Sunday, May 16, 2010

Business Methods Monday - The Patents Behind the News

A recent article in the business journal section of our local newspaper (remember those?) discussed how businesses are using social media to stay in touch with and advertise to their customers. Many businesses are now using outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and various blogging options, in addition to more traditional marketing means such as web pages for the business, banner ads, newspaper ads, fliers, etc.

Like most articles of this kind, information on the patents underlying these innovative practices is lacking. I decided to use Cog IP to do a little investigation of patents in class 705 that might support this interaction between a business and its customers.

I started by using Cog IP to perform a concept search on the entire text of the article. The search returned many business methods patents classified in class 705. I reviewed these patents and selected 16 that represented electronic marketing, covering a range of topics including targeted advertising, wireless advertising, intelligent agents, and shopping assistance using handheld devices. Extracting the abstract, claims, and summary of the invention of each of these and inserting it back into the concept search along with the original article, a new, more highly refined search result set was obtained. Sixty-five (65) patents in the business methods class were obtained.

Let's take a look at a few of these.

Patent 7013290 "Personalized interactive digital catalog profiling" "provides a universal interactive and enhanced digital catalog server system for products, services and information." The system allows users "to anonymously and instantly catalog any item they view in a store or trade show, off a Web site or television program, or from a periodical or brochure . . . meaning they can personally acquire and manage relevant catalog information for later use and sharing." Information can be cataloged using smart phones, portable PCs, personal digital assistants (PDA), Internet-enabled set-top devices (ITV), card readers and scanners, standard landline telephones, portable scanners, and Internet-enabled game consoles. Users access these catalogs through a web-based interface for managing, profiling, sharing with peers, or for use in a web service. The system maintains the anonymity of users.

A business may want to provide expert information on its products or services to customers. Enter patent 6223165 "Method and apparatus to connect consumer to expert." This patent provides "a method of (or apparatus for) facilitating the delivery of advice to consumers using a server unit which can store and display the names and characteristics of experts and then rapidly assist in connecting the expert and consumer for real-time communication. The server can also have the ability to receive keywords from the consumer, match those keywords to one or more experts, and tell the consumer how to contact an expert." The system also provides for identification of compensation rates for each expert (claim 1), the expert's certification (claim 5), and a quality score provided by previous consumers (claim 7). The inventor was also awarded other patents related to this one (6523010, 6549889, 6546372, 6801899).

An early method of providing "Intelligent agents for electronic commerce" was patented in 6119101 which relates to gathering and analyzing market transaction data and using software agents to represent and to assist the activities of consumers and providers within a virtual marketplace. In this invention, "[c]onsumer personal agents conceal the identity of the consumer and are capable of creating decision agents . . . that shop for products and assist consumers in comparing and ranking products. Provider personal agents are capable of creating demand agents . . . that quantify demand and target specific consumers without learning the identity of the consumers. Based on data generated by the activities of the decision agents and on preference data maintained by consumer personal agents, provider personal agents can quantify current, historical, and future demand, simulate demand, and target specific consumers for advertising and other messages. Provider personal agents can cooperate with consumer personal agents to collect data about reasons for sales and lost sales and to offer consideration payments to consumers. Consumer personal agents can automatically reject unsolicited messages that do not satisfy the consumer's preferences."

This exercise points to the ability of latent semantic analysis (the driver of the concept search in Cog IP) to evaluate information and generate related results that can lead the analyst to a deeper understanding of a particular topic, field of research, or intelligence assessment (be it related to health, business, national security, or criminal justice, for example). Using an efficient toolset tailored to the problem at hand greatly reduces the time involved, and significantly increases the likelihood of finding the needle in the proverbial haystack.

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