Golf can be a very serious game and from a scan of the related intellectual property in that area, it can be a very serious business. From June to November of 2006 there were over 2,500 granted patents or published applications in the U.S. or the World that related to the game of golf. The intellectual property includes items such as new golf shoe designs, clubs, manufacturing processes, grips, bags, better golf carts, training devices, and portable range finding devices incorporating image processors. Many of these inventions are used by golfers to help lower their golf scores. About 620 of the 2,500 patents use some type of optical or laser-based device. About 18 percent of the 620 patents refer to an earlier provisional patent, indicating that players in this field are taking advantage of the provisional patent feature offered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. Although many of these patents are relating to unique applications of existing technology rather than new technological developments, some of the unique applications are pretty clever. One U.S. application (citing a provisional application), one granted patent, and two World patent applications have been chosen to be highlighted in this analysis -- all of these use optical methods or laser technologies.
US 2006/0122001 - Golf Training Device
To help train a golfer to align his feet and to position the golf ball appropriately relative to their position, U.S. patent application 2006/0122001 discusses a device that projects at least two lines on the ground. A housing with a spike is pushed into the ground, therefore the golfer is not required to hold or clip on any devices. The housing that is pushed into the ground contains at least two lasers. The laser light from each passes through a diffractive optical element that produces a planar arc of light which produces a line when projected on the ground. One line indicates the proper alignment of the golfer's feet. The second line, orthogonal to the first line, helps the golfer determine the proper placement of the golf ball relative to the foot alignment. A third line may be added that bisects the second line to indicate the precise location where the golf ball should be placed.
In addition to the alignment aids, a laser and photodetector are used to determine the speed of the club head at the point of impact with the golf ball. This calculation is based on the plane of light being broken for a known period of time and the dimensions of the golf club. After determining the speed of the club head, the distance the golf ball would travel can be inferred and shared with the golfer.
This patent refers to a provisional patent filed on December 3, 2004; therefore that date can be claimed as its official United States patent application filing date even though the filing date for the non-provisional application is December 2, 2005. This patent application was first published on June 8, 2006. The patent was granted on September 26, 2006 as US patent 7,112,145. The advantage of filing a provisional patent is seen here because the filing date is considered as December 3, 2004, yet the 20-year patent term would be measured from the 2005 filing date. Additional features and cautions pertaining to provisional patents can be found on the USPTO web site
US 7,112,151 - Golf Club Alignment Apparatus
On the golf course and during practice; U.S. patent 7,112,151 discusses the use of one or two laser units located in the head of a golf club such as a putter. The laser units generate a planar beam using a battery source that helps the golfer align the striking surface of the golf club with the golf ball with the target in mind. In the single-laser application, the single laser is located in the "sweet spot" of the golf club and a transparent golf ball is used. The beam is transmitted through the golf ball toward the target. This helps the golfer see that the golf ball and target are mutually aligned and also helps the golfer swing the club accurately to ensure that the alignment is maintained through the swing.
The two-laser application is similar, but uses two lasers located equidistant from the club's "sweet spot" and an opaque golf ball can be used.
The patent does discuss retrofitting existing golf clubs with this feature. Undulating greens are not discussed.
WO 2006/116833 - Golf Ball Detecting Optical Device
A pair of eyeglasses optimized to find a white ball in a non-white environment is discussed by Visi-ball Solutions in world patent application WO 2006/116833. This international patent, published under the patent cooperation treaty (PCT), hopes to help golfers avoid penalty strokes, save time looking for lost balls, and save money replacing lost balls. The invention enhances the visual perception of a stationary white object in a colored background. This is accomplished by a filter that attenuates light with wavelengths above 500 nanometers (nm), typically greens, yellows, oranges, and reds most commonly seen in vegetation. A light transmission of about 90% is seen for light above 500nm and about 10% for light below 500 nm. In addition to the light filtering, opaque shields on the sides of the glasses reduce the peripheral vision, focusing the vision on the primary areas of interest.
WO 2006/118422 - Analysis System of Golf Ball and Head Information Using Lasers and 4 Axis Light Sensing
Not only are the technicalities of a golf analysis system included, but also the author's view of the state of the game of golf in South Korea is discussed in world patent application WO 2006/118422. The original patent was filed in Korean, but it has been published in English.
According to this patent's author, as stated in this patent application, "The number of people enjoying golf in South Korea has reached 2 million and is increasing among the general population due to the success of Korean golfers such as Seri Park and Mihyeon Kim in the LPGA." It is also suggested that there are more players in South Korea due to the government's implementation of a five-day work week. This patent addresses an invention to be used at a driving range or practice facility that analyzes the golf ball and golf club head to determine characteristics used to help golfers in perfecting their swing.
The analysis is conducted using a light source behind the golfer and data is collected from horizontal light sensing arrays on the floor in front of the golfer. Data also is collected from a near-vertical sensor array in front of the golfer. A laser is used determine the time when the golf ball passes the sensors and the silhouette of the golf club and golf ball at specific time intervals are used to calculate the ball's speed, the club head's speed, the ball's directional angle, the ball's launch angle, the club head's path, any sidespin, and a flight distance. This information is displayed for the golfer to see and an output device is made available if output is desired. This information can be used by the golfer in pursuit of the perfect swing and a lower golf score.
Gary Placzek is a Nerac Patent Analyst. Nerac's Intellectual Property Solutions provide a practical understanding of the IP landscape, helping organizations to make informed decisions about R&D planning and business strategy development. Nerac analysts work with clients in the following critical areas:
- Patentability and Invalidity
- Patent Portfolio Analysis
- Commercialization Strategy
- White Space Analysis