For a bird's-eye view of the innovation trends happening right now, look no further than recent patent filings. Freelance journalist Barry Fox, who writes a weekly column on patents for New Scientist magazine, says he's spying a rush of security, anti-virus, anti-hacking and anti-phishing patents right now. He's also seeing patents in the area of "indexing and searching video and TV by image content and style, to cope with the plethora of TV channels and [the] mass of video we are storing." Innovators are also focusing on increasing hard disk capacity, says Fox.
A few of the more interesting patents Fox points to come from none other than Hewlett-Packard. "Hewlett-Packard has patented ways of adding full-color printing to the Light-Scribe [disc labeling] system, which could make online sales of music and video downloads a more serious competitor for pressed disc sales," he says. HP also recently received a patent for a unit that will store a computer's repair history.
For the scoop on nontech patents, we spoke to Ian Simmons, supervisor and patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He notes that in design patents, areas experiencing a lot of innovation include shoes and handbags, as well as automobile aftermarket products like taillights, headlights, tires and rims. And of course, a few wacky patents are bound to crop up, says Fox--such as Motorola's unprecedented cell phone/bottle opener.