PATENT PORTFOLIO SALE OPPORTUNITY:
IN-EAR HEADPHONES
SUMMARY: Patent Portfolio covering the Hearing Aid, Earpiece, and Headphone Market

Companies involved in the headphone and earpiece market are striving for a differentiator to ensure success in an industry saturated by hundreds of cheap, low-quality headsets. Many companies have increased their market share by differentiating their products from those currently on the market through technological improvements and protecting those improvements with a strong patent portfolio.

Beats by Dr. Dre, which was purchased by Apple for $3 billion, had a robust portfolio of 40 patents granted or pending at the time of their purchase by Apple. Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats and its significant patent portfolio indicates a trend towards this higher end technology design and the necessity of manufactures and companies in the audio industry to differentiate with increasingly improved features, and to protect these features with a strong patent portfolio.

Similarly, in the hearing aid market, startups are gaining traction by developing new designs of minimized size, increased stability, and improved quality. Each of these companies, from startups to large corporations has secured their developments with a large patent portfolio.

As Apple’s purchase of Beats indicates, investing in patents for personal audio earpieces has a significant competitive advantage. This is apparent in the number of additional mergers and acquisitions that have recently occurred in the industry. In January 2014, Voyetra Turtle Beach (now Turtle Beach Corporation), a large audio product company that focused largely on sound cards and PC headsets, reverse-merged with Parametric Sound Corporation, making it the fifth largest assignee of over/on-ear patent assets. Additionally, startup Doppler Labs has raised $50 million in funding to develop an advanced, computer-aided hearing aid that filters ambient noise. This funding is backed up by multiple patents in the hearing devices sector and indicates the growing need to develop a robust patent portfolio in this industry. Lastly, Harman Industries was purchased by Samsung Electronics for $8 billion on November 14, 2016. While Harman Industries focused primarily on connected audio equipment in vehicles, they held a significant number of patents in the personal electronics field.

The following patent portfolio offered for sale is owned by Dr. Linda Dahl of New York, New York, who has over 12 years of experience as an ear, nose, and throat specialist. The portfolio includes three issued patents and a pending patent application. Dr. Dahl’s patents detail developments in the hearing aid/earpiece industry for improved fit, sound, and comfort. Her experience in the industry led her to these significant developments in earpieces and assures that the resulting intellectual property is both robust and valuable. The portfolio details many features that are highly competitive in the growing earpiece market and covers many applications of both hearing aid and earphone feel and functionality. Additionally, the patent portfolio has no encumbrances.

Neopatents has determined that Dr. Dahl’s patent portfolio is highly competitive and allows for significant expansion and development of a patent portfolio in the audio industry. This will allow for multiple licensing, development, and branding opportunities to the owner of the patent portfolio. The following summary report details the patent assets for sale and the market context in which these assets are applicable. Contact jinan@neopatents.com for more details.

 

Overview – Patent Context Summary

In order to showcase the earphone and headphone patent field, the following Cooperative Patent Classifications (CPCs) were analyzed and sorted by total patent ownership to determine the largest players in the market. Note that patents filed before 1970 are not considered in the following context summary.

Patent Context: “In-Ear Headphones”

CPC H04R1.1016
Sony is the leader in the in-ear headphone patent space. With a combined 83 patents and applications, Sony’s portfolio accounts for about 6 percent of the total patent assets in this category. The top 6 companies control approximately 20% of the total field. Apple owns the second largest share of in-ear patent assets with 50. Personics Holdings, Samsung, Bose, and Sennheiser are also large players in this space.

 

Patent Context: “Over-Ear Headphones”

CPC H04R1.1008
The over-ear headphone patent field is also dominated by Sony and its 51 patent assets. Significantly, Sony’s portfolio accounts for about 15% of the patent assets in the over-ear headphone space. The next largest portfolio is isownedowned by Denmark-based GN Store Nord, which holds 16 patent assets followed by Bose’s 12. GN Store Nord is a large corporation that sells under multiple brands, such as Jabra. Skullcandy, Turtle Beach, and Samsung are also large players in this space.

Patent Context: “Hearing-Aid Devices”

CPC H04R25.02
Though a smaller field than the headphones field, the medical device patent assets in this category indicate a more distributed ownership across companies. The field is comprised of 110 documents, including both patents and applications. With a portfolio of 13 patent assets, Sonova Holding AG is the largest player in this space, while Cochlear Limited holds 8, and Oticon A/S, Siemens AG, Aria Innovations, Inc., and Etymotic Research each hold 6. Sonova Holding AG owns several companies in the space, including Advanced Bionics and Phonak.

Market Participants


Both the headphone and hearing aid markets are expected to grow significantly over the next decade due to an increased number of personal electronics in the market as well as increased noise pollution and hearing impairments. The headphone industry, currently at $3.1 billion in sales, is expected to increase to $5 billion by 2022. Multiple acquisitions and mergers have recently taken place, including Apple’s significant purchase of Beats by Dr. Dre for $3 billion. Additionally, Voyetra Turtle Beach reverse merged with Parametric Sound Corporation to form Turtle Beach Corporation, making its audio patent portfolio one of the largest in the industry. Hearing aid sales are also expected to increase in the coming years. In 2015, hearing aid sales increased 7.2 percent over the previous year. While over-the-ear hearing aids have traditionally accounted for the largest market share, the market for in-ear hearing aids is projected to grow much faster with a forecasted compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.4 percent through 2024. Furthermore, compared to analog hearing aids, digital hearing aids have recently accounted for the larger share (85 percent of the market in 2015). These market statistics indicate that both the hearing aid and the headphone markets have huge potential for growth, and a venture into this space is best backed by a strong patent portfolio. There are several key players in both industries that may be interested in expanding their portfolios with Dr. Dahl’s patents. Companies active in the headphone industry also tend to be producers of consumer electronics, while hearing aid companies understandably have a focus on medical devices and development.

Hearing-Aid Focus Headphone Focus
Cochlear Limited Sony Corporation
Oticon A/S Apple, Inc
Etymotic Research GN Netcom
Siemens Bose Corporation
Advanced Bionics Samsung Electronics

 

1 http://www.statisticbrain.com/headphone-industry-market-share-statistics/

2 http://www.hearingreview.com/2016/01/hearing-aid-sales-increase-7-2-2015-strong-q4-private-sector/

3 http://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/hearing-aids-market


SUMMARY OF INVENTIONS
The following Invention Abstracts are from the public patents in Dr. Linda Dahl’s portfolio. The full description of the patents and patent applications are available by selecting the Document Title.

1.) US Pat. No. 8,391,526: Ear device for improved fit and sound
An in-the-ear device sized and shaped such that the in the ear device universally and ergonomically fits into the human ear without slipping out and providing the user with a comfortable fit. The in the ear device is secured in the user's ear taking advantage of the natural curvature of the human to provide support and shift the center of gravity from outside the ear to further inside the pinna to prevent the device from slipping out while retaining a high level of comfort.

 
Patent Matrix Diagram by Neopatents About Neopatents

PATENT MATRIX®

Ear device for improved fit and sound
[+] Show Details

8391526
 

1. An improved in the ear device, suitable for wearing in a user's outer ear, the ear having a helix, a crus, and an antitragus, the ear device comprising; (5) (6)

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2.) US Patent No. 8,989,418: Ear device for improved fit and sound
Continuation-in-part of (1). Additional protection for the ear device described in (1). An in-the-ear device sized and shaped such that the in-the-ear device universally and ergonomically fits into the human ear without slipping out and providing the user with a comfortable fit. The in-the-ear device is secured in the user's ear taking advantage of the natural curvature of the human to provide support and shift the center of gravity from outside the ear to further inside the pinna to prevent the device from slipping out while retaining a high level of comfort.

 
Patent Matrix Diagram by Neopatents About Neopatents

PATENT MATRIX®

Ear device for improved fit and sound
[+] Show Details

8989418

1. An in-the-ear device, suitable for wearing in a user's outer ear, the in-the-ear device comprising: (7) (3)
 

10. A hearing enhancement device comprising: (8) (2)

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3.) US Patent No. 9,445,183: Sound system with ear device with improved fit and sound
Continuation-in-part of (2). Addition of “sound system” developments.
A system for audio content delivery to an in-the-ear device from a local computing device. Also, a system for audio content delivery to an in-the-ear device from a content delivery network. The in-the-ear device is sized and shaped such that it universally and ergonomically fits into the human ear without slipping out and provides the user with a comfortable fit. It is secured in the user's ear taking advantage of the natural curvature of the human to provide support and shift the center of gravity from outside the ear to further inside the pinna to prevent the device from slipping out while retaining a high level of comfort.

 
Patent Matrix Diagram by Neopatents About Neopatents

PATENT MATRIX®

Sound system with ear device with improved fit and sound
[+] Show Details

9445183

1. An audio content delivery device comprising: (4) (3)

7. An audio content delivery system comprising: (5) (4)
 

15. An audio content delivery system comprising: (7) (5)

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4.) US Patent Application No. 15/261,025: Sound system with ear device with improved fit and sound
Continuation-in-part of (3). Additional protection for ear device receiver pairing.
A system for audio content delivery to an in-the-ear device from a local computing device. Also, a system for audio content delivery to an in-the-ear device from a content delivery network. The in-the-ear device is sized and shaped such that it universally and ergonomically fits into the human ear without slipping out and provides the user with a comfortable fit. It is secured in the user's ear taking advantage of the natural curvature of the human to provide support and shift the center of gravity from outside the ear to further inside the pinna to prevent the device from slipping out while retaining a high level of comfort.

 
Patent Matrix Diagram by Neopatents About Neopatents

PATENT MATRIX®

Sound System with Ear Device with Improved Fit and Sound
[+] Show Details

20170048602

1. An audio content delivery device comprising: (6) (3)

9. An audio content delivery system comprising: (5) (4)
 

17. An audio content delivery system comprising: (3) (5)

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Conclusion

Both the headphone and the hearing-aid markets are continually growing as evidenced by the significant acquisitions and mergers in the field. Additionally, the 1605 earphone patent assets and the 111 hearing-aid patent assets held by large corporations such as Sony, Bose, and Cochlear Limited, indicate the significant advantage of developing a robust portfolio in the audio industry. The top patent holders in the headphone industry account for approximately 18 percent of the total patent assets in the space, while the top holders in the medically-focused field account for approximately 33 percent of the total patent assets in the space. The three patents and pending continuation-in-part owned by Dr. Linda Dahl detail an earpiece design and system that allows better fit, comfort, and style that could supply a strategic advantage to a company in the headphone or hearing-aid space.

Methodology of Analysis

Neopatents conducted research and analysis using its proprietary Spore software for this competitive landscape search to find relevant US patents and US published patent applications. The search was conducted primarily upon the CPC categories of H04R1.1016, H04R1.1008, and H04R25.02 (hearing-aid devices, and over- and in-ear headphones). Results from the research were confirmed by analyzing the results in a number of methods. Inaccuracies or missing fields in assignees and owners were corroborated by comparing USPTO database results to those retrieved by Spore. This method assured the most up-to-date owner information for proper analysis of the patent field. The results were ordered by number of patents owned in order to determine who held the largest number of patents in the field. In analysis, many of the subsidiary companies were grouped into holding companies in order to obtain a full understanding of the patent holders in the field. This analysis was completed November 17, 2016. Any patents issued or applications published after this date may not be accounted for in the report.

A Spore Search uses a proprietary algorithm to help ensure that all pertinent patent data is uncovered. Here, the United States Patent and Trademark patent, published application databases and the WIPO published application database were examined. Our searchers ran many more searches than those discussed below. To maintain focus, the searches with pertinent results are included in this analysis. A Spore Search starts with a narrow, core search permutation and then generates broader search permutations, thus widening the scope of documents examined. Consequently, the most pertinent patents are first examined, followed by ancillary documents that may still be relevant.