Microsoft Reaches Gesture-Based Licensing Agreement

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — EON Reality is the latest firm to license a technology developed at Microsoft Research and bring it to market. In this case, EON has picked up Microsoft’s “Touchlight” gesture-based interaction software.

Microsoft  created IP Ventures in May 2005 for the expressed purpose of licensing intellectual properties (IP) to startup or fast growth companies. The software giant said several other companies have licensed its technology.

Microsoft clearly intends for IP Ventures to learn from the mistakes the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) made years ago. Instead of developing great ideas and then letting smart upstart companies purloin them, as Apple and Microsoft did with the Xerox-PARC GUI interface, Microsoft Research is making sure that the IP it develops are properly licensed to companies that can bring the IP to market.

Touchlight is one of the 20 technologies Microsoft Research has offered via IP Ventures. Using cameras to detect human motion, it allows for gesture-driven interaction for things like zooming in and out of an image or rotating an image by gesture, rather than by mouse.

EON plans to incorporate Touchlight into interactive tradeshow demonstrations, training applications, technical documentation and support applications. The company said in a statement it expects that Touchlight applications will be affordable to desktop PC users.

IP Ventures will continue to look for external partners who are best suited to bring technologies to market, according to an executive in the group.

“We’re the group that allows technology developed in the company to move outside the boundaries of the firm and, through business models outside the firm, get to market,” said David Harnett, senior director of Microsoft’s IP Ventures group, at an event here at the Microsoft Research offices.

One of the speakers, professor Henry Chesbrough, Adjunct Professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley, discussed how innovation has shifted in recent decades to smaller firms.

Part of the problem is that big firms are too entrenched in doing what’s familiar and profitable to take a chance. “Companies with great stuff spend millions on R&D but are inert when it comes to shaping it in the marketplace,” he said.

The old research models of Bell Labs and Xerox PARC, where they came up with all manner of invention but often never sold it, no longer works, he said. If the companies that developed the technology can’t bring it to market, Chesbrough said they should turn to smaller firms to do the job.

In 1981, only 4.4 percent of R&D spending was done by firms with fewer than 1,000 employees, while companies with more than 25,000 employees accounted for 70.7 percent of total R&D, according to the National Science Foundation. By 2001, the sub-1,000 employee firms made up 24.7 percent of spending and 25,000-plus companies had dropped to 39.4 percent of spending.

Chesbrough said a big reason for the shift has been changes in the economy. Such changes include a more mobile workforce, with people taking skills and leaving a firm to join a small one, better education, globalization of industry and a rapid growth in venture money.

“Today, it isn’t always the case that the best research is done at big companies,” he said. “You can be very good without being very big.”

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