— Some of the material on video sites like YouTube is "re-purposed", which is a polite way of saying it was uploaded without the copyright holder's permission.
Now, US company Digimarc, which specialises in image recognition and watermarking, has been granted a patent for a novel way of tackling the problem. Instead of preventing copyright infringement altogether, it would turn it into a commercial advantage.
A TV station or movie studio embeds an invisible watermark in whatever it broadcasts. This is done by producing a copy of the original material but with key areas of the image imperceptibly distorted in shape, colour or brightness. The difference between the original and the copy is expressed as a digital code which identifies the copyright owner. The slightly distorted copy is released for TV while the pure original is kept in the owner's vault.
When the clip then reappears on the web, its owner can automatically be identified and viewers can be targeted with adverts that generate revenue for the original copyright owner.
Read the full web clip watermarking patent application.
Joggers need no longer worry about diligently monitoring their health instead of listening to music as they run. US inventors Jeffrey Lovejoy and Joseph Giordano have applied to patent modified earbud headphones that measure heart rate.
A personal stereo plays music and the system interjects advice and encouragement (or warnings to slow down) through the same headphones, removing the need for the jogger to keep one eye on a wrist-mounted heart monitor.
The headphones have a pair of conductive pads that press against the skin inside a wearer's ear. This lets them monitor heart activity like a pair of electrocardiogram electrodes.
Software on a connected personal stereo keeps track of the runner's heart rate and intones key statistics, along with encouragement, over the music.
The heart rate is continually checked against stored values for the jogger's height, weight and age so the wearer can be given the best personal training tips. A more advanced design could shine light through the ear lobe to check blood oxygen content as well, the patent application suggests.
Read the full headphone trainer patent application.
The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) commissioned SRI International an independent, non-profit research and development organisation to work on ways of making masks produce realistic facial expressions.
The research could have serious uses, like making mannequins for medical or military training, say the inventors. But it would surely also be ideal for making more lifelike toys and downright spooky Halloween costumes.
SRI's idea is to use patches of electro-active polymer that change shape when hit with a trigger voltage. The mouth and eye areas of a rubbery face mask would, for example, be painted with patches of polymer. Blobs of carbon grease, carbon black and silicone rubber could then be stuck to the sides of each patch to act as electrodes.
Several hundred volts of low current could be continually fed through the polymer to keep it stressed. But a pulse of another hundred volts makes the patch twitch, causing an eye to wink or a pair of lips to move. Feeding an alternating current through the patch would make it vibrate violently. Spooky.
Read the full moving masks patent application.
For more than 30 years, Barry Fox has trawled through the world's weird and wonderful patent applications, uncovering the most exciting, bizarre or even terrifying new ideas. Read previous Invention columns, including:
Hot lap prevention, edible RFID, covert iris scanner, personal TV censor, diamond-coated gadgets, computo-cooked perfection, Cellphone sunscreen, skateboard meets Segway, Taser gets tougher, razor light, wing-mirror cameras, body-wired headphones, rocket-repelling parachutes, tooth decay probe, laser healing, throwable game controllers, Microwave oven gun, Smart-card DVDs, Smart night scope, laser microphone, triple-standard DVD, ultimate body armour, Long-range stunner, tongue-o-vision, jellyfish injections, Flesh-burn sensor, fire-escape tubes, VoIP mangling, in-flight rearming, sense that fat, Designer speakers, throw-away parachutes, password-protected bullets, spinning touchdown, palmtop Feng Shui, Origami gadgets, mile-high showers, Hydrogen fuel balls, human cannonballs, the riot slimer, the bomb jammer, Apple's all-seeing screen, the TV-advert enforcer, the wing-sprouting drone, the drink-driver arm scanner, laser spark plugs, remote-controlled implants,the "I've been shot" gun, the snore zapper, the guitar phone, explosive-eating fungus, viper vision, exploding ink, the moody media player, the spy-diver killer, preventing in-flight interference, the inkjet-printer pen, sonic watermarks, the McDownload, hot-air plane, landmine arrows, soldiers obeying odours, coffee beer, wall-beating bugging, eyeball electronics, phone jolts, personal crash alarm, talking tooth, shark shocker, midnight call-foiler, burning bullets, a music lover's dream, magic wand for gamers, the phantom car, phone-bomb hijacking, shocking airport scans, old tyres to printer ink and eye-tracking displays.