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IBM Seeks Patent On Retailer-Rigged Driving Routes 150

theodp writes "On IBM's Smarter Planet, you may drive further than need be to get to your destination. Big Blue's pending patent for Determining Travel Routes by Using Fee-Based Location Preferences calls for the likes of Walmart, Starbucks, and Best Buy pay a fee in return for having your route calculation service de-optimize driving instructions to make you do a drive-by of their stores, and an additional fee if GPS tracking of your car indicates you actually took the suboptimal route. The same IBM inventors also have a patent pending for Environmental Stewardship Based on Driving Behavior, which calls for yet another fee to be assessed when a retailer-friendly-but-suboptimal route causes your vehicle to enter a congested area and produce more pollution."
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IBM Seeks Patent On Retailer-Rigged Driving Routes

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  • Yes or No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @07:51PM (#37505180)

    IBM gets bonus points if they patent these then sit on them, thus disallowing anyone from actually implementing them.
    Of course they could turn "Evil"

    How many other evil things can we thing of to patent to prevent people from actually doing them?

    • by lucm ( 889690 )

      Yeah, like modal ads at the operating-system level...

    • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @08:39PM (#37505376) Homepage

      1. The head of a project takes his bunch of interns into a meeting room to brainstorm random things you could do which have any sort of tenuous tangential connection to the project.
      2. Lawyers!!!
      3. IBM pays dude a few thousand dollars bonus.
      (4. Interns are eligible for bonus if they join IBM, but seek less-dysfunctional workplaces where they don't have to use Lotus Notes.)

      Seriously, that's the reason I have my name on a patent which basically says "you could have a weight sensor on a bus, guess the number of passengers, and use that for capacity planning somehow." [] For bonus points, check out the flowchart.

    • If these are actually implimented, do you expect the companies to admit it? I imagine it's be strictly need-to-know. Just a handful of executives, a lawyer or two and the programmer who has to actually impliment it. Such business practices are too potentially embarassing to announce to the world.
    • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @04:49AM (#37506816) Journal

      This is just a polite cought from IBM to remind Apple, MS, Google, HP, Samsung and the likes who invented original evil. This is classy stuff, forget about silly lawsuits and threathening to sue your customers. Control their every move like the drones they are. THAT is CLASS. That is pure unadulterated evil.

      Basically they are saying, "Look out, we are still here and we are still the masters of darkness. Any of you whippersnappers forget that and we will have your headquarters surrounded by a thousand sheep following our GPS to their slaughter."

      I have taken the hint and re-labelled my PC as an IBM-compatible to pay homage to the master.

    • How many other evil things can we thing of to patent to prevent people from actually doing them?

      We could include a collision detection device in the GPS that automatically calls a vendor sponsoring hospital, even though it might be faster to call 911 and get the closest hospital...
      As a side effect the system will also call hospitals whenever you brake hard, which of course is something you'll pay a decent fee for...

    • Yeah... I'd rather IBM own this patent than a company like Google or Garmin, who would have an incentive to use it in their next navigation software releases for additional revenue.

      That said, IBM has been known to sell their patents to the highest bidder. Grr.

  • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <gterich AT aol DOT com> on Saturday September 24, 2011 @07:51PM (#37505182) Journal

    I would bet that there is also going to be a way for the user to pay a fee not to be sent on the suboptimal route.

    • That's funny, they already did that by purchasing the GPS software/device in the first place.
    • by cynyr ( 703126 )

      there are times i'd like to be able to get one of these sub optimal routes...

      for example:
      Driving to my Uncles new home for a house warming thing, I'd like to stop at Target(for those that don't know, a hardware store for something, and a ATM for cash for the week, somewhere between here and there, and go out of my as little as possible. I know the nearest target to my house is in the wrong direction, as is the hardware store, so i'd like googlemaps/etc to find the best route between my plac

      • Yeah, that's called "the traveling salesman problem", and it's.. well, it's a textbook computer science problem, and will probably be so for years to come...

        • by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @08:52PM (#37505432)

          Yeah, that's called "the traveling salesman problem"

          Odd - I call it 'Itinerary' - but that's only because my TomTom labels it as such. It's not entirely automated in that I can't specify a destination and then say 'along the route to the destination, find me X, Y and Z' - but I can look at the route it's already plotted for me and find said X, Y and Z on the map and add them as waypoints.

          And if you really wanted to do a traveling salesman problem thing..
 [] ..plenty of options to choose from for a limited number of destinations.

          Of course the question becomes what is more efficient.. shortest? fastest? least turns? most highways? least highways? most traffic congestion avoidance? etc.

          • The traditional TSP exposition implies the fastest route is the most preferable, although there are some renditions based on bus/train fares.
      • by maxume ( 22995 )

        Doesn't Target do cash back?

        • You seem to be suggesting debit-card cashback as an ATM substitute.

          Target offers that, but they limit it to $40. Other places I used had similar limits: $35, $50. So that's a problem if you want a couple hundred, and going to multiple such stores cuts down on the "fewer trips" advantage. One has to buy at least a little something at each store (which is still better than ATM fees, especially if it's an item you'd buy anyway)

          I became very familiar with the debit card cashback feature when taking a summer int

      • Sub optimal for one purpose does not make it sub optimal. You're not asking for a sub optimal route, you're asking for the best route that satisfies some additional constraints.

        Anyway, this kind of garbage is why the US inaugurated the numbered highway system in 1926. Before that, roads were promoted by private organizations that were not above directing travelers on sub optimal routes, in order to increase business at favored towns, which of course paid for the privelege. An example is the Bee Line Hi

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Time for reality. Want to do that. Use google maps, create a route from start destination to finish destination. Then do a search on that map for the shops of your choice. If their is not one already on the route, simply drag a route marker point nearest to that store onto that store and watch the route change to suit.

        See, the only way people will really accept doing versus any kind of B$ marketing lie.

        What it really means is people will be demanding navigation devices with bigger screens so that they

        • by cynyr ( 703126 )

          This is what i do right now. Have fun doing that across a metropolitan area, or better yet, a drive from one to another.

          What I want is an interface were i specify my start and end points, then my searches, and have the software pick the shortest time detour(taking into account stop lights, stop signs, etc) taking into account all of my options. I'm betting there are a few times were being able to only look at once search at a time will not provide a best route.

      • by Renraku ( 518261 )

        The optimal method is very difficult to compute. However, you can get 80% efficiency by just planning your route based on the most scarce of the locations.

    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      I doubt it. it will just be a 'feature' that you aren't told about and cant turn off.

      Thankfully you can still look at the map yourself and skip the 'helpful' directions. Too bad its getting hard to find a paper map..

    • Its better than the units that tell you to drive off a cliff.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @07:53PM (#37505190)

    Just what we need get off highway and get back on for each small town you pass by.

    In the past I use to get stuff like that with on line maps where they keep having you get on off the same road but may of been a bug or just poor weighting.

    • What is this with people confusing the words "of" and "have"?
      Unlike "their"/"they're"/"there" or "once"/"ones", the pronunciation isn't even similar.

      I'm not a native speaker, can anyone explain this to me?

      • People for whom English does not have a long history as a first language - like many Americans of German or Hispanic descent- often are not familiar with long established contractions. English English speakers have long contracted "may have" to may've, with a breathing in the middle a bit like the one often seen in Hebrew. This gets heard by these less experienced speakers as "may of".

        Off topic but I hope that explains it.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @07:57PM (#37505210)

    How long before it the gps says

    "Go in to best buy and ask for geek suard for map update service Only $49.99"

    • I just searched for "target store" in Google Maps and an ad came up on top of the map that says "Sears Store Finder"

      I wouldn't be surprised if there's a destination I can search for that will make the Geek Squad pop up.

  • and then the GPS cuts off your engine / dumps your remaining fuel once you're right next to a service station, and the bio-chhip in your kids makes them hungry whenever you're close to a Mickey D. Off to the patent office for me !

  • Well if they are going to make you drive all over just to go past stores that have paid a fee to jack around with your GPS then why not do the same thing to the remote control for your TV... you push the button on your remote control on your TV to go to NBC or HBO and instead you are immediately redirected to a brief ad from whatever giant conglomerate paid to hijack your remote control after which you go directly to the tv station you requested by pushing the button in the first place. Moreover, they can
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I consider my paranoia validated.

  • by cloudmaster ( 10662 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @08:18PM (#37505284) Homepage Journal

    So, everything someone thinks of while high on pot is now eligible for patenting? This crap doesn't make any sense to me, but I'm not currently high.

    • by makubesu ( 1910402 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @08:38PM (#37505374)
      I'm starting to think my patent on having patent office employees smoke weed during the work day is being violated.
    • Ok. I scanned the patent submission - scanned, because I found the entire proposal odious. From the first paragraph my first reaction was "this is a scam." Everything I read - scanned/quick read/slowed down to read/tried to analyze - only reinforced my first impression. This entire thing is, to my mind, a wondrous new way to screw people: business owners, for ostensible fame and fortune; travellers to get sucked into paying the higher prices for goods or services due to costs of doing business being pa

  • I don't get this GPS craze. It seems that most of the regular population in the US thinks that a GPS is a "have to have" device/feature. What's the deal? Did everybody forget where they were going all em masse? I certainly don't need a GPs to get around my own town, and if I'm going out of town, I'll grab a "map" if I need one. They're made out of paper, and they generally cost about $5.
    • by JimMcc ( 31079 )

      I got a gps with voice prompting for my company van because I was afraid I was going to get in, or cause, a wreck trying to read the Thomas Guide. My short term memory isn't that great, especially if I'm thinking through my next job before I get to it. Having a gps system voice prompt me around a major metropolitan area is, for me, a significantly safer option. But then again, I don't blindly drive off the road into a river/ravine/building just because my gps told me to.

    • Re:GPS craze (Score:4, Informative)

      by phorm ( 591458 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @08:34PM (#37505348) Journal

      Let's see...

      Pick up map. Look up destination. Try to find the street on the legend, correspond to a bunch of X/Y grid entries, and get there. Try to determine the best way through all the various highways, one-way streets, etc on the way. Get partway there and run into construction. End up taking a different route. Stop, and re-read map. Plot alternate route. End up discovering that street stops and starts in multiple sections and require a roundabout route to your destination. Arrive at destination, only to discover that it doesn't exist and that you should have been on 1st Ave East and not just 1st ave. (and yes, I've had this experience before).


      Turn on location services. Type in "Bob's Market" in your GPS-enabled device. Click "directions." Follow the route given and spoken aloud... which is auto-corrected whenever you are diverted or have to make an unexpected turnoff to pee.

      I don't need my GPS when going places in town, but when you're travelling 200+km to a destination you've never visited before, it's sure a nice thing to have...

      Most convenient is if you're in an unfamiliar location, and you want to find "Store X." Pop the name into maps, and a few of the most nearby locations pops up for easy navigation.

  • by lucm ( 889690 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @08:25PM (#37505316)

    This is awesome because now you don't need to look for a wal-mart, strabucks, best buy and other when you want to go shopping, you just put your home address as the destination and you'll have a route all setup for you.

  • Earlier today, I took a bunch of glass bottles to the recycle center, and I drove. How much do I owe IBM?

  • by erice ( 13380 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @08:50PM (#37505418) Homepage

    Under advertiser control it is pretty ugly, of course. But it would actually be nice if I could map a route and say "along the way, I need to find cheap gas, an Asian grocer, and try to get me to a Walmart or Target (don't care which) if it is it not *too* much deviation.

    • already lets you set up a route with more than one point besides the start point and end point. I don't have anything nice to say about their app though.
  • Seriously, what does it mean to route to a destination? On just about any device, you can route to a set of destinations. Obviously, you can route people by a destination that the user didn't specify. Obviously this could be a retailer or other business, if you had any reason to do so. Obviously if they pay you to do so, that would be a reason.

    Where is the "invention" here? It uses all the existing APIs. It uses standard business practice (i.e. you do something if someone pays you to do it).

  • Where, exactly, does the second linked patent say anything at all about routes, fees, retailers, or congestion? As I read it, the second patent is about charging tailgaters a higher toll, based on the theory that tailgating causes everyone behind the tailgater to increase braking and acceleration, which is bad for the environment.

    • by theodp ( 442580 )

      It's the first patent that points to the second patent:

      "The additional fee is charged for proposing routes for any additional vehicles to travel through the congested area, thereby promoting environmental stewardship by potentially reducing the number of additional vehicles entering the congested area."

      Also, check out the listed inventors - same team of five on both patent applications.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @09:45PM (#37505678)

    ... all those octogenarian driving their Cadillacs thought the front walls of various businesses. Well, you paid to aim them your way.

  • Prior art (Score:4, Funny)

    by yelvington ( 8169 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @10:40PM (#37505894) Homepage

    Bangkok Tuk-Tuk drivers.
    New Delhi motorcycle taxis.

    • + Chinese taxi drivers. We would get a Taxi to our hotel but just happen to stop by a Chinese silk factory on the way.

  • Remember the good ole days? []

  • I'm surprised nobody has brought up the subject of privacy yet. I'm pretty sure that any business paying to be routed this way is going to want some kind of statistics or metrics for their money. At the very least they're going to want to know how many times their locations were included in routes. And potentially much more - such as time of day, endpoints of the overall route, etc. So somehow the device is going to have to be able to communicate back to some central server - either in realtime or possi
  • Of course my nearest starbucks is 300 ks away and the nearest walmart is 5000km or more - so that route for me would be suboptimal indeed.
    • by cvtan ( 752695 )
      So your suboptimal route would just include getting a passport, packing, going through security, getting on a plane, renting a car, reserving a hotel, and finding a nice restaurant just to save $5 at Walmart! It's worth it just to hear the greeter say," Welcome to Walmart. I love you."
  • Presumably the idea is that if one in (say) N people who drive past X brand coffee shop would be tempted to buy a coffee that they otherwise would not have. Let's do some arithmetic:

    1. * Cost of driving a car (petrol, tyres, servicing) is about 20p/mile []
    2. * Assume that the sub optimal route adds 1 mile to the journey, so the extra cost is 20p (about 13 cents for the guys on the wrong side of the pond)
    3. * Profit by the retailer? Well run cafes should operate on around 25% profit margin [], so they make 50p on a
      1. * If 10 local businesses club together to pay for people to take a sub optimal route, then they still pay 60p to earn an extra what .... ?

      It occurs to me that for businesses clubbing together to work, then you have to assume that the motorist would be tempted to stop on 1 in 3 journeys when he would otherwise not stop. It is all a guesstimate, but I can't see how it makes sense.

    • Businesses don't care about YOUR overheads. That's an externality.

      Who's to say the tyre merchants and fuel stations won't subsidise this, so you spend more with them too?

      • Businesses don't care about YOUR overheads. That's an externality.

        But I care about MY overheads, so I won't do these longer routes if it costs more than I get. I do understand that some people will be excited at getting the occasional £5 from this scheme while ignoring that it has cost them many times that to ''earn'' that £5. Hopefully most of us are saner than that.

        Who's to say the tyre merchants and fuel stations won't subsidise this, so you spend more with them too?

        Car tyres last many thousands of miles, ie many, many trips; so unless the system somehow knows that your tyres need replacing it is going to be wasted advertising. The margins of fuel are slim an

    • by cnettel ( 836611 )
      I think another scenario is more interesting: brand and location awareness. Make the driver pass by retailer X once, or once every n months. Not every trip. Immediate "click-through" equivalent will be low, but the driver might spontaneously go back to the same place to get the service offered at some other time. Getting one additional regular customer out of (let's say) 500 such occasional drive-bys can be worth it, even with the numbers you cite.
  • Isn't there some part of the US Patent Office mission statement that says what they are doing should be for the public good? Why would the US population fund an agency that generates annoying or evil patents? If I create an idea that is novel and non-obvious but only leads to an increase in human misery ("Novel Method for Inducing World Famine and Disease Using a Video Gaming System..."), is that still patentable? Even if the route mod fee went to me, I still wouldn't go to Walmart.
    • by cvtan ( 752695 )
      From the USPTO site:


      The USPTO will lead the way in creating a quality-focused, highly productive, responsive organization supporting a market-driven Intellectual Property system for the 21st Century.

      Never mind. No public good there.

  • We now know the company scamming people to take out unneeded service contracts actually IS a Microsoft partner company based in India.

    How long before street gangs set up pseudo-legit businesses to use this service to send people down the wrong part of town where they can be mugged?

  • You all know that they still make maps, so just learn to read one and learn your way around. Why on Earth would you need gps just to find a Walmart or Starbucks or your uncle Dan's house?

    Staying in an unfamiliar city? Look in the phone book's yellow pages. Oh, and there's usually a map there, too.

    You may also want to learn to use a compass just in case the gps satellites are compromised one of these days.
    • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
      I can read a map just fine even using the street index to find where I am, but that doesn't do real-time re-routing when a highway exit is closed due to flooding
  • Patent trolling someone that would use those patents is pure genius!

  • for a GPS maker to sell a device which advertizes that it does not included purchased waypoints to misdirect the traffic. But, knowing the ethical level of businesses today, they'd sell a device that currently markets for $100 for $500.

One can't proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means.