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Ford's Sync technology, developed jointly with Microsoft, has helped make its cars cool again, and attract younger buyers. Ford is currently in a dispute with a former engineer over ownership of pending patents on key SYNC technology.  (Source: AutoBlog)
Ford determined to keep SYNC's technology, so competitors can't get their claws on it

In the field of technology, its not always what you can do, but typically what you can do with the patents you own and license.  Thus after three model years of SYNC-sporting vehicles, Ford may have to cut a deal to avoid losing large chunks of the pivotal technology.

Ford SYNC is a pivotal in-vehicle technology developed in conjunction with Microsoft.  It debuted in the 2007 for the 2008 model year.  For those not familiar, the technology provides a multifunctional interface to many different gadgets and vehicle features.  Bluetooth phones are supported, as are USB devices, such as the iPod or Zune.  The system manages music, takes phone calls, voice commands (such as playing a specific song or artist), and even receives (and reads) text messages.

The wonder-system is in jeopardy, though, thanks to the departure of Joseph Berry, a senior Ford engineer.  Mr. Berry is is currently in discussions with Ford over pending patents that Ford has filed for SYNC technology.  He claims that he came up with much of the technology covered by these patents, which he is named as an inventor on, before he came to the company.  The technology covered by these patents drives many of the features that drive SYNC.  According to the Detroit News, Mr. Berry has been approached by other automakers looking to license the technology to make legal "SYNC-clones" of their own.

Mr. Berry is claiming ownership of Ford-filed patents on the transmission of data over a cell phone to a vehicle, which SYNC uses to support its second generation 911 Assist, Vehicle Health Reports and Traffic, Directions and Information Services features. 

DailyTech spoke with Ford company spokesman Alan Hall, who said that Ford was "not aware" of Mr. Berry holding any patents on SYNC technology, and that Ford is currently evaluating Mr. Berry's claims and speaking in communication with him, though he could not comment on details.  The patents referenced are pending -- so they are not yet in the public domain.  Mr. Hall added that Ford sees "no risk" of losing SYNC technology.  These comments appear to indicate that Ford will, if necessary, compensate Mr. Berry whatever it takes to retain ownership of features such as turn-by-turn directions from your cell phone, cell phone-driven in-car weather updates (or sports scores), and real-time diagnostic information.

Ford still remains firmly in control of the user interface (proprietary), the hardware (developed at Continental), voice recognition (Nuance Communications), and the OS/MP3 player interface/phonebook interface (Microsoft).  Thus, while the ownership of SYNC itself is not disputed, ownership of some of the system's most "wow" inducing features may be disputed.

SYNC is an essential part of what has grown the Detroit automaker's "cool" factor over the past couple years and helped it survive the recession, while its fellow Detroit automakers crumbled.  The technology helped Ford to reach younger consumers.  States analyst Erich Merkle of, "That's where Sync has been critical.  There's no question it has been part of Ford's recent success."

According to the Detroit News, Mr. Berry says he would be "happy to license" the patents to Ford.  Based on Ford's comments it seems likely a deal will be cut if Mr. Berry's claims are valid.  However, there remains a small possibility that the pair could be forced into a court battle if Mr. Barry insists ownership and tries to license the technology to other companies.  While Mr. Berry did indeed sign off on some patents when he departed, he says he was owed additional compensation which was never received.  Other patents he has not yet signed off on.

Walt Dorfstatter, the incoming president of GM's OnStar subsidiary -- a group reportedly in talks with Mr. Berry -- would merely comment, "We know who Joe Berry is."

Updated Wed. Sept 16, 3:15 p.m.: DailyTech received comments and clarifications from Ford spokesman Alan Hall, which are included above.

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Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By SilthDraeth on 9/16/2009 10:28:37 AM , Rating: 5
Or did the guy own the patents before he went to work for Ford?

Seems like in most technology companies, anything you develop and patent is owned by the company, not the individual, why would it be different at Ford?

RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By mfed3 on 9/16/2009 10:46:11 AM , Rating: 2
Yea, this is bullcrap, there's no way that guy will get away with something like that.

RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By Souka on 9/16/09, Rating: 0
RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By Iaiken on 9/16/2009 10:47:20 AM , Rating: 2
He may have very well owned the patent or has proof of prior art.

Likewise, in every company I have worked at, you must sign a written agreement stating that the company owns all of your work for the company as part of your terms of employment. Some companies even extend that to all of your works (even outside the company), in which case my recommendation is to outright refuse.

Who knows...This gentleman may have had a loose enough contract that he developed and patented much of this off the clock and then brought it to work.

By Ratinator on 9/16/2009 1:22:41 PM , Rating: 2
Ya the all works one is not a good one. One of my friends was offered a job where he had a contract to sign. He got his lawyer to review it and it basically said if you do so much as piss in the snow and make a design with it, the company owns that too. He quickly refused that job - not to mention it didn't pay that well either.

RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By bhieb on 9/16/2009 10:48:14 AM , Rating: 5
He also said he came up with most of the SYNC features and the communications interface before he ever joined the company.

The article hints as him owning them before Ford, but it is not clear if he owned the patents at that time or after he was working for Ford.

Personally I don't think they guy has much to stand on, sounds like a disgruntled employee seeking some extra cash/retribution. I don't know why he left Ford, but my guess is he got too cocky with how "valuable" he was.

RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By Hakuryu on 9/16/2009 12:33:04 PM , Rating: 3
I agree.

It sounds a bit fishy to me that one man 'came up with most of the SYNC features and the communications interface' when it took the combined resources of some big companies to create the actual working system.

I came up with most buildings and features a moonbase would need in 2nd grade for a project, but I doubt I'll ever see any money from it. How much of an idea needs to be developed before you can claim credit? Just an idea on paper, or do you need solid technical plans?

RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By Moishe on 9/16/2009 7:22:15 PM , Rating: 2
I vote that you get moon base royalties. I've got your back.


RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By FaaR on 9/17/2009 9:02:46 AM , Rating: 2
Dude, unless you spent your 2nd grade some time in the 1930s at the latest it's highly unlikely you would have come up with anything that's actually patentable.

This is actually what's wrong with tech patents in general, some guy has an idea - such as having a cell phone communicate with a car computer, or what facilities are needed on a moon base - and suddenly that IDEA is a "technology" and is patented.

Ideas should never be patentable. Only actual implementations, processes and so on.

The reason is that by wording your idea sufficiently nebulously or broadly, you can claim ownership of entire market segments, such as with all those unknown 2-bit companies who have sued big players over well-known and widely used internet techniques, such as streaming video or hyperlinking, using a nebulous patent as their basis for the lawsuit...and of course demanding ten bajillion dollars in "damages", despite never having developed a single product ever - or even attempted to do so - using that patent.

By gstrickler on 9/16/2009 11:22:22 AM , Rating: 2
In most cases, the employer would own or co-own the patents unless he applied for it prior to starting work at the company.

The fact that he has allowed Ford to use the technology, and that he helped integrate it into Ford's products, is good evidence that Ford has a license and/or ownership. He may have a contract/compensation dispute with Ford, but his chances of forcing them to stop using it are extremely low.

I haven't read the patent, but the description given in the article doesn't sound like something that should be patentable. The actual details of the patent may be much more specific.

Of course, there may be a lot more to this case than any of us know, in which case, everything I just speculated about could be completely off.

RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By Hieyeck on 9/16/2009 4:01:20 PM , Rating: 2
Clearly, no one before me RTFA'd...
The wonder-system is in jeopardy, though, thanks to the departure of Joseph Berry, a senior Ford engineer. Mr. Berry is is currently in discussions with Ford over pending patents that Ford has filed for SYNC technology. He claims that he came up with much of the technology covered by these patents, which he is named as an inventor on, before he came to the company .

By seamonkey79 on 9/16/2009 6:53:38 PM , Rating: 2
If he didn't patent it, and allowed Ford to patent it while he was working for them, then Ford owns the rights to it... sounds like he came up with an idea, went to a company with bucks to finance his ideas, and now that he's gone and is being approached by other companies with bucks, he wants to cry foul.

By gstrickler on 9/16/2009 6:56:17 PM , Rating: 2
I read it, but unless he has documentation showing that he created it before he went to work for Ford and/or his contract with Ford specifies that he owns it, he's got a heck of an uphill battle. Even with documentation, he could have a fight on his hands, as Ford is the assignee on the patent.

RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By SilthDraeth on 9/16/2009 11:47:52 PM , Rating: 2
I read the article as well. But it doesn't state whether he patented before he went to work for Ford.

Regardless of when he came up with idea, what matters is when the patents were filed.

By dajeepster on 9/17/2009 1:16:32 AM , Rating: 3
actually... in the US, it goes to the person that came up with the idea, not the one that is first to patent (the rest of the world it goes to the person who first files... unless they changed that recently). But he still has to be able to prove that he came up with the idea, such as notes and research papers and such.. i.e. proof.

i used to be a patent examiner at the USPTO.

RE: Shouldn't Ford own the patents?
By superPC on 9/17/2009 1:56:17 AM , Rating: 2
if the guy had the patent before he works for ford, than he alone owns that patent. and it's possible that he has the patent beforehand. there are a lot of examples of company hiring someone because he owns a patent.

What's the patent number
By siliconvideo on 9/16/2009 11:37:03 AM , Rating: 2
Sure would be nice to know the patent number so we can look it up and verify that Barry owns it directly. I tried to look it up but could not find it.

RE: What's the patent number
By Spivonious on 9/16/2009 11:45:45 AM , Rating: 3
Yeah because "the transmission of data over a cell phone to a vehicle" sounds extremely generic to me. I would be surprised if a patent like that could get approved, even with today's idiot patent clerks.

RE: What's the patent number
By TomZ on 9/16/2009 11:48:47 AM , Rating: 3
It wouldn't surprise me at all. I've seen a lot of more obvious patents get granted than that one.

RE: What's the patent number
By gstrickler on 9/16/2009 12:07:46 PM , Rating: 2
And GM's On-Star has been transmitting data to/from vehicles using the cell phone network (the "phone" was built in to the car) since it started operation more than a decade ago. Without seeing the patent, I can't tell how this would be any different.

RE: What's the patent number
By Moishe on 9/16/2009 7:24:01 PM , Rating: 2
I hear what you're saying, but a car with a transmitter is not a phone even if it can act like one. As soon as you build the phone into the car, the car no longer has to talk to the phone... it just talks to itself.

RE: What's the patent number
By omnicronx on 9/16/2009 12:46:33 PM , Rating: 2

I think this is it, filed in June 2007, after he become a consultant for Ford according to the linked article. Could be a tough pill to swallow if he developed his ideas on company time using company money after becoming a Ford employee.

RE: What's the patent number
By omnicronx on 9/16/2009 12:49:50 PM , Rating: 2
To followup, it appears Ford is listed as an Assignee on the patent according the few sites it is listed on.

Although you cannot take this as fact.

RE: What's the patent number
By siliconvideo on 9/16/2009 1:14:52 PM , Rating: 3
Thank you.

The Asignee is Ford so they own the patent regardless who the inventors are. I'm personally on multiple patents all assigned to the company. They own everything and I didn't even get a thank you or a dime out for my creativeness. Therefore I will not put anymore effort into patent creation. In this case Berry loses.

RE: What's the patent number
By TomZ on 9/16/2009 1:56:06 PM , Rating: 2
There are a couple of ways to look at it. If you're earning a good salary, have benefits, are treated well, then you could probably consider some patents to be part of your overall compensation package. After all, it could be seen as a bit childish to expect to be paid more for patents if your employer is already paying six figures a year for your time and attention.

On the other hand, lots of employers do pay a bonus for patents, so you might want to consider a job change if you really feel cheated.

RE: What's the patent number
By ussfletcher on 9/16/2009 7:57:02 PM , Rating: 2
It appears to me as though this guy put his proprietary stuff in the Sync system with this intention. He knew fully well that he would settle with Ford, or sell his hot tech to other companies after Ford spent the money to showcase it.

RE: What's the patent number
By rcc on 9/17/2009 2:00:36 PM , Rating: 2
Kind of brings RAMBUS to mind

Play Artist...
By HopJokey on 9/16/2009 11:37:35 AM , Rating: 3
Michael Bolton?

RE: Play Artist...
By acase on 9/16/2009 11:49:19 AM , Rating: 5
There *was* nothing wrong with it... until I was about twelve years old and that no-talent ass clown became famous and started winning Grammys.

RE: Play Artist...
By Moishe on 9/16/2009 7:25:39 PM , Rating: 2
"Why should I change my name? He's the one who sucks!"

RE: Play Artist...
By daInvincibleGama on 9/17/2009 9:15:33 AM , Rating: 2
Office Space. Gold.

Soured on patents
By Dorkyman on 9/16/2009 1:54:41 PM , Rating: 3
Years ago I thought a patent was a ticket to success. Now I have some, and after numerous (and expensive) rounds with examiners, I think I see the light.

A patent is nothing more but a permission slip that entitles you to your day in court if someone else creates an identical product or process as yours.

A patent is supposedly granted only if the new idea is "non-obvious to one skilled in the art" but that is a really weak standard, since if I am sufficiently skilled in the art in question then someone's patent is just a combination of other ideas--nothing more. And combinations cannot be patented.

I guess, for me, it boils down to the "whistle" standard: if I see how something works, and whistle to myself, saying, "Wow--that is REALLY clever" then it passes my standard for patentability, meaning that I would be willing to give the creator special rights for a limited period of time.

BTW, I note with some chagrin how patents and copyrights have widely diverged over time. Your brilliant idea, if patented, is yours only for a limited time; use your imagination to write a song, and it's yours (and your heirs) for practically forever.

By manaboulsi on 9/17/2009 7:26:39 AM , Rating: 3
In 2001, I filed a patent in the U.S. which I later filed in EU and Japan

The portfolio is very large and contains upward of 14 independent patents. The first patent, 6731,925, was granted in early 2004 and was focused on monitoring driver hands, health and performance before allowing access to e-mail, phone, text messages, and other in vehicle communication and entertainment features. The patent specifies hands on the wheels eyes on the road by reading information to the driver instead of displaying it, including caller name.

Another key feature is a driver profile that sits on a cell phone (or other portable media) and when vehicle read said profile, the car will know who the driver is and what the driver is allowed top do based on his age, driving record and other personal description of the driver. The vehicle will enforce such profile, e.g. block speed, entertainment, texting, emails, certain news or calls and data by type, by URL or caller id. This was published prior to what Ford calls MyKey. (As Ford's own engineer commented during a presentation at Ford.)

Another feature of the system is automatic direct call to 911, in case of an accident, using the driver phone to tell the dispatched where the car is, the severity of the accident, number of occupant and their medical record password on the internet.. This was published in 2003 and also is similar to what Ford has added to Sync.

Sync, (or its real name, Safe Telematic Monitoring and Control Gateway), is a plug and play upgradable monitoring control system and method and was not invented by Ford, Microsoft, Continental, or Fiat. They engineered the parts. I invented the system after years of research, prototyping and observing and recording self and others behind the wheel while driving on the right side and the left side of the roads on three different continents.

Our device was a public knowledge since SAE Government and Industry meeting (spring of 2002) in Washington DC and was reported on Intelligent Vehicle News. In Convergence 2002 we handed over animated presentation in English and German and more literature in French about the working of the system. In SAE Congress of 2003, we exhibited and demonstrated a functional version of the device and again in Convergence 2004, when Ford patent attorneys along with other OEM and Tier suppliers, stopped bay to witness a demo of the device making calls, receiving calls, reading e-mail, web pages, making simulated 911 calls and acting only as permitted by the profile loaded on the phone.

The device was also the subject of news report locally and internationally. It was reported in The Vehicle Component News in fall 2002 (Swedish), Tech Center News in April 2003, in Detroit Auto Scene in June of 2003 as apart of a story about Chrysler effort in the area, and when the reporter noticed the obvious similarity she included our company effort in the same article, (We introduced the system to Chrysler in Spring-Summer of 2002). Detroit News, Nick Bunkley, reviewed the device during October of 2004 at Convergence2004, and wrote an article on it. At the same time frame, Auto Insight (Guy Gordon) did a TV piece showing the demo as did Gabriel Gamache from Detroit Auto Scene). Other articles where published in English and Arabic in Dearborn, Michigan local papers, Autotech daily, Oakland Business News, Matt Roush Great lake report.

The fact that all these features were public knowledge (but not public domain) long before Ford, Microsoft, Continental and Mr. Berry got together, makes it impossible for them to claim "Invention", especially that I have documentation in Black & White at three global patent offices proposing such system and method. Watering down an invention does not make it patentable since the core is already has a prior art with granted and pending patent. Engineering and patenting systems and method that depends on prior art may make them patentable, but they are still part of a Prior Art System and Method that is patented or patent pending for almost a decade now. User of such dependent patents/features will still have to license from the inventor before they start selling such devices.

If anybody wants to use or implement such system (GM, FORD, Chrysler or anyone else), please contact us and let's arrange a meeting to see how we can help drivers stay safe while doing what they do behind the wheels

Other pending divisional patents include Physiology Portal to the car via the steering wheel including detecting alcohol, Steering wheel monitoring based on driver history to deploy, warn, enable or disable equipment and services to assure safety. Just like couple European OEM implemented on their luxury vehicle.

I am not a lawyer, and what I wrote up here may not hold n a court of law, but in the least, the patents are real, the invention is real, parents and fleet managers that see the domo love it and 65% of consumers say they are definitely interested in buying it (thus Ford improved sales), and 22% said they will likely buy it and 17% will purchase another one for employees and spouses and kids. Avoid the hassle and contact us today.

Best regards,

Mouhamad A. Naboulsi, President

Applied Computer Technologies, Inc
Metro Detroit, Michigan USA

manaboulsi, West Bloomfield, MI

Pic caption
By ClownPuncher on 9/16/2009 3:23:53 PM , Rating: 2
Ford's Sync technology, developed jointly with Microsoft, has helped may its cars cool again,

Make, right?

>>.. Hmmmm
By Moishe on 9/16/2009 7:20:19 PM , Rating: 2
Other patents he has not yet signed off on.


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