| NEW YORK
NEW YORK May 6 From ways to eavesdrop on brains
and learn what advertisements excite consumers, to devices that
alleviate depression, the number of U.S. patents awarded for
"neurotechnology" has soared since 2010, according to an
analysis released on Wednesday.
Most surprising, concluded market-research firm SharpBrains,
is that patents have been awarded to inventors well beyond those
at medical companies. The leader in neurotechnology patents,
according to the report, is consumer-research behemoth Nielsen
. For factbox, see.
That expansion into non-medical uses, said SharpBrains Chief
Executive Alvaro Fernandez, who presented the results at the
NeuroGaming conference in San Francisco, shows we are at the
dawn of "the pervasive neurotechnology age," in which everyday
technologies will be connected to brains.
"Neurotech has gone well beyond medicine, with non-medical
corporations, often under the radar, developing
neurotechnologies to enhance work and life," he said.
Patents for neurotechnology bumped along at 300 to 400 a
year in the 2000s, then soared to 800 in 2010 and 1,600 last
year, SharpBrains reported.
Those awarded to medical device company Medtronic PLC
, for instance, include ways to use
electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the severity of a brain
lesion. Several held by medical technology company St. Jude
Medical Inc. describe ways to change brain activity to,
say, improve vision.
But it is the explosion in non-medical uses, such as
controlling video games with brain waves, that is driving
SharpBrains measured "intellectual property (IP) strength"
by number of neurotechnology patents as well as patent quality,
reflected in how many other patents reference them, for
By that measure, Nielsen leads the pack, with patents
describing ways to detect brain activity with EEG and translate
it into what someone truly thinks about, say, a new product,
advertising, or packaging.
Microsoft Corp. holds patents that assess mental
states, with the goal of determining the most effective way to
present information. If software knows a user's attention is
wandering, it could hold back complicated material.
Another Microsoft patent describes a neuro-system that
claims to discern whether a computer user is amenable to
Such patents reflect the enthusiasm for neuro-monitoring,
something many scientists say has not been shown to be more
effective than, say, asking people what they think about a
On a lighter note, an EEG patent awarded to San Jose-based
biosensors company NeuroSky describes a design for a headset
that could deliver music based on a user's brainwaves, perhaps a
ballad when the listener is feeling contemplative.
(Reporting by Sharon Begley; editing by Andrew Hay)