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Good news: The Digital Revolution meets the Human Brain (as evidenced by the explosion of neurotech patent filings)

PatentExample_neurotechOur brain is at the core of every­thing we do, from the every-day deci­sions we make to the epic emo­tions we feel when we fall in love. Giv­en its vital role in our lives, it is great news that two of the most well-fund­ed research pro­grams in the world focus on the brain sci­ences: the Human Brain Project, a $1 bil­lion euro project fund­ed by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion; and the White House-led Brain Research through Advanc­ing Inno­v­a­tive Neu­rotech­nolo­gies (BRAIN) Ini­tia­tive, a $100M+ USD effort.

The tech sec­tor is like­wise wit­ness­ing an unprece­dent­ed explo­sion in brain-relat­ed tech­nol­o­gy, both in the amount of dol­lars invest­ed as well as the vari­ety of nov­el appli­ca­tions developed–ranging from car-based sen­sors detect­ing and min­i­miz­ing inat­ten­tive dri­ving, to vir­tu­al real­i­ty sys­tems dis­cern­ing con­sumer brain respons­es for yet-to-be-build prod­ucts, to audio head­sets that can detect your mood and adjust music to lift you up.

Rel­e­vant patent fil­ings have soared in num­ber — from 800 in 2010 to 1,600 last year. Neurotechnologies—at least those that, being non-inva­sive, pose few if any neg­a­tive side-effects—are like­ly to become ubiq­ui­tous, per­va­sive.

Why does this matter?

To pre­dict the future, it helps to exam­ine one key lead­ing indi­ca­tor of tech invest­ment: patent activ­i­ty. For exam­ple, in 2012, Google filed a patent appli­ca­tion for a glu­cose-sens­ing con­tact lens to assist dia­bet­ic mon­i­tor­ing of blood sug­ar lev­els. A cou­ple of years lat­er, Google pre­sent­ed a pro­to­type of the device and revealed a part­ner­ship with biotech leader Novar­tis to com­mer­cial­ize the smart con­tact lens.

Neu­rotech­nol­o­gy patents reveal sim­i­lar insights. Sev­er­al years after receiv­ing a patent for biosens­ing wear­able tech to com­mu­ni­cate with house­hold devices, Philips announced a proof of con­cept devel­oped with Accen­ture for a brain-wave read­ing head­set appli­ca­tion to con­trol home tele­vi­sions and light­ing mere­ly by thought. And both Philips and Accen­ture have been active fil­ing for rel­e­vant patents, which sug­gest in short order we will see an inno­v­a­tive solu­tion that can poten­tial­ly improve the lives of 400,000+ peo­ple suf­fer­ing from Amy­otroph­ic lat­er­al scle­ro­sis (ALS), the debil­i­tat­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion com­mon­ly known as Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease.

Our new report on Per­va­sive Neu­rotech­nol­o­gy & Intel­lec­tu­al Prop­er­ty reveals over 8,000 active issued patents and 5,000 pend­ing appli­ca­tions, illus­trat­ing a flour­ish­ing range of non-inva­sive neu­rotech­nolo­gies span­ning med­i­cine, enter­tain­ment, busi­ness and beyond…going well beyond the tra­di­tion­al realms of med­i­cine and acad­e­mia.

Under the radar, brain­wave read­ing tech­nolo­gies are being patent­ed by IT giants such as Microsoft and IBM, try­ing to cre­ate a tech­no­log­i­cal ecosys­tem that works WITH our brains — rather than AGAINST them. These patents, for exam­ple, describe new approach­es to improve pro­duc­tiv­i­ty through tech­niques like block­ing dis­tract­ing noti­fi­ca­tions from some­one whose brain sig­nals indi­cate they are high­ly focused on a par­tic­u­lar task.

Our con­sump­tion behav­iors are also being affect­ed by neu­rotech­nol­o­gy. Con­sumer-research behe­moth Nielsen has an entire neu­ro­science divi­sion ded­i­cat­ed to mea­sur­ing con­sumers at their most fun­da­men­tal lev­el — their brain activ­i­ty. Nielsen patents show neu­rotech­nol­o­gy appli­ca­tions incor­po­rat­ing mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary approach­es with oth­er cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies such as vir­tu­al real­i­ty sys­tems, and even how these same research approach­es could be used to improve home-based health­care.

Improving technology, improving ourselves

But neu­rotech­nol­o­gy isn’t just geared towards mon­i­tor­ing brain activ­i­ty. Sig­nif­i­cant ven­ture fund­ing and patent activ­i­ty is being direct­ed at prod­ucts that can enhance brain func­tion­ing through neu­rocog­ni­tive train­ing and through cut­ting-edge (and not ful­ly test­ed) mag­net­ic and elec­tri­cal stim­u­la­tion devices. While ten of the twen­ty top neu­rotech IP hold­ers are pub­licly trad­ed com­pa­nies, start-up Thync raised $13M dol­lars from Khosla Ven­tures and oth­er investors in 2014 to com­mer­cial­ize tran­scra­nial stim­u­la­tion as the “new cof­fee” for a main­stream audi­ence.

Sci­ence fic­tion? Well, the com­pa­ny released its first prod­uct last week.

As Zack Lynch, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor and Founder of the Neu­rotech­nol­o­gy Indus­try Orga­ni­za­tion puts it:

[Neu­rotech­nol­o­gy] is a dis­rup­tive force that will impact major parts of every indus­try, cre­at­ing new oppor­tu­ni­ties for entre­pre­neurs, com­pa­nies, and investors on the cut­ting edge to take lead­er­ship roles in upgrad­ing enter­tain­ment, health, edu­ca­tion, well­ness and more.

It no doubt will. It will also present chal­lenges for con­sumer and pro­fes­sion­als who want to under­stand what works and what doesn’t–even what “works” means in the new con­text.

At the end of his lat­est book, The Inno­va­tors: How a Group of Hack­ers, Genius­es, and Geeks Cre­at­ed the Dig­i­tal Rev­o­lu­tion, Wal­ter Isaac­son wrote that

The next phase of the Dig­i­tal Rev­o­lu­tion will bring even more new meth­ods of mar­ry­ing tech­nol­o­gy with the cre­ative indus­tries, such as media, fash­ion, music, enter­tain­ment, edu­ca­tion, lit­er­a­ture, and the arts… This inno­va­tion will come from peo­ple who are able to link beau­ty to engi­neer­ing, human­i­ty to tech­nol­o­gy, and poet­ry to proces­sors. In oth­er words, it will come from the spir­i­tu­al heirs of Ada Lovelace, cre­ators who can flour­ish, where the arts inter­sect with the sci­ences and who have a rebel­lious sense of won­der that opens them to the beau­ty of both.

It is high time for the Dig­i­tal Rev­o­lu­tion and the Human Brain to meet each oth­er.

Good news. #Per­va­siveNeu­rotech has arrived.


 

Alvaro_FernandezAlvaro Fer­nan­dez, named a Young Glob­al Leader by the World Eco­nomic Forum, runs Sharp­Brains, an inde­pen­dent mar­ket research firm track­ing health and well­ness appli­ca­tions of brain sci­ence. He is an inter­na­tion­al­ly-known speak­er and expert, and has been quot­ed by The New York Times, The Wall Street Jour­nal, New Sci­en­tist, CNN, and oth­er media out­lets.

Nikhil_SriramanNikhil Sri­ra­man is a patent attor­ney admit­ted to prac­tice before the Unit­ed States Patent and Trade­mark Office (USPTO). Nikhil has held posi­tions at the USPTO, IP law firms and in-house at For­tune 500 com­pa­nies. He cur­rent­ly serves as Primal’s Vice Pres­i­dent of Intel­lec­tu­al Prop­er­ty, as well as Sharp­Brains’ Intel­lec­tu­al Prop­er­ty Ana­lyst.

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness, Technology

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About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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