Bill Gates Has a Plan to Cash In on Google Glass

The Microsoft cofounder has filed a patent for technology that would sound an alarm if sneaky cameras are spotted nearby.

National Journal
Dustin Volz
April 16, 2014, 12:32 p.m.

Google hopes to re­vo­lu­tion­ize the tech world with its new toy: Google Glass.

But Bill Gates thinks he can make plenty of profit off his rival’s baby — and make life more com­plic­ated for “Glassholes” in the pro­cess.

The Mi­crosoft cofounder re­cently filed a pat­ent on tech­no­logy that would guard against nearby “in­trud­ing cam­er­as” — such as those found on Google Glass — that one might be able to use to swipe per­son­al data off a laptop mon­it­or or ATM screen. The hy­po­thet­ic­al tech­no­logy would be able to scan the vi­cin­ity for “in­truders or safe view­ers,” de­tect hard-to-see cam­er­as, and pro­tect­ively blur con­tent while alert­ing users to po­ten­tial snoops.

The fil­ing, which lists Gates and former Mi­crosoft Chief Tech­no­logy Of­ficer Nath­an Myhr­vold among a bevy of in­vent­ors, could al­low its au­thors to cash in on pri­vacy con­cerns that have long sur­roun­ded wear­able tech­no­logy like Google Glass. By help­ing to pro­tect pass­words, private pho­to­graphs, and any­thing else on screen that isn’t for the eyes of oth­ers, Gates is aim­ing to tap in­to the grow­ing and luc­rat­ive data-pro­tec­tion mar­ket. By fil­ing the pat­ent, Gates and com­pany set them­selves up to profit from products that could pro­tect such data.

(Pat­ent fil­ing)

Noth­ing in the fil­ing spe­cific­ally names Google Glass — the com­puter-equipped eye­glasses that could soon enter main­stream com­mer­cial space. But its dis­cus­sion of “col­lat­er­al view­ers” who can sur­repti­tiously point a cam­era at a dis­play screen echoes a com­mon com­plaint heard from pri­vacy groups con­cerned about the creep­i­ness factor of Glass and sim­il­ar tech­no­logy.

Google, for its part, has warned early Glass test­ers to not be “creepy or rude (aka, a ‘Glasshole’)” be­cause “break­ing the rules or be­ing rude will not get busi­nesses ex­cited about Glass.”

But des­pite con­cerns of com­ing off as creepy, Google has shown that Glass may just be the be­gin­ning of ocu­lar-fo­cused wear­able tech. In 2012 the com­pany ap­plied for a pat­ent that would place an en­tire cam­era on a con­tact lens without in­creas­ing lens thick­ness that could po­ten­tially serve the visu­ally im­paired — or, as some have noted, al­low Ter­min­at­or-vis­ion in real life.

Some law­makers from both parties have voiced con­cerns that Glass, which uses a voice in­ter­face to take pho­tos, ac­cess the In­ter­net, and dis­play dir­ec­tions, could be ab­used to vi­ol­ate pri­vacy and po­ten­tially steal sens­it­ive data.

Google Glass is still in beta mode, mean­ing it isn’t cur­rently avail­able to the pub­lic and is still un­der­go­ing de­vel­op­ment tests. Just Tues­day, however, the search gi­ant made one of its mod­els pub­licly avail­able for $1,500 a pop, though the com­pany hasn’t an­nounced any sales fig­ures from the tax-day spe­cial.

Myhr­vold, one of the in­vent­ors lis­ted along­side Gates on the fil­ing, is a cofounder of In­tel­lec­tu­al Ven­tures, which is one of the biggest pat­ent hold­ers in the world and is also of­ten ac­cused of be­ing a fre­quent pat­ent troll — a com­pany that buys cheap pat­ents and profits from them by threat­en­ing in­fringe­ment suits against oth­ers in hopes of set­tling. The pat­ent fil­ing lists El­wha LLC as the ap­plic­ant com­pany with a loc­a­tion of Bel­levue, Wash., where Ven­tures is also headquartered.

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