After I added and PaperDisk to the Physical World Connection list and gave a
brief summary I got a chance to hear their story told by CEO Thomas Antognini.
The company tells their story, I highlighted the points I found of interest.
As a company, Cobblestone Software regards itself as the true pioneer of the concept of hyperlinking the physical world using bar codes.
Cobblestone was incorporated in March of 1995, and, to the best of our knowledge, is, by a good distance, the first company formed with print-to-digital-world as its express goal, where a key part of that concept was print-to-internet. As early as 1996, in a paper and presentation delivered at a US Postal Service conference, we had described our revolutionary concept of hyperlinking the world of printed media, and more generally the physical world, to the web and other resources. It is, so far as we are aware, the first such public description of this powerful idea.
Cobblestone's licensed its technology to Mitigo (formed in 2001), which, we believe, was the first company formed to target the camera phone print-to-internet market. As many pioneering companies do, Mitigo essentially ran out of money before the market could develop -- but Cobblestone now retains full rights to our technology in this market.
Cobblestone has also been targeting "data heavy" applications -- that is, applications that require a great deal of information to be stored on paper. For example, Cobblestone has licensed its technology to DeLaRue, the premier passport company in the world, for use in SecureIDs, encoding biometric information in a barcode of many kilobytes. It has worked in the past at some length with Kodak, and is also now working with other major companies in other industries.
Cobblestone, at this stage, is deliberating whether or not to enter on its own into the mobile market, to license its IP and technology, or to sell its assets in this area.
We've developed technology that works robustly on a large variety of camera phones, and can in principle work on ANY camera phone, no matter its optics. We have versions that work on the Smartphone, but also on the Nokia 6680, 3650, and 7650. On the Nokia phones, for example, we have implemented an API that would allow people pretty much to encode, on a desktop, whatever they may want into a code, and then decode that code on the phone to do whatever they may choose to do.
Cobblestone has already been granted three basic patents 6,098,882, 6,176,427, and 6,820,807, and has a number of others still in progress.
One of these patents, 6,820,807, clearly covers the basic concept of using bar codes as physical world hyperlinks, a breadth that is unsurprising given our own priority as the pioneering company in this space. In fact, for example, here are the first two claims of the patent:
1. A method of accessing data comprising: producing digital instructions for accessing data, formatting into a pattern the series of digital data values representing said digital instructions for accessing data, distributing the pattern of formatted digital data, decoding the pattern of formatted digital data, and activating the digital instructions for accessing data, whereby the data is accessed.
2. The method of accessing data of claim 1 wherein said digital instructions for accessing data consists of hyperlinks to information extraneous to said formatted digital data.
While interpreting claims is always a tricky business, and must be understood in the light of the description, it's pretty obvious that on its face these claims would comprehend, at minimum, ANY use of bar codes as hyperlinks to the digital world, the web most obviously; even the term, "hyperlink", is used explicitly. And the description in the patent itself, along with the descriptions in our other patent applications, makes it quite evident that the generalized notion of hyperlinking the physical world to the web, and more generally the digital world, was being clearly envisioned.
Cobblestone's emphasis was on 2D codes from its inception, because we believed that, over time, 2D codes would inevitably win the technology war as imagers became cheaper and more powerful. In fact, this has clearly proven to be true in the mobile market among others: any camera phone very naturally can handle our 2D code, but typically requires special macro, or add-on, lenses to do standard 1D codes; moreover, for new consumer applications, our 2D code requires vastly less space.
So not only was Cobblestone the first company out with the concept of print-to-internet, it was first to recognize the crucial role of 2D codes in the emerging market. We believe that our IP backing up our concept is very strong, and the early priority dates should allow us full freedom to pursue this market, or to so enable anyone to whom we may sell or license the technology and IP.