I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


17 November 2013

Snapchat®, a patented app

Snapchat® is an app that has become very popular in just two years. It deletes any messages received on a mobile phone within 1 to 10 seconds (the sender controls the length) of its being viewed. This can include videos, images and texts. It does so by spotting that eye contact has occurred. after which the timer kicks in.

Its demographic was originally teenagers, and 80% of its usage is in the USA. It is handy for rude or obscene messages (“sexting”). “Selfies”, self-portraits, are also popular. So, good when teachers or other adults are around. The idea reminds me of the Mission Impossible TV series’ openings, where a tape recording self-destructed after instructions were heard.

The logo used by the company on the app is of a ghost with a face. Oddly, the US registered trade mark is of the ghost without a face – apparently they redesigned it later, in which case they should have applied for the variant. Here is registration 4573338, claimed to be first used in June 2011.

Here is the logo as commonly used.

The two inventors devised the app as a project at Stanford University where Spiegel was a product design major. When he explained it in April 2011 before his fellow students, they disliked the fact that the messages would be deleted. Nevertheless he persisted, and launched the app that September from his father’s living room. Venture capital was raised and the company worked on sorting out technical issues rather than branding, or trying to make money from it.

I am puzzled by the fact that the granted patent for the invention, Single mode media visual capture, was only applied for in August 2012. It should have been applied for before it was marketed,as patent applications are supposed to cover new concepts. It was swiftly granted, in April 2013. It is one of the rare apps that to be patented. Here are two of the drawing pages from the patent.

In November 2013 Facebook’s offer of $3 billion for the company was rejected. As the company apparently has no revenue this is brave, and makes me wonder about conditions imposed by the backers -- it seems that they did not insist that a good offer must be accepted.

Problems are that an app called SnapHack has appeared which enables the recipients to store Snapchat messages, while Forbes magazine claims that it is not too difficult to actually retrieve supposedly deleted messages. In addition, a fellow ex-student has claimed that they took the idea from him and has filed a lawsuit, as explained by an interesting article by TechCrunch.

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