Invalidating Amazon's Drone Mapping Patent

Back in May Chris posted a news item about Amazon's drone based delivery system patent which got some attention but most people missed a crucial claim in it:

2. The system of claim 1, wherein the unmanned aerial vehicle is further configured to: receive environment information from a second unmanned aerial vehicle; and develop the navigation route from the source location to the destination location based at least in part on the delivery parameters and the environment information. 

This means that Amazon now holds a patent on a SLAM mapping drone (or any non specialised drone) updating a model of an environment in real time which another drone can use to navigate within that environment.  If the patent is applied broadly this could mean the following scenarios could infringe upon it:

1. If a drone crashes into an object not in an environment model, and sends a crash report to the central/shared model, updating the model with the location of the object could infringe the patent.

2.  If a drone senses/sees a fire, and a second drone is dispatched to the fire to deliver firefighting gear/equipment/suppressants, the system could infringe the patents.

3.  If a drone receives a call for first aid/defibrillator but is not rated to carry a load that heavy, so calls a second (heavier load) drone to pick up and deliver the lifesaving equipment, it could infringe the patent.

I believe this is huge problem going forward and should be a concern for all hobbyists and professionals working on mapping, SLAM drones and swarming.

As I've mentioned before, I believe some of the work I did with the Physical Package Protocol (formerly Pigeon Post) invalidates most of the claims in the patent (though I could be wrong), but I don't have the money/knowledge/skills/lawyers to challenge Amazon.  On the other hand, if anyone in the future has the resources and wants to free up the field from the threat of this patent, I'll be more than happy to provide proof of prior art, etc.

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Comment by George Kelly on June 16, 2015 at 9:24am

Is it an actual patent, or (as far as I can see), just an application for a patent at this point?

George

Comment by George Kelly on June 16, 2015 at 10:57am

There are mechanisms for the public to challenge patents directly through the USPTO (without the costs of lawyers or courts). Especially before granting or soon after.

They require submitting what you think is prior art.

I don't think the cost is exorbitant (in fact, below a certain page count, it used to be free - not sure now).

George

Comment by Joe Renteria on June 16, 2015 at 11:38am
They are going to try to cover as much as they can in their claims. A patent being granted does not mean much, it only gives them something to show up with in court.
Comment by Thomas the Nerd on June 16, 2015 at 12:04pm

When a patent is filed, the author will try to claim as many things as possible. The USPTO will reject some claims, or request revisions. So by the time the patent is approved, maybe only a few of your original claims stand. It's kindof a "shotgun" approach.

Also it's basically impossible to do an exhaustive search of prior art, so it's usually best to not do ANY search of prior art (for liability reasons).

I'm sure Amazon expects some of the claims to be rejected.

Comment by Petr Hubacek on June 16, 2015 at 1:22pm

Is something publicly already known patentable? 

I am surprised amazom can patent something that is already used - drone comunication was already posted and presented several times. There was a presentation of sending data from one drone to another via mobile network already in 2010. Many posts are here.

If this patent is granted, USPTO is failing in their duty to verify "patentability" by not doing well the research if it is realy something new. Thats all.

Comment by Petr Hubacek on June 16, 2015 at 1:25pm

Someone want to patent manycopter? A new approach for multicopter. Amazon or Google maybe. :-)

Comment by George Kelly on June 16, 2015 at 3:03pm

Also, I think you have to consider the claim in its totality - they seem to be claiming the combination of drone-to-drone communication and existing 'delivery parameters' to achieve a unique result involving delivering things.

Bundling them together like that would actually be foolish of them if they were claiming to have invented the inter-drone communication part itself (unless they've claimed that elsewhere in the application) because they would be tying something much bigger than delivery to only a specific application.

But you can certainly claim existing technologies in a patent if you're using them in an unexpected or inventive way (someone has re-patented aspirin, for example - as an additive to pig feed because it makes pigs grow faster!. In other words, who would have thought? Or laser pointers - as an exercise device for cats!).

That's the toughest hurdle to patentability - the 'non-obvious' requirement. It's not enough to be the first to create something, no matter how useful it is. If it could be considered an obvious combination to 'someone of ordinary skill in the art' (the art of making drone systems, in this case), it's not patentable.

Nearly half of patent applications are rejected in the first place, and I've at least read somewhere that more than half of granted patents challenged in court are thrown out, and 'obviousness' is the biggest reason (and maybe the least understood).

There needs to be a 'why didn't I think of that' step to what Amazon's doing or how they're doing it.

It's true that publicly known things themselves aren't patentable. But one exception is if the applicant himself made them public, less than 12 months prior, and only in a few countries (incl. the US).

To the OP - if you think they're patenting something you've put into the public domain, consider letting the patent office know.

George

Comment by George Kelly on June 16, 2015 at 3:24pm

I should have written - 'If you think they're patenting something you've put into the public domain without adding anything new and inventive, consider letting the parent office know.'

George

Comment by George Kelly on June 16, 2015 at 3:30pm

One more time - '...consider letting the patent office know.'

George

Comment by Jure M on June 17, 2015 at 1:00am

Check this article on how to fight patents: Ask Patents.

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