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A newly surfaced patent filing from Microsoft’s Xbox Incubation team details one of the new innovations they’ve been thinking about. This one could be very popular among major movie and television studios. But it probably wouldn’t generate much excitement among Xbox users.

The patent application, filed under the heading “Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User,” proposes to use cameras and sensors like those in the Xbox 360 Kinect controller to monitor, count and in some cases identify the people in a room watching television, movies and other content. The filing refers to the technology as a “consumer detector.”

In one scenario, the system would then charge for the television show or movie based on the number of viewers in the room. Or, if the number of viewers exceeds the limits laid out by a particular content license, the system would halt playback unless additional viewing rights were purchased.

The system could also take into account the age of viewers, limiting playback of mature content to adults, for example. This patent application doesn’t explain how that would work, but a separate Microsoft patent application last year described a system for using sensors to estimate age based on the proportions of their body.

Xbox Incubation GM Alex Kipman (Microsoft File Photo)

Inventors listed on the latest application include Xbox Incubation GM Alex Kipman, who led the development of Kinect. The others are Andrew Fuller, Xbox director of incubation; and Kathryn Stone Perez, executive producer of Xbox Incubation.

Also notable are references in the application to a glasses-style head-mounted display as one of the viewing options — another possible clue to the types of things the Xbox Incubation team is working on.

The patent application, made public this week, was originally submitted in April 2011. Filings such as these provide a sense for what a company’s engineers and researchers have been contemplating, but it’s not clear if Microsoft actually plans to roll out the “consumer detector” as part of the next generation of Xbox or Kinect or anything else.

Even if the technology were introduced, it seems like there would be endless ways of avoiding it, unless a broad base of technology and content providers were on board.

But who knows, maybe someday you’ll need to be extra careful how many people you invite to your big Super Bowl party … unless you’re willing to pony up a few more bucks.

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