Patent reform just got sexy in the US Congress as politicians tout “innovation, not litigation, [a]s a bipartisan goal.”  Hearing Economics did some foreshadowing of this trend based on recent patent fights in our little industry that didn’t go so well.  New hearing device patent approvals for the last two months are shown in the table below.  Click on Mar-April 2013Jan-Feb 2013 and  Nov-Dec 2012 for previous lists.

Three Big Issues

  1. There is a huge backlog of applications.  The pipeline has been reduced to around 600,000, but the process remains painfully slow.  Hearing aid innovations are not exceptions.  As one reader of this column commented:   

    I find it amazing that many of these patents were filed over 4 years ago… Just goes to show how slow the process is, even for the Big Guns like Widex and Starkey.  

  2. The patent office needs more funding to handle the onslaught of applications  and ensure that they receive thorough scrutiny prior to approval.  
  3. Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs), aka Patent Trolls, are turning the whole process upside down with an avalanche of expensive, frivolous lawsuits.  As a result, the Trolls are coming under investigation by the FTC.  As their name suggests, PAEs constantly troll the vast patent world for the dual purposes of  scarfing up technology patents and then suing manufacturers/designers of  devices/software for patent infringement.  In the words of Edith Ramirez, FTC chairwoman:  

A central empirical question, which we will continue to examine, is whether P.A.E.’s encourage invention or instead hamper innovation and competition.

Remedies

Better, faster patent analysis and approval are good remedies, although the cost of funding such a massive enterprise may price individuals out of the market.

The trolls are a different, much bigger form of Supply Side Shock, shifting manufacturers’ Supply curve to the left, meaning Willing to Sell decreases for a given price.  This is not an economically desirable effect — prices tend to rise or consumption goes down.  In economic parlance, trolls create market inefficiencies.  Down with trolls!

Industries, countries and global regions have their own remedies for fighting trolls in order to protect resources and ensure stability, especially of prices.  The main remedy is to circle the wagons and form a membership organization to share resources, not unlike OPEC’s response to giant multinational companies in the 1960s.  Note that this remedy is another form of market inefficiency because Price and Quantity Supplied are controlled by suppliers of one type or another.  No one said troll-fighters were pretty, or even much different looking than trolls.

The hearing aid industry has a remedy organization, known as Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Patent Partnership K/S HIMPP, which filed its first patent application in 1984 and now owns 66 patents in eight patent classes.  It keeps a low profile.  More on HIMPP in a later post.

The List

The list is populated by the Usual Suspects of global corporate competitors.  But Daniel Schumaier, President of Ear Technology, once again makes the list as the sole individual seeking and obtaining a hearing device patent on every list we’ve compiled for 2013. Go Dan, the Man against the Machine!

 

Description Patent Number Assignee Filed Issued
Methods and Systems for Reducing an Effect of Ambient Noise within an Auditory Prosthesis System 8422706 Advanced Bionics, LLC (Valencia, CA) 9/10/2010 4/16/2013
Method and Apparatus for Modular Hearing Aid 8428282 Starkey Laboratories, Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN) 9/29/2008 4/23/2013
Hearing instrument using receivers with different performance characteristics 8433072 Oticon A/S (Smorum, Denmark) and Bernafon AG (Berne, Switzerland) 11/07/2008 4/30/2013
Bone Conduction Devices Generating Tangentially-Directed Mechanical Force Using a Linearly Moving Mass 8433081 Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU) 3/05/2009 4/30/2013
Calibrated hearing aid tuning appliance 8437486 Dan Wiggins (Edmonds, Wash.) and Donald L Bowie (Burien, Wash.) 4/14/2010 5/07/2013
Dual Microphone EAS System That Prevents Feedback 8437859 Advanced Bionics, LLC (Valencia, CA) 9/03/2009 5/07/2013
System and Method for Three Dimensional Reconstruction of an Anatomical Impression 8437009 Siemens Medical Instruments Pte. Ltd. (Singapore, SG)

6/22/2010

5/07/2013
Hearing Aid 8442253 Brainstorm Audio LLC (Dover, Del.) 1/20/2012 5/14/2013
Hearing aid system comprising a matched filter and a measurement method 8442247 Bernafon AG (Berne, Switzerland) 12/10/2008 5/14/2013
Electromagnet battery handler 8438723 William A Reinman (Modesto, Calif.) and Edward S. Heyman (Modesto, Calif.) 4/01/2011 5/14/2013
Systems and methods for managing wireless communication links for hearing assistance devices 8442248 Starkey Laboratories Inc. (Eden Prairie, Minn.)

9/02/2009

5/14/2013
Hearing aid device and hearing aid method 8442246 Panasonic Corp. (Osaka, Japan) 4/26/2010 5/14/2013
Hearing device with automatic algorithm switching 8442245 Siemens Medical Instruments Pte. Ltd. (Singapore) 12/22/2009 5/14/2013
Hearing aid and method for controlling signal processing in a hearing aid 8442250 Widex A/S (Lynge, Denmark) 9/26/2008 5/14/2013
Behind-the-ear hearing aid with interchangeable ear hook and ear tube 8442252 Audiotoniq Inc. (Austin, Texas)

9/30/2010

5/14/2013
Hearing Aid 8442253 Brainstorm Audio LLC (Dover, Del.) 1/20/2012 5/14/2013
Electromagnet battery handler 8438723 William A Reinman (Modesto, Calif.) and Edward S. Heyman (Modesto, Calif.) 4/01/2011 5/14/2013
Electroneural Interface for a Medical Implant 8447409 Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU) 10/15/2009 5/21/2013
Entrainment Avoidance with a Gradient Adaptive Lattice Filter 8452034 Starkey Laboratories, Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN)

10/23/2007

5/28/2013
Real ear measurement system using thin tube 8452021 Starkey Laboratories, Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN)

4/14/2008

5/28/2013
Measurement of Transmitter/Receiver Separation 8452412 Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU)

9/04/2003

5/28/2013
Electrode Assembly for a Stimulating Medical Device 8452411 Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU)

6/10/2011

5/28/2013
Lead Insertion Tools 8452421 Advanced Bionics, LLC (Valencia, CA)

7/8/2010

5/28/2013
Environment adaptive type hearing aid 8457335 Panasonic Corp. (Osaka, Japan)

6/25/2008

6/04/2013
Open ear canal hearing aid with adjustable non-occluding securing mechanism 8457337 Aria Innovations Inc. (Palo Alto, Calif.) 7/21/2010 6/04/2013
Contamination Resistant Ports for Hearing Devices 8457336 InSound Medical, Inc. (Newark, CA)

6/18/2010

6/04/2013
Anchoring Element 8454668 Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU) 5/21/2008 6/04/2013
Hearing aid and method of controlling volume of hearing aid 8462957 Panasonic Corp. (Osaka, Japan) 2/17/2010 6/11/2013
Shared coil for inductive charging and hearing-aid-compliance requirements in mobile phones 8462968 Research in Motion Ltd. (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

6/18/2010

6/11/2013
Ear Fitting 8462973 L. Gore & Associates Inc. (Newark, Del.)

5/17/2010

6/11/2013
Systems and methods for own voice recognition with adaptations for noise robustness 8462969 Siemens Audiologische Technik GmbH (Erlangen, Germany)

4/19/2011

6/11/2013
Apparatus and method for connecting a hearing aid to hearing aid test equipment 8467537 Audiology Innovations Pty Ltd (Australia)

5/24/2007

6/18/2013
Canal hearing device with disposable battery module 8467556 Ihear Medical Inc. (Oakland, Calif.)

9/09/2010

6/18/2013
Hearing aid system comprising a receiver in the ear and a system for identification of the type of receiver

 

8467553 Bernafon AG (Berne, Switzerland)

6/25/2010

6/18/2013
Method, hearing device and configuration for calibrating an acoustic tuning system 846755 Siemens Medical Instruments PTE, Ltd.

11/20/2010

6/18/2013
Method for monitoring a hearing device and hearing device with self-monitoring function 8467555 Phonak AG

4/18/2011

6/18/2013
Tinnitus rehabilitation device and method 8465411 Neuromonics Pty Ltd

11/5/2010

6/18/2013
Audio processing 8472655 Koninkluke Philips Electronics N.V.

6/17/2009

6/25/2013
Observer-based cancellation system for implantable hearing instruments 8472654 Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU)

10/30/2007

6/25/2013
Preprogrammed hearing assistance device with audiometric testing capability 8472634 Daniel R Schumaier (Elizabethton, Tenn)

3/03/2010

6/25/2013

  editor’s note:  The Patent Series is updated every two months.  Click links for patents approved in Jan/Feb 2014Nov/Dec 2013September/October 2013Jul/Aug 2013May/Jun 2013Mar/Apr 2013Jan/Feb 2013Nov/Dec 2012

photo courtesy of nytimes