It looks like some of our favorite companies have shaken off the summer doldrums and are back to normal levels of patent grants. This is true of both Amazon and Google, which in the past two weeks have received grants for interesting applications that will have, once deployed, an impact on consumer uses of smart devices to shop and socialize.

Amazon garnered a total of 42 new patents. I found one to be particularly interesting.

Patent 8,811,594 (“Contact Routing Visualization System”) describes a way for customer service representatives in call centers to “see” where the customer they are helping is located. The graphical representation of the system provided in the patent shows a world map with a company’s call-center locations identified on the map. When a customer is paired with a customer service-center agent, the connection between the two locations is displayed on the map.

The reason for this given in the Background section of the patent is:

“Customers may be dispersed throughout the world, and call centers may be located at various locations around the world. Service representatives at call centers often feel disconnected from the company and/or from the individuals that they are helping for the company.”

Consumers calling company service representatives for assistance, and this includes me, have elevated the belief that the agent is somewhere outside the U.S. to the status of urban legend. There is much truth to the perception, as call-center operations have been “offshored” for years in efforts to reduce the cost of labor, the largest cost component of these centers. Many of these call centers are independently owned, and are not part of the company for which the service representative is representing.

So the reason for the system is to make the service representative feel better. That Amazon, with a significant service commitment to its customers, has considered this to be a significant enough issue to have undertaken the expense of patenting a solution gives one pause for thought. All we need to add is a musical rendition for this Call Center Blues video.

Google weighed in with 117 new patents, and some of them were very intriguing. Take for example Patent 8,812,176 (“Collapsible Envelope for Descent of Balloon….”). You might have heard of Google’s desire to bring connectivity to every person on the planet, and one way to do this is launch a network of balloons with devices that can connect people on the ground to the Internet. This is a formal project called Loon, started in 2013. This new patent describes how the balloon can descend from its station in the stratosphere to the ground with its device intact.

If you have been following my patent blogs, you will know that part of the thrill of reading through patents is the historical perspective that surfaces from the prior patent references used to support the current claims. Google’s balloon patent uses as its first prior art reference one that was issued in 1921, ninety three years ago, which described the use of “cells” or individual gas pockets distributed throughout the walls of the balloon to provide greater stability and survivability. Patent 1,390,745 (“Aircraft of the Lighter-Than-Air Type”), was actually filed on November 24th, 1919, one year after the end of World War 1. Lighter than air aircraft, most notably the zeppelin, were used as bombers in WW1, and after the war became the principle way to move people across the Atlantic Ocean by air. The heyday of the zeppelin effectively ended with the crash of the Hindenburg in New Jersey, and the commencement of World War 2.

Google’s balloons are considerably smaller and intended to carry communications devices. It is, however, a return to a viable methodology of keeping something in the air for a much longer time than an airplane, and at a lower cost than a commercial satellite.

If you are like me and have never progressed beyond “Stick Figures 101” to graphically represent something, especially people, then you’ll appreciate the image in Patent 8,810,392 (“Device and Method for Monitoring the Presence of Items and Issuing an Alert if an Item is Not Detected”). You can also appreciate the intent of the patent which is to allow a smart phone or other personal/wearable smart device figure out if we have the things we need to function on us at all times, depending on the context of the situation we are in. For example, the context of being in a restaurant would result in a check that you have your wallet back in your pocket before leaving the table and if not, sounding an alarm. Making sure that you have your keys and eyeglasses (which presumably will need to have embedded sensors to enable the check by the smart device) before you leave your home for work, and other contextual scenarios that would know what you need and alert you to their absence, is something I could use. Call me paranoid but I go through an elaborate check list before heading out on a business trip. I usually forget “one thing” and wind up kicking myself for forgetting it. With an application such as Google proposes, I can stop kicking myself.

Google rarely disappoints, and in the trove of the 117 new patents awarded to it these past two weeks there are significant developments in the area of trusted maps where map locations are updated using trust-based social graphs (Patent 8,812,585), as well as managing the display of private information (Patent 8,811,951).