2014
03.14

Let’s start this week’s report with an award whose time has truly come and to which we can readily relate. Patent 8,671,347, awarded to Empire Technology Development LLC, covers a method of “Quantifying Frustration via a User Interface.” “Keystroke dynamics”—how users touch device keyboards depending their emotional state–underpins the functionality of the apparatus and systems described in the patent. “For example, people may tap harder when angry…. Such mood data may quantify a frustration parameter.” Empire is owned by North American Communications Resource, Inc., which offers a broad range of solutions, including customer-service improvement. Certainly, the measurement of customer frustration is vital to any solution designed to reduce it and improve customer satisfaction.

We all feel the pinch at the gas pump when we fill up our cars and trucks. So you can imagine the pain when UPS fills up more than 100,000 trucks each day. The company has been adding sensors to its truck to gather performance information for many years, and based upon its analysis of the data, has made significant performance-enhancing modifications, including specific route instructions to drivers that minimize making left hand turns. Turning left uses more gas than right hand turns. Putting sensors in a truck is part of a larger wireless-based set of applications collectively called “geofencing.” This week, UPS was awarded Patent 8,670,933, “Geofence-based Triggers for Automated Data Collection.” Reading this patent will help you better understand what is going on in that big brown truck you see every day in your neighborhood.

Here’s a company that you’ve probably never knew existed: WiTricity Corp., based in Watertown, Mass. The company is focused on the technology that will allow electrical and electronic devices to operate with a wireless power source. You heard that right: No more plugs and wires to power your toaster, TV or other presently tethered devices. A significant barrier to overcome has been the ability to project sufficient power in a focused manner from a source to a device without endangering people. This week, the company was awarded Patent 8,669,676, “Wireless Energy Transfer Across Variable Distances Using Field Shaping with Magnetic Materials to Improve the Coupling Factor.” Not only is this a significant step forward, it is also a fascinating history lesson. If you look at the prior references list, it starts with four patents issued to the great Nikola Tesla between 1900 and 1914. The reach back in time some one hundred and four years to anchor this new patent is breathtaking.

We have all read in the news this past week about Cerberus Capital Management’s acquisition of Safeway. Safeway is more than just a supermarket chain. It owned, and recently spun off, Blackhawk Network, one of the largest prepaid gift card providers in the world. When next you are standing at the checkout counter in any of the retail stores you frequent, and while bored out of your mind, your eyes chance upon the rack of gift cards positioned directly in front of you along with the gum and breath mints, keep in mind that most of those cards were produced by Blackhawk. Safeway has always been active in using technology to improve revenue generating interfaces with its customers, and the award this week of Patent 8,671,018, “Adaptable Retail Pricing Environment and Electronic Exchange, Delivering Customized Buyer Promotion Rewards and Discounts,” is just such as example. In essence, it is designed to deliver individualized price discounts to loyalty program customer.

Both VISA and MasterCard received patent awards this week, but for very different developments.

MasterCard International Incorporated was awarded Patent 8,671.056, “Social Sourced Purchasing Advice System.” Described as “facilitating the solicitation of expert advice from trusted reviewers using a system that maintains a registry of product reviewers with areas of expertise,” the trusted reviewer is one who has a direct or indirect social connection with the consumer, as identified from a social network. Clearly MasterCard wants an advantage over its competitors to incent a consumer to buy a product with its card. Tying a cardholder’s purchase decision to the advice of someone he or she knows in a social network that has experience with the product under review is not only a good way to “close the deal” but to collect ever more detailed information about how “influence” drives product sales.

VISA U.S.A. Inc. patent award was for a very different application. Patent 8,671,004, “System and Method of Providing Spending Information by Foreign Visitors Using Records of Financial Presentation Devices,” has a number of implications. First let’s define what a FPD (financial presentation device) is. Simply put, it is a debit or credit card. The patent describes the use of the application within the tourism industry, aiding merchants with information about foreign visitors that tie back to the purchases they make in the tourist venue. The intent is to better understand what the individual foreign visitor wants, compared to domestics visitors, and therefore provide tailored post-visit value offers, but to be able to aggregate data to make bigger picture classifications, such as what do people from France buy differently than people from India? This clearly has a value to global entertainment, resort and theme park brands. What is the other implication? Let’s consider the data can also be used to support homeland security efforts.

A few years ago, my article on the viral adoption of wireless toll collecting appeared in this publication. The RFID tag on the windshield of your car took away some of the pain of the daily commute. This week, two patents were awarded to PARC Xerox that I personally hope will become widely adopted in cities throughout the U.S. Patents 8,671,002 and 8,671,014 cover computer-implemented systems and methods for offering, respectively, merchant’s shopper-friendly and residential parking reservations. Blending wireless vehicle occupancy sensors with smart parking devices tied to a server managing reservations databases, shoppers can reserve spaces in advance at stores, park upon arrival in a designated space, and have parking validated by a merchant based on the shopper’s profile with that merchant. A similar strategy applies for residential buildings. This may make going to the mall a less onerous prospect.

The next award has me still puzzling over how it can be practically and productively used in the real world. DEKA Products Limited Partnership was awarded Patent 8,667,956, “Controllable Launcher.” This is a human launcher, which from the use case described in the patent, is designed to launch and deliver a human to a predefined height, like from ground level to the roof of a building. The reason that I am even talking about this invention is that DEKA is Dean Kaman’s company. Kaman is arguably one of the most notable innovators of our time, and is probably best known for the Segway personal transport device. The DEKA Website does not give us a hint as to the intended commercial use of the launcher, so we will check in periodically for signs of its appearance.