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Will Patents Make NCAA Football Playoffs Impossible? 177

Posted by timothy
from the life-will-go-on dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Mark Cuban recently announced plans to create a college football playoff system, which many people (including President Obama) have been claiming has been needed for years. However, after doing so, Cuban received an odd email, claiming that he'd better watch out, because a college football playoff system is patented and anything he did would likely infringe. The patent wasn't named, but Techdirt believes it has found the patent in question, along with another pending patent application (which has some amusing errors in it — such as an abstract that says it's about a boat fender, rather than a sports playoff system). So is it really true that some random guy in Arizona is the only person who can legally set up such a college football playoff system?"
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Will Patents Make NCAA Football Playoffs Impossible?

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  • No (Score:3, Informative)

    by notext (461158) on Friday December 24, 2010 @06:56AM (#34658902)

    There are already NCAA football playoffs. Just not the FCS division, formerly known as Division I.

  • Basic research FTW (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Friday December 24, 2010 @08:12AM (#34659100)

    The patent application mentioned in TFA went abandoned 17 August 2009. Importantly, all of the claims were rejected under 35 USC 101, i.e., they were determined not to be patentable subject matter. The examiner in that case also noted that the prevailing judicial wisdom on 101 had changed over the past few years, which was why they were able to cite an issued patent as prior art.

    It's also notable that, in a general sense, the claims of the issued patent mentioned in TFA are not structurally dissimilar from the rejected claims in the abandoned application. That doesn't necessarily mean that a court would hold the claims of the issued patent to be invalid, but it does provide some insight into what might happen if a lawsuit came out of this.

  • Submarine patent (Score:5, Informative)

    by demiurg (108464) on Friday December 24, 2010 @08:24AM (#34659146) Homepage Journal

    This is not an error, this is called a "submarine patent" were one intentionally writes an abstract which different from the claims. As a typical patent search returns hundreds of patents, reading the whole patent is not feasible, so people either don't bother with patent search at all or read just the abstracts. Having abstract different from the claims makes the patent "invisible", i.e. impossible to find - hence the "submarine" term.

  • by dtmos (447842) on Friday December 24, 2010 @08:24AM (#34659150)

    No, the GP is absolutely right.

    If you've never seen one of these patent lawsuits, they start by going through each claim (that the petitioner claims infringement), and identifies how the infringing technology contains each element of the claim. The easiest way to have such a suit dismissed is to have at least one element different (or missing) in the supposedly-infringing technology. In the case of method claims, as the GP says, just do one step differently.

    As an example, the issued patent (6,053,823) has only one independent claim, which has the elements (steps) of:

    --------
    - adding the rank of each participating team from a first poll to the rank of each team in a second poll to obtain an initial overall rank; [element 1]

    - assigning a final rank for each team, with the lowest sum of the initial overall rank constituting the highest rank, and the highest sum from the initial overall rank constituting the lowest rank; [element 2]

    - conducting a championship tournament with at least the three teams having the highest final rank, comprising the steps of:

              - conducting at least a first round of events to determine the two teams to play in a championship game; and

              - conducting a championship game with the two teams determined from the previous round of events, to determine a champion. [element 3]
    --------

    So to start out we see that this method requires adding the rank of each team from a couple of polls. Don't use polls? No infringement. Don't add the rankings from the two polls to establish the initial overall rank? No infringement.

    Secondly, a final rank for each team must be calculated, with the highest and lowest ranks determined as described. Don't have a final rank for each team? No infringement. Determine highest and lowest differently? No infringement.

    Finally, a championship tournament must be held with at least the three teams having the highest final rank, which must also have the two steps of (1) a first round of "events" to determine the two teams to play in the championship game, and (2) playing the championship game. Have only two teams in the tournament? No infringement. Don't have a first round of events? No infringement.

    As I hope you can see, there are lots of ways (I've identified only a few) to have a playoff that avoids this patent. What the headline to the linked article should say is, "One Method of College Football Playoffs Patented."

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday December 24, 2010 @09:14AM (#34659284) Journal

    Short answer: Because at the end of the day, having a high-profile and appealing sports program makes them a lot more money than they invest in it.

    [Citation Needed]
    http://www.google.com/search?q=college+sports+programs+money+losers [google.com]

    And I believe this is the original source all those articles are based on:
    http://www.centerforcollegeaffordability.org/uploads/ICA_Subsidies_RegressiveTax.pdf [centerforc...bility.org]

    The only meaningful catch is that their conclusions are based on an examination of public universities, not private ones.
    But some of the most successful sports programs are at public universities, so the analysis is worth looking at.

  • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@G m a i l.com> on Friday December 24, 2010 @10:43AM (#34659742) Homepage Journal

    Ever wondered why your country is getting it's ass kicked in every sphere known to mankind except the number of lawyers per head of population?

    While I bitch about the state of the Union as much as anyone, to say the United States is getting it's "ass kicked in every sphere known to mankind" is not only demonstrably untrue, it's not even a very good troll. The only reason I even responded was because some morons actually modded you insightful.

  • by dunc78 (583090) on Friday December 24, 2010 @11:04AM (#34659868)
    I believe the parent of this thread was specifically referring to college footbal, as this is the sport that has the highest paid coaches. The first reference you provide (don't have time to read the second one) is about athletic programs as a whole. You would likely find, that without football, athletic programs would lose substantially more.

    Some quick googling found me the following article from 2006, http://money.cnn.com/2006/01/04/commentary/column_sportsbiz/sportsbiz/ [cnn.com]. One pertinent line is "USC's profit as a percentage of revenue is just 43 percent, below the average of 48 percent for all the reporting bowl teams [55], even when you include the 11 schools which lost money on their football programs. The top 20 football programs in terms of revenue have profit margins of about 60 percent, on average." And even these stats leave out secondary benefits, such as increased enrollment, donations, ...

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