the 29-year-old Facebook millionaire, wants to save The New Republic, and journalism too. â€" Nicole Perlroth

Social Media Comes of Age
Blog.nielsen.com |  The new normal? Americans spend more of their time online on social media sites than any other kind of site. â€" Jenna Wortham

We Are With John McAfee Right Now, Suckers
Vice.com |  Vice magazine is hanging out with tech legend and “person of interest” John McAfee as he runs from the law. â€" Joshua Brustein

4chan Votes Kim Jong Un to Top of Time's Person of the Year
Betabeat.com |  The pranksters at 4chan put the North Korean dictator at the top of Time's Person of the Year poll. Better than Colbert. â€" Damon Darlin

Dear Santa: Please Buy Me This $26,000 Transforming Robot
TechCrunch |  Transformers are REAL. â€" David Gallagher

Atlantic Media Tries T urning Twitter Into a Bigger Ad Platform
Advertising Age |  The Atlantic and Quartz Web sites will use an ad company, 140 Proof, to find audiences by surveying social platforms. â€" Damon Darlin

Mars Rover Discovery Revealed

In a sand drift on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover discovered … sand.

At a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, scientists working on the mission talked about the analysis of the first soil sample they scooped up. By design, it was an unremarkable pinch of dirt, more to test their apparatus than to make discoveries.

John P. Grotzinger, the project scientist, inadvertently set off expectations of a major discovery when he told National Public Radio a couple of wee ks ago that the data was “one for the history books.” He said on Monday that he was talking about the performance of the instruments and not that the data contained a major discovery.

When the soil sample was heated, it released a variety of gases - mostly water and carbon dioxide. But it also did detect simple organic compounds. However, the scientists said it was much too early to say that the soil contained organic compounds. They could have resulted from contamination from Earth, or, more likely, were produced by chemical reactions as the material was heated.

If Curiosity's pinch of sand did include conta in organics, it would again revive the possibilities of life on Mars. For now, Curiosity scientists are still analyzing the data.

Bahrain\'s Embrace of Kim Kardashian

Video provided to news organizations by the promoters who brought Kim Kardashian to the opening of a milkshake shop at a mall in Bahrain on Saturday.

Bahrain's ongoing attempt to change the subject of international conversation about the kingdom away from its crackdown on dissent took an awkward turn over the weekend, when the nation's foreign minister posted a message on Twitter thanking the American celebrity Kim Kardashian for saying nice things about the country during a brief visit to open a milkshake shop.

The awkwardness stemmed from the fact that, as several people reminded the royal minister, he represents a Sunni Muslim monarchy with close ties to the conservative rulers of neighboring Saudi Arabia, while Ms. Kardashian notoriously “made her debut on the public stage in the form of a sex tape.”

Bahrainis opposed to Ms. Kardashian's visit to a local mall called The Walk on Saturday - either on religious grounds or as a distraction from the stifling of the protest movement that began in 2011 - were quick to point out the contradictions.

According to an Associated Press report, before Ms. Kardashian arrived at the milkshake shop, tear gas was fired at religious conservatives, one of whom was holding up a sign that read, “none of our customs and traditions allow us to receive stars of porn movies.”

The opposition activist Zainab Alkhawaja, who uses her @AngryArabiya Twitter feed to document the security crackdown in Bahrain for about 48,000 followers, scoffed at the words of praise from Ms. Kardashian, whose observations and endorsements are read by nearly 17 million users of the social network.

Video of the event at the milkshake shop, posted online by the owners of the chain who flew Ms. Kardashian to Bahrain, showed that most of the fans drawn to see her at the mall were young women and girls. According to a press release accompanying the footage, one unidentified fan, who perhaps has a career in brand management ahead of her, said, “Kim Kard ashian has thousands of fans in Bahrain. Not only is she beautiful, she is an icon of what a woman should be in the modern world. She is strong, independent and smart. She is a successful businesswoman and we love her for that.”

The video also shows that Ms. Kardashian was careful to thank the Hollywood promoter and milkshake magnate who brought her there, Sheeraz Hasan, by name. As Sara Yasin explained in a post on the visit for the Index on Censorship's blog, Uncut, Mr. Hasan and his business partner Paresh A. Shah, “appear to have an interesting relationship with Bahrain's royal family. According to their official website, the two were given a ‘mandate to source unique investment opportunities outside of Bahrain and developing infrastructure within Bahrain' after meeting with the royal family earlier this year.”

Ms. Yasin added: “Hasan and Shah traveled to Bahrain only weeks before the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix in April, with Hasan tweeting a photograph of himself with Shah and a pair of Rolexes the Bahraini royal family delivered to their plane. Hasan first made mention of their unique mandate in May, shortly after returning from the trip.”

Mr. Hasan's Twitter home page, which displays a photograph of him shaking hands with President Barack Obama, boasts that his company “has the authority to bring deals and investment opportunities from around the world to present directly to the Royal Families of Qatar and Bahrain.” On Monday, he posted an update explaining that he was still in Bahrain, working on the launch of a new venture called Bahrain.tv.

According to a promotional video for Bahrain.tv Mr. Has an urged his readers to watch, Ms. Kardashian's visit to the kingdom might have been something of a trial run for a more extended effort to shift news coverage away from protest marches, tear gas and the arrest of dissidents for posting critical messages on Twitter. The new site, it seems, will be devoted to “promoting Bahrain to the world,” in part by “bringing the word's biggest celebrities, sports stars and business icons to Bahrain.”