Snapchat released its first hardware product earlier this week – wearable video-glasses coined “Spectacles”. The announcement caught many analysts by surprise, as the move shows Snapchat extending offerings beyond its traditional smartphone platform. Envision IP reported this past May that Snapchat had acquired a number of patents from IBM recently. The company currently owns 280 US patents, with 245 having been acquired from IBM. Envision IP analyzed Snapchat’s patent portfolio to understand what features the company may have patent protection for as a result of this acquisition, and which technologies the company may incorporate into its platform in the future.
The patented technologies Snapchat acquired from IBM relate to various aspects of messaging, email, and mobile communications. Many of the patents relate to group messaging, the use of avatars, gesture input technology, location-based social detection, and privacy and security controls; technologies which appear to complement Snapchat’s current offering. Other patents relate to increasing mobile bandwidth, pre-caching content, and optimizing data transmission between devices; technologies which improve the user experience. The IBM patents appear very targeted to Snapchat’s core offering, and provide the company patent protection for various aspects of messaging and chat technology. One interesting patent we identified is US 8036950 entitled “Auction management with business-volume discount”, which relates to an auction-type e-commerce system.
The IBM patents have an average remaining term of almost 9 years, and many of the patents have extremely high forward citation counts. For example, US 6012088 entitled “Automatic configuration for internet access device” has over 1,100 forward citations. Snapchat appears to have done an excellent job in mining IBM’s patent portfolio to select very relevant patents to acquire, some with priority dates going back to the late 1990s.
In addition to the patents acquired by IBM, Snapchat acquired 10 patents from Yahoo, and one patent each from Verizon and Bigfoot Internet Ventures. The acquired Yahoo patents relate to similar technologies – instant messaging and sharing of content in a mobile environment. One Yahoo patent stands out however, US 7958156 entitled “Graphical/rich media ads in search results”, which may provide insight on how Snapchat could possibly monetize its platform.
The company has filed-for and organically obtained 23 patents on its own. These patents relate to video integration with social networks and geo-location data, as well as image filters, gallery-like displaying of content, and security features. Snapchat currently also owns 236 pending, published US patent applications, with 17 resulting from its own filings, and the vast majority resulting from its acquisitions (207 from IBM, 10 from Yahoo, and 2 from Bigfoot Internet Ventures).
These patent acquisitions may help Snapchat defend against potential third-party infringement claims from competitors in the space, as Snapchat now has its own arsenal of defensive patents which may be used for counter-suit and cross-licensing purposes. We would not be surprised if Snapchat made further patent-fueled acquisitions in the future, especially around the user-generated video and social sharing aspects of its platform, as well as content monetization, as the company appears to have focused its current patent acquisitions heavily in this space.