Tobii - on eyetracking
Tobii is the world leader within the field of eyetracking. More than 10,000 people with disabilities use their aids. Tobii has registered many patents, both national patents registered with PRV and international patents through the EPO. The Swedish company is now strengthening its position within the computer games industry.
Eyetracking enables computers to know where the user is looking. This knowledge opens up many exciting opportunities - and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that this area of technology will see the next big steps to be made within all areas of digital interaction. That is the firm view of Tobii.
“Right from the start, we realised that strong patent protection was a prerequisite for success,” says Mårten Skogö, Head of Research at Tobii. As a result of their cutting edge technology, overall market share and extensive patent portfolio, Tobii is the world leader within eyetracking. In 2001, the company was founded by John Elvesjö, Mårten Skogö and Henrik Eskilsson. In 2015, they have around 600 employees, and Tobii was floated on the stock exchange back in April.
Tobii has many patents in its portfolio, including national patents registered with PRV (the Swedish Intellectual Property Office) and internationally, e.g. with the European Patent Office (EPO), as well as patents for the US market. In short, a patent is a technical solution to a problem which gives the owner an exclusive right to use the invention. In order for an invention to be patentable, it must fulfil three criteria:
- The invention must be novel
The invention must not have been known previously at the time the patent application was submitted. It does not matter by whom or where in the world it has been published. The investment will be considered to have become known even it was you who used or published it.
- The invention must have inventiveness
The invention must differ significantly from everything that has previously been known. This means that new ways of combining known methods or objects will not necessarily be patentable.
- The invention must be applicable industrially
The invention must be technical in nature, have a technical effect and be reproducible.
The technology gives independence
At the factory in Danderyd, products are manufactured within many different business areas. Tobii Dynavox develops communication aids for people with disabilities or communication difficulties, caused by spinal injuries, ALS or CP injuries, for example.
“What we are most proud of is the fact that we have over 10,000 users with some form of communication impairment who use our technology to communicate. We have succeeded in building a company which has developed technology which works. I am incredibly proud that we can help people who really benefit from this,” says Mårten Skogö, Head of Research at Tobii.
He says it is incredibly inspiring to see how people who could not previously make themselves understood to their immediate family are now able to reach the outside world, use computers and live a more independent life. “Suddenly, they can express themselves. We also have people who have completed a university education with the help of our technology. Giving individuals who were previously unable to communicate with their surroundings this opportunity is very clearly our biggest business,” he says. Tobii Pro develops monitors with integrated eyetracking. They are also working in another exciting field within eyetracking - the opportunity to understand how the receiver perceives a message. This is valuable information in connection with analysis, both for academic research and for commercial interests.
Tobii Tech develops the company’s core technology and eyetracking products for the consumer market. This involves the trademark Tobii EyeX, which delivers user experiences with eyetracking on ordinary computers and computer games. Mårten Skogö says that "gamers" and game applications are an area with considerable potential for growth for Tobii. The technology is already in use in a large number of major games.
Over the years, Tobit has registered many patents, covering everything from sensor technology and algorithms to hardware, with applications and interaction concepts. The research manager says that the company was quick to realise the importance of strong patent protection for success.
“If we had not done so, we would have been copied and overtaken. Strong patent protection is a prerequisite for making the investments we do and developing the technology - in order to put on the leader’s jersey and say “we’re going to launch this on a mass market,” says Mårten Skogö.
The interview was made in 2015.
An approved patent gives:
- Exclusive rights to commercial exploitation of the technical solution
- The exclusive rights apply for up to 20 years if you pay the applicable annual fees
- In return, we can publish the technology after 18 months and others can develop it further
Alternatives to patents are to keep your idea secret as a trade secret, to use one of the protection forms ‘trademark’ or ‘design protection’ or to just get going. This can be a good approach if your product is very short-lived. If you decide not to protect your idea, you must make sure that you do not infringe anyone else’s rights.
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