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IBM Wants To Patent Restaurant Waits 154

Posted by kdawson
from the no-rewards-or-we'll-sue dept.
theodp writes "If all goes IBM's way, it'll soon constitute patent infringement if Bennigan's gives you a free lunch for being inconvenienced by a long wait for your meal. Big Blue is seeking a patent for its Method and Structure for Automated Crediting to Customers for Waiting, the purported 'invention' of three IBM researchers, which IBM notes, 'could be implemented completely devoid of computerization or automation of any kind.' Can we count on IBM to withdraw this patent claim, or will Big Blue weasel out of its patent reform pledge again?"
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IBM Wants To Patent Restaurant Waits

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  • Now there's really no such thing as a free lunch...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kcbanner (929309) *
      Or, as they say, there is no such thing as a patent without a troll.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:26PM (#22540080)
        If you read the TFA, you'd realize that they're not patenting the free lunch as payoff for a long wait. they're patenting a system for automatically doling out the free lunch.

        • by The End Of Days (1243248) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @09:10PM (#22540426)
          But if you're a good Slashdotter and just read the completely inaccurate headline, you can work up a righteous froth and get a nice +5 Insightful.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by palegray.net (1195047)
            Or, on the other hand, it's entirely possible that my comment was meant to be taken in a humorous context.
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            But if you're a good Slashdotter and just read the completely inaccurate headline, you can work up a righteous froth and get a nice +5 Inciteful.
            Fixed that for ya ;)
        • You don't need to read the article, just this in the summary:

          Method and Structure for Automated Crediting to Customers for Waiting

          It's still ridiculous to even apply for this. It is blatantly obvious since all it is doing is automating something that already exists in a non-novel way. Way to troll for stupid patents dude.

        • by SL Baur (19540)
          I didn't read the article, but I read the patent and honestly I am amazed. Dominos Pizza has advertised 30 minutes or less or your order is free or something like that for many many years and they appear to fill all the requirements described in the patent.

          I've defended some of the so-called stupid patents posted here and this time I am indeed mystified. Will a lawyer type please explain what doesn't make Dominos Pizza trivial prior art?
    • by kiwipeso (467618)
      Prior art, Hell Pizzas in New Zealand have always given free stuff to you depending on how long you wait.
      Best thing is when they go to the address, arrive late at your address and you only have to pay the delivery fee.
  • Prior art (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:25PM (#22540072)
    I worked for Pizza Hut corporate in '85-86. We had a five minute or free deal on "Personal Pan" pizza. One of my coworkers analyzed the POS data and picked the best time to go to lunch. He was averaging about 60%.

    Dale
    • by britneys 9th husband (741556) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:54PM (#22540322) Homepage Journal
      Now we just need someone at the patent office to examine this POS patent application and reject it.
    • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @09:29PM (#22540568)
      Only 60%? That's some POS POS data.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by SacredByte (1122105)
        Not really. Basically he worked out when the stores he would visit were at their peak # of customers durring the day, and then go durring that time period. The 40% represents visits where: A): The branch wasn't as as busy as they sometimes were, and/or B): The employees weren't slacking off, and/or C): He missed the peak of business. Any combination of A, B, and/or C could result in wait times of 5 minutes. That said, without examining the data he whould have been lucky to get anywhere near 60% without
        • It would have probably been easier to look for a really
          full parking lot, find a spot, and hurry in.
          May have hit 70% and could have saved a lot of valuable cycles.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by eonlabs (921625)
      Does Snow Crash count as prior art

      The Deliverator knows that there is a 3 foot gap between the burbclaves and... A POOL!
    • by rnturn (11092)

      That should have been easy to pull off even without analyzing any data.

      We used to head to Pizza Hut nearly every day back (it seemed) in the mid-80s and I can recall going for a couple of months without having to pay for pizza. I stopped going to lunch with my coworkers until they found another place to eat. I'd gotten sick to death of Pizza Hut's stuff after that stretch. In fact, I don't think I've been back to one since then. (Hey, living around Chicago has certain advantages and being able to find doz

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:27PM (#22540092) Homepage Journal
    The Summary states: "which IBM notes, 'could be implemented completely devoid of computerization or automation of any kind.' "
    But the patent says: "At least one of subsystems is automated."

    So they summary is incorrect.

    Regardless, this patent is pure, unadulterated BS. Therefore, I applaud it and hope that IBM file many more just like it and they all get granted.
    Sooner or later, no one in the US will be able to do business without paying off a squad of patent pimps, and then, maybe ... just maybe an inkling of common sense will emerge from Congress and some reform will take place.

    Not to miss out on all this, I'm rushing out to patent "A method for receiving payment in exchange of receipt of goods." and "Providing furniture and eating instruments for consumers at a dining establishment".
    • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:54PM (#22540318)
      The problem with this and other Patent Story Trolls here at Slashdot, is that the person who "writes" the summary (and the "editor" who approves them) looks at the TITLE of a patent and makes WILD INFERENCES and ASSUMPTIONS that are not supported by the ACTUAL claims of the patent. This is just such a case.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Protonk (599901)
        That's not fair. This is an almost totally BS patent, and automation would change little of it. Read the application again. How much of that diverges from a complex system of comping you for waiting? I'm not oversimplifying here. The patent itself is almost the definition of obvious.

        It is very true that /. usually makes broad assumptions about patents and patent laws when publishing these stories. This, however, is not a very good example of that wider trend. With the exception of the automation rema
      • by optimus2861 (760680) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @09:32PM (#22540584)
        So read claim 1 and enlighten us. Where's the brilliant innovation in this legalese that demands a 17-year monopoly on implementing it? "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 ordered a meal at Wendy's not too long ago. I waited a long time for some reason. When the guy brought me my meal, he also brought me a coupon for a free meal as compensation for waiting. In behind the counter at this particular Wendy's, I could see an order board, showing the orders and how long it has been since they were taken. Aka: an automated queue monitoring system. Prior art. Plain and simple. Which is what this garbage patent application is: plain and simple. It is not novel, it is not innovative, and granting it would in no way promote the progress of science.
    • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @11:32PM (#22541352)

      Regardless, this patent is pure, unadulterated BS
      May I point out that this is *not* a patent, but rather a publication of an application for a patent. I wish someone on this friggin' site would learn the difference between the two.
      • by pokerdad (1124121) on Monday February 25, 2008 @12:09AM (#22541606)

        May I point out that this is *not* a patent, but rather a publication of an application for a patent. I wish someone on this friggin' site would learn the difference between the two.

        If you are being critical of the patent office the difference is very important, if you are being critical of the applicant, not so much so.

      • by simong_oz (321118)
        good luck, I've been trying for years...

        It's barely worth reading any of the patent articles on /. these days because of the total ignorance of the system.
      • by Erpo (237853)
        Patent examiners are working hard to make sure there is very little difference between the two. cheek.insert(tongue);
      • because then IBM - being the nice big company that they are - would grant free use of the patent in FOSS and then anyone who wants to offer a free lunch would not be able to do it with the software from Redmond...
    • The part I find most bewildering about the statement "could be implemented" in a patent is that patents are supposed to be for a specific implementation. You aren't supposed to be able to patent the idea that one might remove the seeds from cotton, just a specific way of doing it, or at least that's how it's been explained to me in the past.
    • just maybe an inkling of common sense will emerge from Congress and some reform will take place.

      Be careful what you wish for ... you just might get it. Expecting Congress (who, after all, are largely responsible for the current state of affairs) to implement proper reform is asking a lot. At this point, I'd settle for just not making things worse: any "reform" is likely to be so corrupted by special interests as to be worse that nothing.
    • by Lumpy (12016)
      Another problem IBM's design will NEVER be used.

      restaurants love the fact that your card where you get freed food and the voucher for a free lunch has a high chance of never being used. You will forget it or lose it. That is why those vouchers are always "not usable now but on your next visit." you need to be given time to lose or forget about it.

      Automatic freebies? not a chance in hell any sane businessman will want that in place.
  • someone better patent rewards such as free beer for long bathroom waits.
  • Actually interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:29PM (#22540106) Journal
    This is actually interesting. IBM's patent details a system which monitors the customer queue continuously and scales a response versus a customer wait time. It also delivers the response to the customer. Basically, if you make the reward a re-prioritization rather than i.e. free lunch or discount programs, you're looking at a task scheduler.
  • Enough is enough (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sqrt(2) (786011) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:30PM (#22540118) Journal
    Software and business models should NOT be eligible for patents. It's just going to get more and more ridiculous until we wake up and realize that and revamp the patent system.
    • Thanks for stating the obvious. We've know about this for years. The people with the power to fix this just havn't been told by enough of us with enough regularity.
    • I've just been awarded a the patent on "waking up and realising" as a method of understanding a situation...but don't worry, I'll let you know as soon as someone actually uses it.
    • by wellingj (1030460)
      Don't you think maybe IBM is trolling the US Patent Office? I think they get a kick out of it. If I was Big Blue and knew no one could safely challenge me, yea I'd force some really stupid stuff through just to prove a point about the current state of patent laws.
  • Puhleeze... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by binaryspiral (784263)
    Will this insanity stop at the USPO?
    • There is very little motivation within the patent system to change it.

      The USPTO makes a lot of profit. Why should Uncle Sam kill a cash cow.

      The patent lawyers make a lot of money filing patents. Easy filing encourages more filing which means more business/profit. But the real money gets earned when patents get contested. Therefore bad patents mean lots of litigation which mean more profits. No motivation to improve patent quality.

      Systems don't fix themselves. Since there is no motivation to change, change w

  • by zappepcs (820751) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:38PM (#22540204) Journal
    if it was applied to tech support call waits. The longer they make you wait, the less it costs to fix your problem. At current waiting times I've experienced, it's possible that sending me a brand new computer would be the cost of making me wait.
  • Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Protonk (599901) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:39PM (#22540220) Homepage
    I was about to launch on a screed about how innacurate /. headlines and summaries would lead us to believe that a reasonably sophisicated queuing system was instead a simple reward for waiting. How wrong was I.

    This is literally a system to reward people based on their time in queue and their position in the queue. Wow. An egg timer could do this. I was expecting something fairly complex and novel like Amazon's patent for prioritizing shipping based on future profit streams per customer (here [slashdot.org]). Instead I saw a basic, obvious solution that has pretty easy to find prior art: a waiter comping you a dessert because you had to wait a while.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cybereal (621599)
      Performing the steps in a system is not prior art to defining that system.

      That said, if the "waiter" was following written instructional guidelines on exactly when to start handing out free meals, that's a whole other issue entirely. Those instructions would have a chance at qualifying as prior art.
      • by Protonk (599901)
        I think that it would strain the imagination to say (I know you aren't saying this) that there wouldn't be a procedure, somewhere to perform exactly those steps. Even a threshold procedure for CSR's to offer rebates if customers are waitng for X + 1 minutes would qualify.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by glwtta (532858)
        Performing the steps in a system is not prior art to defining that system.

        An idea about how to do something obvious is not a fucking "system".

        Is there any way we can get that taped above every patent reviewer's desk?
      • Performing the steps in a system is not prior art to defining that system.

        That said, if the "waiter" was following written instructional guidelines on exactly when to start handing out free meals, that's a whole other issue entirely. Those instructions would have a chance at qualifying as prior art.

        No, you are right. If the procedure is so utterly commonplace that it is not even written down as a procedure, then it fails by way of obviousness, not prior art. The idea of rewarding (bribing) customers for bad service of all kinds likely goes back to the first occupation. Bad word of mouth advertising and lost business hurts. Duh. Adding "with an egg timer" to the process does not make it less obvious.

        • by mpe (36238)
          If the procedure is so utterly commonplace that it is not even written down as a procedure, then it fails by way of obviousness, not prior art.

          Which has the problem from the patent examiner's POV that the "obvious" is often poorly documented. Hence it is essential to suitably skilled patent examiners.

          The idea of rewarding (bribing) customers for bad service of all kinds likely goes back to the first occupation. Bad word of mouth advertising and lost business hurts.

          It's probably been going on as long a
      • and it wouldn't surprise me if they had to write down instructions for chewing your food and an addendum for remembering to swallow it.

        Then again, they probably wouldn't have to give any instructions for vomiting.
      • Even something as simple as verbal instructions would qualify, and I know for a fact that many restaurants in my area (that friends have worked at) tell their waiters the procedure for determining if someone should get a free meal. Even if they didn't every restaurant manager knows about when a free meal should be given out. Computerizing that is not something patentworthy any more than taking a student's methodology for determining if homework is worth it is patent-worthy.

        If it's already being done commonl
        • by mpe (36238)
          If it's already being done commonly and easily adding the words 'on a computer' should not earn you a patent.

          Especially where the something has most likely been common practice since prehistoric times.

          Just because you took the egg timer and computerized it doesn't mean you should get a patent.

          Nor should you if you did something similar with a Clepshydra, marked candle, etc.
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:40PM (#22540222) Homepage Journal
    if everyone had to go through what Butters went through to get to Bennigans......
    • That would require my parents to work together to 1. try to kill me and 2. cover it up. Since I don't think there's a chance in hell of getting them both in the same room together, I'm not going to Bennigan's anytime soon.
  • by Boyceterous (596732) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:40PM (#22540224)
    A system whereby a user shall be charged a fee based on the actual volume of excrement deposited into a dedicated porcelain facility. The system shall be called "Pay As You Go"
  • by Veramocor (262800) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:51PM (#22540306)
    'could be implemented completely devoid of computerization or automation of any kind'

    This statement is clearly shown in the disclosure not in the claims. The only thing that IBM is patenting is what is stated in the claims. You should not read limitations from the disclosure into the claims.

    "The name of the game is in the claims" - Federal Circuit Judge Giles Rich

    Remember that before you get your panties in a bunch.
  • Dominos pizza?? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Doesn't Domino's Pizza have first dibs? They did 30 minutes or less in the 80s.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @09:07PM (#22540412) Homepage
    By providing economics students with an excellent case study on what rent-seeking [wikipedia.org] looks like, and why the law should seek to make it as legally difficult as possible.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    IBM just wants to stay #1 in patents, ahead of the closest competitor (Samsung). Samsung is arguably a more diversified company, but people won't remember that if IBM slips into 2nd place. That would be a major PR hit for IBM.

    IBM tried improving the quality for a couple of years and filed fewer (potentially better) patents. All that did was allow other companies to sneak up and get closer.

    So IBM loosened up a little. The result is that the local committees that review patents and make the decision to fi
    • IBM strongly supports patent reform but has to play the same game everyone else plays
      This strikes me as similar to many people who support higher taxes. They probably still try to minimize their annual taxes in legal ways (e.g. taking appropriate deductions). It's a collective action problem where individuals trying to make the world better are disproportionately penalized for their actions.
  • Filed last week? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wannabgeek (323414) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @09:22PM (#22540510) Journal
    It was filed on 21st of this month and it's on /. already? Is someone closely watching the patent filings, or did some insider alert slashdot? Good thing either way. May be all this "publicity" will make IBM retract the application.
  • Illogical. (Score:4, Funny)

    by n6kuy (172098) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @10:22PM (#22540898)
    " ... Automated Crediting ... 'could be implemented completely devoid of ... automation of any kind.'"

    If they can pull that off, they deserve a patent!
    • by Eskarel (565631)
      Not too terribly difficult actually, depending on your definition of automation.

      I can create a system whereby if a customer is forced to wait over half an hour they are automatically given a free desert and implement it only by providing appropriate instructions to my staff.

      It's autmoated, but it's not automated.

  • This is just an exploitation of the well known fact that numbers in restaurants, including time measurements, dance to different tunes. Some guy wrote about it, like, years ago, in some book about hitchhiking.
  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @10:33PM (#22540976)

    It appears that IBM is seeking to force patent reform by clogging the system with so many useless applications that soon it will be impossible to swing a dead cat without hitting a patent claim.

    Sorry. That should read 'Method for controlling the trajectory of a deceased feline to avoid impact with preexisting intellectual property'.

    • Method for controlling the trajectory of a deceased feline to avoid impact with preexisting intellectual property
      Or, better yet, "Method for applying blunt force trauma to ungulate, wherein said ungulate is deceased, lying on the ground, and infested with maggots."
    • by Gazzonyx (982402)

      It appears that IBM is seeking to force patent reform by clogging the system with so many useless applications that soon it will be impossible to swing a dead cat without hitting a patent claim.

      Sorry. That should read 'Method for controlling the trajectory of a deceased feline to avoid impact with preexisting intellectual property'.

      Ah, but may we slashdotters still beat a dead horse, or will that fall under aforementioned patent?
  • I bet the whole plan is to go after Starbucks for all those free drink coupons they hand out.
  • Just tell me that there needs to be a penalty for when companies file absurd patents in the name of greed. I say we strip IBM of a random 1% of its patents. This will discourage them from being stupid.
  • I think I'll file a patent on using the word "the". Makes about as much sense.
  • by crovira (10242) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @10:50PM (#22541084) Homepage
    from the fifties rewritten on a patent application form.

    Total sham.
  • Now if IBM will just refuse to license these waits (except maybe to expensive French restaurants that I'd never go to anyway) we'll find a general improvement in the dining experience.
    • There is an easy solution: simply live in France. Most of the expensive restaurants we have here are 80% empty on rush hour.
  • With some of these crazy patents coming out of IBM these days, I am wondering whether IBM is just trying to prove a point. The point being that the patent system should not be allowing these sort of things, and that they will continue doing this until someone with the power to sort out the patent mess wakes up.
    • by danzona (779560)
      Right.

      And bank robbers are trying to prove a point about weak security at the bank. They are really public servants!
  • .. it would be a good thing. Every second that a business made a customer wait they'd have to pay a fee to IBM. That would be a great motivator to enhance queue efficiency resulting in lower wait times for all.

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