A friend pointed me to an article by Annalee Newitz: Ten Physical Gestures That Have Been Patented.
Aside from the micro-gestures used on specific widgets for touch screens (like the Apple iPad/iPhone “slide to unlock” gesture), there are some pretty crazy ones. Ready for this?
Shaking your mobile device
Annalee sez, “Ever get pissed off at your phone and shake it up and down until it reboots? You could be benefitting from a patent infringement! Intellectual Ventures owns a very broad patent on moving your mobile device around (basically, shaking your phone). If any company dares to create a product which relies on somebody shaking a mobile device to reboot, they’d better cough up some cash to license this gesture from Intellectual Ventures.”
Other examples include: Making hand gestures to move icons around on your phone, Flicking your pen at something, and Moving 3D objects in a virtual environment.
Many of these have never been challenged in court. But here’s a thought: multi-touch screens, virtual worlds, avatars, gestural interfaces, etc., are creating a rich environment for human visual language to grow in new directions, in big ways.
Our body language vocabulary has always been very rich, but now we have technologies that will allow us to discover and invent entirely new expressions. Will these patent-hungry companies try to gobble up as many potential physical expressions as possible, thereby owning the space of future gestural expression before it has time to mature and settle into the scope of Natural Language?
The answer is not easy because the technology must evolve along with its use.
Here’s one more example that Annalee gives:
“Here’s a seriously weird one. A company called GestureTek owns several patents on optical systems for sensing gestures, but the most bizarre is their insanely broad patent on a device that tracks two-handed motions. If you want to make a device that detects two-handed movement (charmingly called “bimanual movements” in the patent), you should be paying a licensing fee to GestureTek every time you do jazz hands.”