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Defense & Security

Biometrics a focus of patent activity

Biometric authentication methods are becoming more widespread in security, industrial, and even ergonomic applications.
1 December 2008, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.2200812.0001

The demand for secure, fast, and accurate authentication has led to a noticeable increase in biometric patent activity, especially in non-traditional arenas. The use of biometrics has broadened from its original concept of scientific analysis and management of biological data, to an emerging technology using intrinsic physical or even behavioral traits for identification and authentication purposes.

With the advent of online commerce and new technological systems, the use of biometrics has shifted from scientific study to practical applications in security, law enforcement, and even personal comfort and marketing. More and more industries are finding ways to use biometrics in an ever-expanding list of commercial applications, from simple ATM PINs and voicemail passwords to powerful and complex systems serving a multitude of end uses.

Biometrics is not new and in fact has a long history in law enforcement. Fingerprints are biometric markers that have long been the most conventional means of identifying evidence going back to the early 1900s when Scotland Yard began keeping a record of fingerprints obtained at crime scenes. Almost every law enforcement agency in the world now has access to fingerprint databases to identify suspects and help solve criminal investigations.

Hostage rescue teams now can use hand-held biometric devices to confirm the identity of an individual they were sent to recover. Developments in fingerprint recognition technology have led to a number of alternate biometric characteristics used as identifiers, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Another area that has incorporated the use of biometrics is personal comfort and marketing. Modern-day automobiles now have design options that identify and differentiate between multiple drivers, and will change personal settings accordingly, like adjusting the seat height and the rearview mirror angle. Developments in marketing strategy employ feedback based upon personal shopping habits to create customized and targeted marketing media.

The area showing the largest and most rapid growth, however, is in the security industry. Advances in secure identification and verification have touched everything from inventory control to biometric passports used by certain countries to provide expedited admission to frequent international travelers. Credit card fraud and identity theft rates have reached all-time highs, and both consumers and commercial entities are seeking ways to prevent criminals from compromising systems and accessing personal information.

Security-critical entities want to control and restrict access to protect sensitive networks and information. According to a recent article in Scientific American, "The current emphasis in biometrics is to design fully automatic systems that are extremely fast, accurate, user-friendly and cost-effective and that can be embedded in existing security infrastructures." (Jain, Anil and Pankanti, Sharath, "Beyond Fingerprinting", Scientific American, September 2008)

To illustrate how biometric technologies are expanding, here are some examples of recently published biometric patent references:

"Method and Apparatus for Characterizing and Estimating the Parameters of Histological and Physiological Biometric Markers for Authentication," US 7,441,123 B2, Grant et al, discloses a method that converts a subject's heartbeat into electronic signal form, and then mathematically analyzes the signals for authentication purposes.

"Multimodal Ocular Biometric System and Methods," US 2008/0253622 A1; Tosa et al,describes systems that capture and combine multiple ophthalmic characteristics, and uses digital processing algorithms to process and evaluate the captured images.

"Portable Device with Biometric Sensor Arrangement," US 2008/0255430 A1, Alexandersson et al, describes a portable system that uses sound to measure and differentiate physical or behavioral characteristics of a user.

"Brain Shape as a Biometric," US 2008/0253621 A1, Connell et al, describes a method, system, and program product for identifying an individual using biometric data based on the geometry of the individual's brain.

"Biometric Access Control System Incorporating a Touchscreen Accessible and Kiosk-Based ID Station Operating in Combination with Multiple Critical Asset Retaining Racks and Locers for Permitting Selective Biometric Input and Processor Driven/Wireless Release Authorization, Maintenance and Inventory Control of Any Plurality of Critical Assets and Including an Associated Computer-Writeable Medium Operating with the ID Station for Enabling Asset Release, Re-entry and Associated Inventory Control," US 2008/0252414 A1; Crigger et al, describes a biometric access control system for tracking and releasing weapons using a biometric input reader, an RFID antenna/reader, and a wired or wireless communication device.

"Method and Apparatus for Generating Customized Marketing Messages at the Customer Level Based on Biometric Data," US 2008/0249856 A1; Angell et al, This application describes a method, apparatus, and computer usable program code for customizing digital media marketing messages using biometric data.

"Method and Apparatus for Biometric Identification," WO 2008/118205 A2; Cerni, Todd A., describes an invention that uses a laser diode to measure and differentiate the subcutaneous vein pattern characteristics of the subject being scanned.

Nerac Analyst Shawn Hogan helps companies assess their intellectual property through research and analysis of key patents and prior art, particularly in the areas of plastics engineering, materials, and medical device manufacturing. His areas of expertise include extrusion processes and equipment, disposable medical device manufacturing, product/process development and validation, engineering and quality documentation, and intellectual property and patents. Mr. Hogan is a USPTO registered patent agent.

Nerac is a global research and advisory firm for companies developing innovative products and technologies. Nerac analysts deliver custom assessments in the following areas: