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Will Patents Make NCAA Football Playoffs Impossible? 177

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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  • by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Friday December 24, 2010 @06:50AM (#34658874) Homepage

    Why supposedly educational institutions keep teams of what is essentially professional entertainers and let this business overshadow education? At the extent of admitting "special" (as in "short bus") students and pretend to educate them, spending budget on things 99% of students can never use, hiring a coach who is paid more than any other person working for the school, etc.?

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Friday December 24, 2010 @06:52AM (#34658886) Journal
    The patent is on "A method for conducting championship playoff", not on conducting championship playoffs. There's a difference. Do the same general thing in a way that isn't covered by the patent and you're safe. Honestly, I can't see any reaon you have to use the weighted result of polls.
  • Isn't it lucky (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Friday December 24, 2010 @07:09AM (#34658940)
    Isn't it lucky that the guy has got the patents system to enable him to innovate on how to organise playoffs
  • by Frankie70 ( 803801 ) on Friday December 24, 2010 @07:39AM (#34659012)

    What the hell is a playoff system?

    Is it a way of taking lots of team & play them against each other & narrowing them & finally 2 of them play in a Final match to decide the winner?

    If so, don't tournaments around the world in other sports already do this?

    For eg.
    In the last cricket world cup help in 2007
    - 16 teams played
    - 4 Groups each with 4 teams. Each team played the other team in the group once.
    - 2 top teams chosen from each group. So 8 teams left out of 16.
    - The 8 teams now played round robin against each other team in the group of 8 except the team which was from their group. They had already played this team in group stage - so their result against this team was carried forward & added to the result of their other 6 matches.
    - Four top teams emerged from the 8.
    - Team 1 played Team 4 in one semi final & Team 2 played Team 3 in the other.
    - The Winner of the two semi-finals played in the final.

    Is this a playoff system? Did I infringe any patent by posting this?

  • Re:Also in the news (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AndGodSed ( 968378 ) on Friday December 24, 2010 @09:06AM (#34659258) Homepage Journal

    Funny but true, if you rewind to WW1.

    The US rifle that the troops used copied the bolt action design used by the German Mauser rifle. The Germans sued, and the US was forced to pay royalties to the Germans for this design.

    While the US was fighting the Germans, they were paying royalties for the bolt action on the rifle used to shoot at them.

    Ironic, but true.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Friday December 24, 2010 @09:27AM (#34659334)

    Because 20,000 people won't buy tickets to watch a meeting of the Princeton Math Club.


    Because CBS isn't interested in buying the broadcast rights for the Dartmouth Glee Club's next season.


    Because rich alumni don't donate millions to keep their alma mater's Medieval History curriculum competitive.

    Now we hit on the real problem: rich alumni who never really appreciated the value of an education. Of course, that implies that at one time, the school accepted people who were not really interested in receiving an education, likely an ongoing problem. Really, the core problem is simple: higher education is not really about "education." With a tiny handful of exceptions, becoming an educated person is more of an optional side effect of going to college, rather than the primary aim.

    So of course those rich alumni would like to be able to say, "Yeah, that's my school!" while they are watching college football with all their friends, and could not care less about whether or not their degree actually represents anything.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 24, 2010 @09:28AM (#34659346)

    Probably not. There are some schools where the teams (on paper at least) make money for the school - the very biggest football/basketball teams. Or so it is claimed. I work at a university where one team recently got a big donation and by the conditions of the donation it all had to go to the athletics program (unlike, say, an NSF grant where a big chunk of change is taken in 'overhead'). The donation ended up costing the school a whole pile of money. For instance, traffic to games increased (a lot) and this required more parking, overtime for school security, and so on. And this is only one way that the donation has cost the school money.

    I am also involved in the budgeting process and can tell you that there is a bunch of Hollywood accounting going on. Lots of costs for the athletics programs are funded through other budget items. Again, as a for-instance, a dorm has to be opened for the fall in the middle of the summer to support the football team and support people for the dorm have to be brought in, food service has to go from closed or minimal staffing/hours up to almost full time, food needs to be purchased - and these things are absorbed as part of university overhead and not charged as part of the athletic budget.

    On the plus side, there are a bunch of non-athletic students who get a boost from this - they get paid to take tests for team members, and to write papers for them. So it ain't all bad.

  • Re:Submarine patent (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Friday December 24, 2010 @10:03AM (#34659566)

    No. A submarine patent is a patent issued on an application that was filed, or claims continuity to an effective filing date, before 8 June 1995, which means it gets a patent term of 17 years from the date of issue. The submarine strategy is then to keep the application pending (a relatively inexpensive proposition, given the potential profit) until an infringing product pops up in the marketplace, and then get the claims allowable, pay the issue fee, and sue.

    Submarine patents were largely remedied by switching to a patent term of 20 years from the filing date (though there are still a very few applications still pending that have an effective filing date that gives them the old patent term). Now, if you keep your application pending for 20 years (plus patent term adjustments, a topic too complex to cover here), then when it issues, the term will already be expired.

    As for the abstract not matching the invention, it's not really that great a loss, although the examiner should have objected to it. Patent searches are rarely done by flipping through abstracts. More often, they're done by classification along with keywords to search through the entire text of the patent. In this case, it's hard to tell why that abstract is attached to that application. It was probably a paperwork error, either on the part of the attorney getting their pages mixed up or at the USPTO mailroom. It's moot, though, since that application went abandoned.

  • by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Friday December 24, 2010 @11:05AM (#34659870)

    I read the patent but I'm not a lawyer, and it seems easily avoided. He makes specific claims. All the claims 2-? seem to be defined in combination with claim #1. None of them seemed to have any novelty aside from combination with claim #1, so claim #1 is probably what really matters.

    Claim #1 specifies two things: a way of combining polls, and a playoff of 3 or more teams. From my non-lawyerly standpoint, I'd say that he's proposing exactly what they're doing now for 2 teams and extending it to 3+. For the non-Americans in the audience, the NCAA has a system of combining multiple polls, choosing the top 2 teams, and letting them play for the championship. So he turns that 2 into 3+.

    First problem is that indeed it seems obvious. This idea probably occurred to anyone with a pulse who watched college football over the last few decades. What's more, the NCAA has more lawyers than he does. So does Mark Cuban.

    If 'death by lawyer' is not enough, tons of journalists have been clamoring for exactly what's patented - namely, form a playoff from the final rankings basically as described. Go find somebody who published an article prior to the patent describing the same basic thing.

    Other than that, just avoid claim one and the whole thing seems to fall apart. One might use a method of combining polls to seed the teams as he describes. Absent that, I don't know what's left besides a single-elimination tournament as you mention, for which ample prior art exists going back, oh, thousands of years probably.

    I don't think it should be hard to avoid stepping on this patent. Currently, the NCAA uses a committee to select the (at large) teams that play in the basketball tournament, which they've been doing for many decades.

    So despite Mr. Patent Troll's assertions, there are probably a number of ways around this patent, in my non-professional opinion.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl