CES 2011:
Something's Missing

January 9,2011 (Editorial) - As the Consumer Electronics Show comes to its end, at least a few of this year's 120,000 visitors, including this writer, feel like something was missing. The Intel booth was magnificent with its million dollar faux ceiling. Motorola's 60 foot hanging LED curtain was impressive. Panasonic, who once dominated the mid-hall terrace now arches across it in both directions, seemingly owning the center of the main show hall, crowding the tiny booths right off the floor and into one of several large overflow exhibit halls. Panasonic's traditional wall of flat screens was bigger than ever but still, well... traditional. The flat TV wall was truly impressive in 2002, especially when  University of Illinois inventor Larry Weber won a television Emmy award for helping solve energy consumption issues in plasma displays. Fujitsu later had Weber's patent declared invalid in a Northern District of California federal courtroom. Even the latest price drops are old news.

Two years of recession and record engineering unemployment have taken a toll on invention, all while the USPTO has become critically slow processing patent applications. Maybe the smart money decided its about getting to the consumer first, not the patent office.  Either way, the show must go on even if it the LED curtain might be outshining the "new" products on the show floor.  But the exhibits themselves don't count, unless you want to be first on your block with a really expensive Christmas display. When it comes to CES, what happens in Vegas is supposed to end up in your Christmas stocking 11 months later. If Christmas 2011 is going to be good, we still have a lot of inventing left to do this year.

The "official" show buzz told us CES 2011 was about all the "new" touch pads. Patent professionals generally view these as copycat products: an IP industry harbinger of lawsuits future where a bit of the profit trickles back to the real inventors. The press coverage of Lady Gaga's arrival at the Polaroid booth wearing a "Sally LaPointe" black jersey dress with "hip pads" seemed a bit overpowering  to the new products she pitched. When b-school was teaching everyone "hire an opinion leader" in marketing class, did they really mean taming Lady G to upstage LG? When we finally got past the celebrities and celebrity impersonators who frequent the Vegas scene, we asked some booth inhabitants to explain their excitement about "touch" and they showed us how page flipping "technology" can make a pad work just like a real book. Touch your finger, slide it left, and... OK, we got it. Yikes.  Maybe its time for us to go to China and see if they've got anything we can knock off.

CES 2011 was all about Paris and pirates telling us "that's hot" when it really wasn't. It seems there may be folks who believe they can create an invention the way Disney manufactures a teen celebrity. But, we didn't give up. So what really is hot? Don't ask the USPTO. They're still warehousing applications from 2008; although, arguably they are among the people who used to help us answer the question. Remember the Patent Gazette?  BTW, it had low power consumption analog page flipping technology and came with something remarkably consistent with what CES keynote speaker Steve Ballmer described as a "natural user interface." These days, the Commissioner publishes applications whether they are issued or not, and Google delivers them to everyone. On our way to the show, we met an inventor with a really clever electronic collar for helper dogs. She's still waiting for her patent along with the inventor of that drill bit that saved those Chilean miners. All hot, patented not.  More - Part 2