Does Ordering Food Via A Mobile Device Deserve A Patent?

from the non-obvious? dept

A few weeks ago, the USPTO revealed a patent application from Apple that’s getting some attention in the press from folks like Forbes and InformationWeek. Those publications are using the app to guess at what Apple has in mind for future innovations on its mobile devices, as the patent application is for using a mobile device to place a shopping order at a store, and then being alerted to when it’s ready. The real question, though, should be why Apple could possibly deserve a monopoly on this idea? I remember four or five years ago, some folks pitching me on a very similar idea. It had been inspired by the plastic light-up pucks that some restaurants give you when you’re waiting for a free table. Many of those are based on old pager networks, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to try to update that concept for the mobile age, and realize that you could do the same sort of alerting via someone’s mobile phone. From there, it was about a five minute conversation before it became obvious that since this was a two way system, you could easily add ordering functionality for take-out, or put a “reservation” in remotely before getting to the restaurant. As far as I know, these guys never moved forward with the business plan, but it’s hard to see why, years later, Apple suddenly deserves a monopoly on the concept. However, it does show, once again, that a lack of official “prior art” shouldn’t automatically be reason to grant a patent. Just because something hasn’t yet been done commercially doesn’t mean that it’s not a fairly obvious idea to people in the space. Hopefully, the USPTO recognizes that and rejects the patent application, but given what gets approved these days, that doesn’t seem likely.

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Companies: apple

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Comments on “Does Ordering Food Via A Mobile Device Deserve A Patent?”

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18 Comments
Richard (profile) says:

McDonalds in Hong Kong

Here in the Fragrant Harbour, it’s common to see staff in McDonalds wandering around with PDAs when the queues get big. They take your order, enter it on the PDA, send it to the tills using either Wifi or Bluetooth – I’m not sure which – and give you a post-it with your order number on it. When you get to the front of the queue, you give your post-it to the person serving, they enter the number, confirm your order and serve you. To be honest, I’m not really sure they save too much time, but Hong Kong is a city which largely works on the basis that educated-but-unskilled labour is very very cheap and plentiful, so I suppose they’ve decided it’s worth it.

This doesn’t sound like quite the same thing, but maybe close enough to be prior art…

dave (profile) says:

what? educated but unskilled?

So, you get a university education, but you have to then work at McDonalds because you have no ‘skills’, where you work until you are skilled [at working in McDonalds], when you get fired [instead of even getting a raise], then you have to work retail [until you get skills and are then fired] and so on… Is that what you mean?

Richard (profile) says:

Re: what? educated but unskilled?

When I say “educated-but-unskilled” I mean someone who has a decent education, who is literate and numerate, normally with at least some English, and who is at least comfortable with a computer or a PDA. Someone who has been through an education system which is above normal ‘western’ standards, but who does not have any specific vocational training or skills. These are normally relatively young women who – from what I know of HK – are probably taking an evening class or two, and while they get that qualification are working a low-paid but relatively safe/warm/comfortable job in retail service. I’m not saying it’s the best job in the world, but it’s not that bad…

inc says:

I was recently in California and stopped at In-N-Out burger, and they were taking orders on a tablet pc while the cars were waiting in the drive-thru. Seems to me this has been done… no reason for a patent there. I was also thinking ordering take out over a cell phone would be the same thing. In the patent application they have basically listed out every step in an order. Substitute servers for people and this has been done for decades if not longer.

aiken says:

Is that really the patent?

This is a really sub-par Techdirt article, in that it reports what Forbes and IW are saying and adds speculation that the patent is on the mere “idea” of ordering food with a phone.

Where’s the analysis? What does the patent actually say? Is it for the concept of ordering food with a mobile device, or is it for more concrete and possibly even innovative ways of providing that service?

I hate the current patent system as much as anyone, but Techdirt is usually about insightful analysis of actual facts rather than second-hand speculation and hyperbole. Can I request a more reasonable analysis of the patent and what it means?

aiken says:

Re: Re: Is that really the patent?

1) Forbes and IW post a summary of their interpretation of a patent
2) Techdirt repeats that summary with no added value or substance other than generic anti-patent hyperbole and speculation
3) I comment that Techdirt usually adds value to subjects and request that they revisit this topic in their usual enlightening manner
4) You tell me that if I want any insight, I should produce it myself and that it’s unreasonable to expect Techdirt (motto: “insight community”) to add any value to summaries of articles on other sites.

Brilliant. Hey, do you watch the news, you lazy sloth? Because if you want news, you should be out there interviewing people and reporting it yourself. Otherwise it’s your fault that Bush got re-elected.

Apparently I missed the memo about Techdirt becoming Digg.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Is that really the patent?

Techdirt repeats that summary with no added value or substance other than generic anti-patent hyperbole and speculation

No added value? I actually take some offense to that, even though it’s a subjective standard. The two pieces I linked to focused on something totally different (what Apple’s plans were with regards to the patent). My analysis was about whether or not this is a legitimate patent, and suggested why it was not. I did not repeat their summary. I talked about something different — that I found to be more interesting.

Also, despite your claim, I linked to the patent application itself (something neither Forbes nor IW did).

So, I’m genuinely sorry that you did not like this particular post, but I feel that I did add my insight to this post and I did NOT simply repeat those news sources, as they focused on something entirely different.

Observer says:

Patents gone nuts

Ever since Amazon got a Seattle court to okay Amazon’s patent for one-click ordering (circa 1999) I’ve decided that 1) Our new internet companies have no shame, no social responsibility nor any sense of proportionality and 2) Our courts will do anything to rub the backs of these new buisinesses to preserve American technical hegemony.

Big mistake when Congress passed a law at the request of Disney, to further extend copyrights. It’s all gotten way out of hand now, and has nothing to do with protecting incentives for innovation, but rather everything to do with protecting monopoly ownership of ideas.

Scott Wendt (user link) says:

Already been done

Gosh it must have been 6 years ago now that Starbucks did a very similar pilot using windows mobile phones that flopped. It was likely an idea before its time as the number of phones capable of making the order were low and the number of people with those phones who cared about pre-ordering even lower, but it still means this isn’t Apple’s new innovation.

That said I’d much rather punch in my McDonalds order on my phone while waiting in the drive through line than talking to the idiots that always seem to be taking my order. At least it would take one more bad link out of the chain that inevitably seems to end in me not getting everything I wanted.

One thing going against Starbucks in this whole thing (I think that is who Apple wants to work with on this idea) is that they actually have decently fast service most of the time and so pre-order doesn’t really save you much time. They also have done a lot of work making the time spent waiting for the coffee relaxing and I find value in that alone. Reducing my wait might not actually increase my benefit.

KR (profile) says:

Prior Art

My company GetQuik has offered mobile food ordering for consumers since May 2007. We offer a J2ME and WAP solution and we do have a patent filed for the process (non-disclosure request on our doc). The Apple announcement and entry may be the catalyst to really kick mobile food ordering into high gear. The market for restaurant revenues in the US is over $500 billion, of which over 2/3rds of those transactions are for casual and quick service dining (the rest being fine dining). So with over $300 billion in addressable market size, we expect the market to product more than one winner. Apple certainly has a great chance to be secure their place in the market. Should be an interesting year for the sector.

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