Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taking A Walk Around Business Methods

Navigation, or Business?

By Michael Bowman

On January 4, 2012, I read two articles (here and here) about a patent (8,090,532) for “Pedestrian route production” issued to Microsoft on January 3, 2012. Both articles merely skimmed the surface of the patent. Neither of the articles, nor any of the comments at the time I read them, addressed the real IP issue related to this patent.

It is misclassified, and neither the inventors, primary or assistant examiners, or patent attorneys searched the appropriate prior art.

USPTO classified this invention as 340/990, with cross-reference classifications of 340/991 and 340/993. The original classification, which identifies the central inventive idea, covers electrical communications with a map display. The 340/991 cross reference adds the concept of position indication transmitted by the vehicle after receipt of information from a local station. The second cross reference adds position indication transmitted by a local station to a remote location. All three of these concepts fall under 340/988 for vehicle position indication, covering subject matter having the means to indicate the position or location of a vehicle.

As noted above, the patent title emphasizes that pedestrian routes are the inventive subject. The abstract states that “[a]s a pedestrian travels, various difficulties can be encountered, such as traveling through an unsafe neighborhood or being in an open area that is subject to harsh temperatures. A route can be developed for a person taking into account factors that specifically affect a pedestrian. Moreover, the route can alter as a situation of a user changes; for instance, if a user wants to add a stop along a route.” No mention of vehicles here.

On to claim 1. For discussion purposes, I give a letter designation for each of the claim’s clauses; these do not appear in the patent. Claim 1 states:

“a) Computer storage media having embodied thereon computer-useable instructions that, when executed, implement a system, the system comprising:

b) a search component that locates at least one information source, retains pedestrian history from a plurality of pedestrians and addresses of at least one information source that has a history of providing reliable information, identifies low quality information sources that do not provide information used in route generation, and blocks information obtainment for the low quality information sources;

c) a gather component that obtains information related to pedestrian travel including security information, weather information, and terrain information, wherein the gather component obtains the information from the at least one located information source;

d) an artificial intelligence component that makes at least one inference regarding a route based on a previous pedestrian behavior;

e) a filter component that determines, based on the at least one inference, the information that is likely relevant and deletes information that is commonly of little value in part through examination of previously produced routes;

f) an analysis component that determines an importance of the information to a user, estimates how likely the information is to change, and chooses if the user should reach a destination through a pedestrian route and/or through a conventional route;

g) a generation component that obtains the information from the gather component and produces a direction set for use by a pedestrian based at least part upon the obtained information;

h) and a resolution component that resolves a conflict between an information source with a financial interest and an information source without a financial interest and instructs the generation component to produce the direction set based upon the information source that does not have a financial interest in providing the direction set.”

Clause a) specifies software — “Computer storage media having embodied thereon computer-useable instructions that, when executed . . .”

Clause b) discusses pedestrians as the moving objects.

Clause c) discusses pedestrian travel and adds detail that information on security, weather, and terrain is collected by the software.

Clause d) adds an artificial intelligence (only a nominal recitation, though) component to the analysis of previous pedestrian route behavior.

Clause e) adds a filter.

Clause f) adds an “analysis component that determines an importance of the information to a user, estimates how likely the information is to change, and chooses if the user should reach a destination through a pedestrian route and/or through a conventional route.”

Clause g) generates a route.

Clause h) resolves conflicts between information sources used to generate routes with and without financial interests in favor of those without.

Several key observations may be made on claim 1:

The claim is solely directed toward pedestrians.
Clause c), by adding security information, should have a cross reference classification of 705/325 for personal security, identity, or safety.
It includes (clause f) an operations research or analysis component (705/7.11-7.42).
It includes a market analysis component (clause h).
Claim 1 should have been classified as 705/7.29 (market data gathering, market analysis or market modeling) according to USPTO’s rules of classification.
Class 340 does not apply here. Further, none of the three classifications listed on the patent can be applied as they all require a vehicle. The original (first-listed) classification must be based on the claimed disclosure.
This is a business methods claim.

Claims 2-6 are dependents of claim 1. Therefore, again according to USPTO’s own classification rules, they add additional detail to claim 1, and in most cases do not direct the claim to a different classification. Other inventive concepts disclosed in these claims may require or allow additional cross reference classifications.

Claims 2 and 3 emphasize the pedestrian as the moving object, and don’t provide any additional classifiable detail.

Claim 4, a dependent of 3, adds metadata, but no new detail.

Claim 5 “performs a reward operation in relation to information obtainment or direction set production, wherein the reward operation rewards the pedestrian, an advertisement hosting service, a provider, or any combination thereof.” This falls within the 705/14.1 array of the class 705 schedule, for discount or incentive (e.g., coupon, rebate, offer, upsale, etc.). It would fall specifically within 705/14.39 for online discount or incentive, and should be listed as a cross reference classification.

Claim 6 adds an advertisement, specifically a targeted advertisement, which is 705/14.49, another cross reference.

Claims 7-12 are methods claims. Claim 7 essentially converts the systems claims 1-6 into a method, and should retain the 705/7.29 classification.

Claims 13-15 are dependents of claim 1. Claim 13 adds detail on routes of other people. Claim 14 indicates that the user may travel a portion of the route as a passenger, and claim 15 indicates that the user travels on public transportation. These two claims, however, do not add sufficient detail to claim 1 to require a classification in class 340.

The patent lists the fields of search as 701/200,201,208,211,213 340/991,993,990,995 364/443,444,449. Class 701 is data processing for vehicles, navigation, and relative location. Class 364 has been abolished. Class 705 was not searched.

Bottom line, this patent is a business method, is completely misclassified, was not searched against the proper prior art, had a five-year prosecution history, and no one involved got it right.

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