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Patents

s13g3's Journal: Another good one that most have missed

Journal by s13g3

Another post I made, late in the life of the thread that the mods missed. This relates to a piece of FUD that kdawson posted regarding a new patent filed by IBM to automate rewards for customers who have been waiting too long in line. Nearly every respondent to the thread was way off base, lead astray by the trollish wording of the article: IBM wants to patent restaurant waits.

Most respondents went off the deep end, seeing another case of seeming patent abuse, and claiming that IBM is going to start suing anyone who gives a reward to customers who have waited in line a long time - utter non-sense, which just goes to show that even geeks (or slashdot trolls) don't understand why it is that we have and need a patent system, and their supposition about how IBM could abuse this patent is not just ludicrous, but about as valid as saying that just because a hacker in China somewhere has abused a computer that all computers will be abused.

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Good point. Personally, I don't see why any restaurant would want to use this. Why make an automated way to give away free lunches to people because they wait? If a customer complains about waiting too long, then you give them the coupon.

I suppose the flipside to that is that the customers who don't complain, but decide that they don't want to come back to the restaurant because they had to wait...

The reason being that IBM makes business machines - including point of sale and business automation systems. What they have described here is a novel method by which the human factor normally necessary to monitor customers' time spent waiting and then selection of an appropriate compensation is automated through their system, almost certainly to be tied in to an existing product like a point of sale terminal that will quite possibly be tied into one of those little pager systems that lets you know when your table is ready. Rather than requiring employees or wait-staff to monitor times spent waiting on a screen and then offer the customer something gratis, the system is designed to do all this for them, thusly eliminating time and resources necessary in what is probably an environment where time is a premium (since people are waiting for service) as well as potential stress or conflict with a customer who may unhappy - now they don't have to approach an already harried manager or wait-staff and present a complaint or argument - the system notes that a pre-programmed threshold (which the establishment has determined to be the minimum time before they would be willing to offer such freebies regardless of system automation) has passed and automatically offers the free item, in theory placating the customer(s) without creating extra resource strain on the staff.

Why patent this? Because IBM wants to offer this ability to restaurants and other businesses who do not want to have to do these things themselves, implemented via a piece of IBM equipment. The patent as described does not prevent a business from offering you a free lunch if you wait too long - IBM obviously spent money time and research effort creating a combined software and hardware method that can automate this process (and thereby expand the services and functions performed/offered to customers already owning or seeking to purchase IBM equipment) - also known as a "value add"; what the patent prevents you from doing is copying or mirroring IBM's research to produce a similar system while not actually doing any innovation of your own. If they didn't file for a patent, then you could just go buy a bunch of chips, assemble your own equipment, and then gank (yes, that's a technical term) the software that they paid someone to develop all without any real investment of your own - exactly what the spirit of the patent system is meant to prevent you from doing - stealing other peoples innovations, not to prevent you from innovating on your own. If you want to use an off-the-shelf or custom built computer and implement your own methodology for accomplishing the same task, there doesn't appear to be anything anywhere in the patent application that would prevent you from doing so; you just can't steal IBM's precise method for doing so. I don't claim to understand how they mean this can be implemented without automation or computerization, I'll admit. I've read as much as the patent application as I can bear to (or have time for, for that matter), but claim 1 indicates automation is necessary. To wit:

1. A system for reducing customer dissatisfaction for waiting, said system comprising:a queue monitoring subsystem that detects an entry of a customer into a waiting queue;a reward computing subsystem that calculates a reward for the customer for being in the waiting queue; anda communication subsystem to communicate the reward to the customer,wherein at least one of said queue monitoring subsystem, said reward computing subsystem, and said communication subsystem is automated.

I looked for but did not immediately see any claim within the patent that the system can be used without computers or automation. In point of fact, the entire filing seems to indicate that an automated or computerized system is entirely required.

Just because I have a patent on a child's swing-set doesn't imply or grant a patent or ownership on the idea or process of swinging, just my unique design that allows you to accomplish the task of swinging. Similarly, the company (companies?) who make the little restaurant pager systems don't hold any ownership of waiting in a restaurant, nor any ownership of radio technology, pagers, or even using a like device to alert customers that their table is ready, they simply own the rights to *their* particular implementation of it - i.e. you can't simply use their software and make an identical copy of their equipment and implement it for free or resell it to others, requiring you to do your own innovation, not profit off of someone else's.

I realize slashdotters can be hard-headed - look at my user number, I've been here a while and made some hardheaded posts myself, both for and against patent law. There is no doubt that the USPTO is a broken system in dire need of reformation (or disbanding), but people are taking this one wayyyyyyyyyyyy too far without really stopping to consider that occasionally companies do apply for patents for valid reasons, and that there is a need for a patent system, even if the one we have is often abused.

And shame on kdawson for posting such a sensationalist FUD piece - the patent application could have easily been noted, mentioned or referred to without such a huge quantity of sensationalism, hyperbole and supposition from the contributing user.

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Another good one that most have missed

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