United States: GoPro When Considering Patents, Don’t Panic Like An Everyday Investor

Last Updated: January 16 2015
Article by Justin F. McNaughton

GoPro stocks dropped 13% on Tuesday – allegedly because Apple had a patent granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for an improved remote control for a camera.  The Blog Patently Apple reported Tuesday that Apple had been granted a patent that could threaten GoPro, then several news outlets sensationalized the story with the alleged result being a major selloff of GoPro stocks.  Here is NBC's video of the story:

If you have ever received a patent demand letter, you may have experienced a similar panic to that experienced by GoPro investors.  I try to always remind myself that all trees look the same from ten thousand feet and so it goes with patent claims.  We find that often claims don't read on an accused product and many times a product can be easily altered to avoid any argument of infringement.  I have no idea where GoPro should be valued, but looking at the claims issued to Apple in this particular patent, I'm not sure a 13% drop in value is merited.

If you take a look at the patent that Patently Apple reported (US U.S. Patent 8934045), the independent claim is where the action is.  You can identify the independent claims because they won't start with a reference to another claim and they tend to be quite long.  In this patent, the only independent claim is the first claim.  It is a doosy, so feel free to skip over reading it:

"A digital camera system, comprising: an image capture module including: a first image capture system including: a first image sensor for capturing a digital image; and a first optical system for forming an image of a first portion of a scene onto the first image sensor; and a first wireless communication system; and a remote control module including: a remote control status display including one or more remote control status display elements for displaying status information pertaining to the image capture module; a battery-operated power supply; one or more remote control user controls; a second wireless communication system for communicating with the first wireless communication system using a wireless interface; and a power management system providing a normal-power state where the remote control status display and the second wireless communication system are active and a low-power state where the remote control status display and the second wireless system are inactive; wherein when none of the remote control user controls have been activated for a predefined first time interval the power management system sets the remote control module to operate in the low-power state; and wherein when a user activates one of the remote control user controls while the remote control module is in the low-power state: the power management system sets the remote control module to operate in the normal-power state; the remote control module sends a status inquiry to the image capture module using the second wireless communication system, and in response the image capture module sends status information back to the remote control module using the first wireless communication system; and the status information is displayed using the remote control status display elements of the remote control status display."

I've bolded what I think is the crux of the claim: it is a wireless power management system for a remote control to preserve battery life when not communicating with a camera.  It is a pretty cool claim, but is it really worthy of a significant impact on GoPro's stock?  Let's think about this.  The claim is quite long, so it requires a lot of elements to be infringed.  The claim requires the power management system to be on the remote control, and not necessarily on the camera.  It requires two wireless communication systems.  And, it really has little to do with a camera, other than it requires a camera.

At this point, we start to see that this patent might not be that big a deal to GoPro.  For starters, are remote controls really GoPro's core business?  Does the GoPro remote require two wireless communication systems?  If so, is this type of power management system key?  If so, did GoPro already do this a year before the patent application's 2012 filing date?  You start to see that there are lots of options, and many times that is the end of it.

On the practical side, it can be helpful to consider the practical business implications.  For instance, why would Apple jump into the sports camera market?  Why would it launch a new product based on old Kodak patents?  More likely, Apple was pulling what it could out of this application.

Also, wouldn't it make more sense for Apple to release some sort of universal remote control app as part of its new iWatch rather than a camera system?  I think so, and this would mean Apple has every incentive to make sure its technology plays well with all third-party hardware it could control.

Next time you have concern about a patent, GoPro and try not to panic like an everyday investor. It's nothing like doing 9 front flips off an insanely tall tower:

~TechAttaché

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