Wearable computing devices, such as Google Glass (i.e., glasses integrated with a computing device), are expected to explode in popularity. Currently, wearable computing devices have generally limited social media application, but that may soon change.

In October 2013, Google was granted a US patent that highlights several possible social media applications for wearable devices, such as Google Glass. The innovation described may enable wearable devices to recognize known hand gestures and carry out particular actions in response. For example, making a symbolic heart shaped hand gesture around a real world object may trigger the “like” action commonly used in social media.

Particular hand gestures may be used for selecting portions of a field of view and generating images from the selected portions. The wearable device may then transmit the images to applications, such as a social networking service. In this way, the heart-shaped gesture may enable a user to communicate to a social networking service that she or he “likes” an object, item, or subject of an image captured within the heart-shaped gesture. Other example actions include social image based searching, and taking/posting photos with an L shaped gesture.

Norton Rose Fulbright Social Media Blog - Wearable Devices

Figure 6c of US Patent No. 8,558,759

 This patented innovation highlights that wearable devices may merge reality with digital (social media) life.

Although the patent describes a variety of gesture based social media applications, there is no guarantee that Google will implement and offer the gesture technology. A patent holder is not required to commercialize the patented invention in order to enforce the patent holder’s rights against infringers. Instead, a patent provides a right, for a limited time, to exclude others from using, making, or selling the patented invention. Patent applications may also be filed defensively because the publication of a patent application (or the publication of an article or other document that describes the technology at issue)—may prevent others from subsequently obtaining patent rights for the same technology.

The patent was filed in 2011 even though Google Glass is not yet currently available to the general public. Now that the US Patent and Trademark Office has adopted a first to file system, this early filing date highlights a prudent intellectual property strategy.

Should a company file patent applications during the early research and development stages to secure early filing dates to protect their key products? Should a company follow-up with subsequent patents over the product life cycle as development progresses? Should a company defensively file patent applications for future products they may not commercialize? These are important questions that inform an effective patent strategy. Companies may wish to consult with experienced patent counsel.

This article was written by Maya Medeiros (maya.medeiros@nortonrosefulbright.com / +1 416.216.4823) of Norton Rose Fulbright’s Canadian IP group.