College Football Playoffs Patented?!?; Mark Cuban Warned Not To Infringe

from the patent-madness dept

For years, fans of college football have been clamoring for some sort of playoff system, rather than the messy rankings and bowl system that currently exists. It’s a topic that people can get pretty passionate about. Even President Obama has weighed in on the subject arguing for a playoff system. I’m not a college football fan, so I don’t really care one way or the other what happens, but there is a little tidbit in the latest discussion that I find interesting. Jarrett Streebin alerts us to the news that Mark Cuban is pushing hard to create a college football playoff system, which normally wouldn’t be of that much interest to folks around here, except in Cuban’s blog post about the topic, he posts an anonymous email from someone who claims to hold a patent on a football playoff system. Here’s an excerpt from the email that Cuban posted:

My advise is, don’t waste your money. There are three perfected alternatives to the BCS. I own one, a guy with CBS owns another and a guy in Arizona owns the third. By that, I don’t mean the screw-ball ideas you see on the internet, but actual branded properties.

[… a bunch of stuff skipped, some by me, and some by Cuban …]

You should also consider that the playoffs are already owned by someone, as in, the patent for resolving the FBS championship by way of a playoff was issued long ago. It’s called a method patent, so be careful not to infringe it.

Anyway, if you want to know who owns assets in this field, let me know. I can put you in touch with one of my attorneys who can let you know what you’re in for. It’s much more complex that it’s commonly understood to be.

Ownership of a sporting playoff system? Seriously, USPTO? Cuban uses this as an opportunity to point out the ridiculousness of patents and how they’re abused by people “who have no intention of solving a problem or building a business but want to get paid by those that do.” It’s a nice little rant, but no different than what you’ve probably read here on Techdirt a hundred times.

What interested me was this idea that the concept of college football playoffs could be patented. It looks like, from the email, that the guy did not reveal the patent. If anyone knows what it is, please share. I went looking myself, and have found two possibilities — one an issued patent, and another that’s still in the application stage.

The issued patent (6,053,823 — full patent embedded below) is held by Marc Mathews and was issued in 2000. The patent indicates that Mathews lives in Arizona, so he’s likely to be “the third guy” mentioned above. The patent application (application #11/327,584 — full application embedded below) was filed by three guys: Edward Baxter Williams, Tyler James Williams and Edgar Richard Williams Jr., all from New Hampshire. Perhaps one of them emailed Cuban. That patent application is especially odd, as it looks as though the “abstract” is for something entirely different. The application is supposedly for “a flex schedule playoff system” and the claims definitely discuss that — but the abstract appears to be for “a protective fender is provided for use on a pontoon boat.” Not quite who screwed up there, but someone clearly did.

Either way, if you wanted to see how one might go around patenting the concept of a football playoff system, go ahead and dig into the patents. I’m just going to sit back and wonder what the USPTO was thinking when it approved that first one.

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Comments on “College Football Playoffs Patented?!?; Mark Cuban Warned Not To Infringe”

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MrWilson says:

Re: Re:

All people have some crazy. Some rich Americans have just bought up a lot of stock in it.

Me, I pirate my crazy because it’s an infinitely reproducible good and I wouldn’t have paid for it in the first place, so it’s not a lost sale.

Although I’m sure the USPTO has already approved someone’s patent on crazy – probably the Koch brothers…

The Mad Hatter (profile) says:

The USPTO is incompetent

I’ve said this many times. After reading many insane patents that have been granted, that is the conclusion that I’ve reached.

I know a lot of people who work for the Patent Office are offended by my opinion. That’s their problem. If they persist in allowing stupid patents to be issued (like the infamous Dean Drive), they have no right to expect my opinion to change.

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

someone explain what im missing here… the moment you add brackets to any playoff system doesnt it then become prior art based on oh… i dunno… exactly what the NFL NBA and NHL have been doing for the last 50 years?

i do see where they have added in the BCS system but (and here is where i start getting really shaky on IP laws & rules) can you actually create a patent to use something that is wholly owned by someone else?
or, to put it bluntly, how exactly can is it permissible to be granted a patent that is half involving intellectual property that someone owns and half something that the major sports leagues have already been doing for a very long time… im not gettin it…

freestewart (profile) says:

People who are in business (people who actually make and sell stuff) get letters like this all the time from “inventors” who own patents that aren’t much more than expensive wallpaper. Although I’m not a patent attorney, I’m sure that the claims are so ridiculously narrow that the patent is worthless.

Anybody can patent anything so long as the claims are sufficiently narrow, and at some point it becomes a worthless joke of patent. Right off the bat, the fact that it’s a method patent indicates that there is probably no value there. Ironically, the guy who wrote the letter thinks that method is good.

These patents get through because they just can’t find any prior art to side against them, but that doesn’t mean that there valuable. Joke patents are not the biggest problem the patent office has.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know about that… patent trolls are clearly a pretty big problem in a lot of industries today. They put a huge tax on innovation and they don’t contribute anything to any field. And when you let it happen at the small scale – individuals with wacky patents – then you end up with the truly damaging trolls like Intellectual Ventures.

Jimr (profile) says:


First off the USPTO is not there to validate or invalidate any potential patent – that is the job of the courts and lawyers.
The USPTO has just become a registering office so you know who filled the paper work first – that is it!

Implementing the USPTO as just a filling system is significantly cheaper. People are always welcome to contest the patent in court. As you see this off loads the cost of validation of patent away from the USPTO and into the hands of the courts and those who wish to contest them. The cost savings for the USPTO is massive!

Marcus Carab (profile) says:


That’s not entirely true. The USPTO absolutely does evaluate patents before approval, including sending them back for revision and clarification. It also has a system that allows people to request new reviews of patents and potentially invalidate them.

That being said, both systems are broken and overtaxed, so the amount of scrutiny that any given patent receives is surprisingly inconsistent and usually quite minimal. And when it comes to invalidating patents, as far as I know that almost never happens (its prohibitively expensive and difficult for the one requesting the re-review)

Doug Johnson (profile) says:

College Bowls

Please help me get this important message out. . .to Mark Cuban. . .for example. . .


(And Why It?s Getting Worse)

By Douglas daBoone Johnson

Doug Johnson is a screenwriter and author. He welcomes feedback to this article, and hopes that people will pass it on: or 415-290-5322

(Thanks to key sport writers, who chose to remain unmentioned, for helping me write this article.)

Sports Illustrated magazine recently explored the benefits of a college football play-off system, and good points were made. They implied that the issue is about money, however, and I disagree. The general football public needs to understand that the BCS system, and the ranking and bowl games they dictate, are tools for established college football powers. In my opinion, the general college football public needs to grasp this harsh reality, and challenge these saboteurs of the game. Until they do, we will all suffer with the kinds of bowls they?ve given us this year. More so, teams who deserve a shot at the national spotlight will continue to be overlooked by the long-established contingency that uses rankings and the BCS to promote their conferences and their teams.

The game of college football is played by teams who are established as prominent powers, and those who are not. Unfortunately, the established teams and conferences in power are an unfathomably pretentious lot who have learned how to manipulate the system to keep the uneducated college football nations from gaining notoriety or prestige. Worse yet, because they remain three-steps ahead of the field, the situation will go downhill, if that?s at all possible given this year?s disastrous bowl match-ups.

It is hard to fathom the depth of money and power influencing college football. In cities like Eugene, Boise, and Salt Lake, we just don?t have the history of national strength that an Ann Arbor or South Bend regime has. Time and again it has been explained to me that when established college football powers play, entire towns shut down. One of my SEC friends likes to razz me about a high school football game he drove by in Montana.

?There were more people on the field,? he scoffs, ?than there were in the stands.?

His point was clear, ?We (Western schools) don?t take our football seriously enough to garner respect.?

Over the years, the old guard of college football has adapted to allow new powers onto its fickle radar screen. In 1990, for example, ACC power Miami was still considered by some, to be relatively new to the scene. Case in point, Notre Dame fans at my workplace were insulted that Miami was even allowed to play them. What did this upstart school know about football? While the burgeoning ACC had already climbed to power in the minds of ACC people in particular, it wasn?t being acknowledged just yet by the establishment. In fact, if you had the ill form to secretly root against a Michigan or a Notre Dame, you needed to keep it to yourself.

Ultimate power corrupts and the bastions of college football have had it for a long time, and they?ve no intention of letting go. Your average Western football fan needs to understand what they are up against. We are assumed to be babies on the scene?doormats whose sole purpose is to honor and exonerate the established powers. We also fail to understand that alums from major established college football powers will go to any length not just to put their programs in the spotlight, but to manipulate the system to support teams from their conference, their state, and ultimately, established powers from their region. Meanwhile, the harsh reality the established powers have faced in recent years is that college football is a game of passion and energy. Add a purpose to that, (like getting even for being deemed inferior by pompous teams), and you motivate teams like Utah and Boise State enough to topple college football icons like Oklahoma and Alabama.

And yes, while such things have happened, I wasn?t the least bit surprised when I asked a handful of born and raised SEC fanatics if they recalled that Alabama and Utah had played in the Sugar Bowl in 2009. All they remembered was that Florida had played Alabama that year, and that while it was close, Florida had won the national championship. While many a Fighting Ute might be surprised to hear of such selective memory, this, for me, is an example of how the established powers think. We don?t exist. And when we beat them, we still don?t exist. They block it out. Likewise, you?d be hard-pressed to find someone in the BIG 12 who remembers Oklahoma?s record-breaking season being stopped short when Boise State thumped them and Adrian Peterson in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. This fantastic game was considered a fluke and instantly forgotten by established college football powers everywhere.

A protocol from such losses, however, has apparently been set. As I?ve been told, it?s assumed that SEC teams have nothing to gain when playing po-dunk schools, out of conference. If the SEC or other prominent power wins, they were supposed to, but if they lose, it becomes a big deal. The latest method for dealing with threatening upstart teams, is clearly, to make them play each other.

Despite the number of fans and the dramatic enthusiasm within say, a Ute or Bronco Nation, these upstart powers are relatively uninformed. They assume that while the BCS rankings are biased, they are remotely fair. Unfortunately, they couldn?t be more wrong in regard to the want-on manipulation that happens to occur.

I wouldn?t know about the SEC nation, had I not moved to SEC country in 1990. I stepped off the plan and was ordered to pick a side: Seminoles or Gators. From there I was allowed access to the inner circle where a man who?d been in the Gator band was soon prosecuted for writing a five-figure check for the team. Beyond that, the fever for football was incalculable as everyone plotted the teams that should be allowed to play, and the po-dunk schools, as they referred to them, who must be kept out.

In short, I learned that there?s a reason that Utah leap-frogged to number 5 in the BCS polls this year, while SEC teams like LSU and established darlings like Oklahoma leap-frogged to number 1. The BCS rankings, I?m certain, are merely a tool used by established powers to maintain what is. Utah went to number 5 because they were being aligned to play red hot Western teams like Boise State or Stanford. Allowing other patsies to rank would protect their established regimes from these upstarts. In the 2010 Bowl Match-ups, established powerhouses were protected from upstart and consequently, highly-motivated teams, like never before. It was assumed by the established football nations that such lesser teams should not be allowed on the same field as a team that?s worked so hard and done so much for decades or more. So no, BCS rankings are far from random. While the computer favors conferences like the SEC, who were notably weak this year, the BCS rankings are controlled by the old-guard who want only old-guard teams playing each other, particularly in the National Championship. This makes sense to them because they are the toughest conference, they have to play each other, and in their opinion, nobody else should really be considered.

If the established and remarkably united guard were to stop their manipulation at the BCS Bowls, I wouldn?t be terribly concerned. What they do however, is manipulate every single bowl so that their supported and established college powers don?t have to play upstarts, and the result is a series of bowl match-ups that are lame beyond belief, as brothers in the effort to earn respect for their up-and-coming teams are pitted against one another until the public gets the least interesting college bowls imaginable.

Every year a few acceptable match-ups actually happen. They are mathematically unavoidable, to some degree, and this year, due to the uncharacteristic weakness of the SEC and of Eastern powerhouse teams in general, we succeeded in getting one, that?s right, one interesting game: Oregon versus Auburn. There was simply no denying this game after so many SEC teams were raised to the top, and they continued to lose. Had Alabama not lost twice, however, I can assure you that they would be in the National Championship against Auburn, and complain as they might, Duck nation would have been in a lesser bowl.

The other bowl match-ups are boring, by the way, because in a sense, they?ve already happened. Boise State already played and beat Virginia Tech in front of a raucous hometown crowd in weather that was humid enough to cook the rawhide off a horse. And so, because The Hokies were already soiled by a Western upstart wannabe, they have a fire in their belly from a year of razzing from the established powers, so they are a natural to throw at Stanford. Also, Virginia Tech is on a red hot 9-game run as well, so the timing?s good to correct the score against a relative newbie. A similar situation exists with Wisconsin. While they?ve been renting condos in South Florida for recruiting and building their program for decades, they still have little respect on the national scene. So tweak the BCS rankings and throw them into an eternal pit of obscurity by matching them up against fellow upstart TCU in a game that nobody will remember.

Again, the public believes that these bowls are somewhat random, but they fail to consider that in every case, bowl match-up?s are in part, a result of the BCS rankings, which are a chess game being played by established football powers to keep the established regimes on top, and to keep upstarts away from their established college football darlings.

More on this year?s manipulated and orchestrated bowl match-up?s:

Utah vs. Boise State: Utah has the top bowl win-streak in the country at 9, and the established college powers are ready to see this thorn in their side disappear. Neither team will want to be on the field against one another, playing their brother in the battle for college football respect. Passes will be dropped, motivation will be low, but Boise State will win.

Arizona vs. Oklahoma State: Arizona has lost four straight games. Oklahoma State has long been the red-headed step-child of the Big 12, and will be sent to the PAC 12 next year. So send them after Arizona, and make the PAC 10 look bad without risking a team that the established powers care about.

Missouri vs. Louiville: A patsy has been found to assure an SEC win.

Tennessee vs. North Carolina: Again, this one?s about manufacturing an SEC win and improving their paltry bowl record over the past few years.

Georgia vs. University of Central Florida: UCF is the most overrated 10 win team in the country. Again, this is a hand-picked SEC moral booster to improve their plummeting bowl standings.

FSU vs. South Carolina: Why keep these two SEC teams off the chopping block? Because they?d lose against any top twenty team dying to challenge the pretentious SEC stigma as the vastly superior college football conference.

Florida vs. Penn State, Miami vs. Notre Dame, Michigan State vs. Alabama, Arkansas vs. Ohio State, Pittsburgh vs. SEC darling Kentucky, LSU vs. Texas A& M, all hand-picked match-ups between established regimes that nobody West of the Mississippi, or anywhere, could possibly care about.

U-Conn vs. Oklahoma: U-Conn survived a 3-way tie and became the surprise shoe-in for their first bowl in school history. Pitt them against Oklahoma, who will blow them out, and they?ll never be heard from again.

Nevada vs. Boston College: The perfect BCS pick for upstart Nevada is fellow wannabe team Boston College. Boston College has a reputation as a giant killer in bowl games and yet, nobody really cares about them in the East. (BC is the last team to beat Boise State in a bowl, and thus, they are proven.)

Finally, in an effort to further taint the burgeoning PAC 10 bowl record of recent years, Washington Huskies vs. Nebraska: Nebraska obviously has Washington?s number, as it beat them by 40 points earlier this year. The SEC wants badly to see a replay of the Washington Huskies, a team from the PAC 10?an upstart conference they are sick of hearing about, take another certain beating.

Again, nobody has the slightest interest in any of these games, and we all lose. There is no conference rivalry, no unestablished teams looking to gain respect against established teams. Established teams are pit against each other and, that?s right, there?s nothing to lose in terms of prestige for teams or conferences. Would all of these established powers be blown out by a hungry team like Boise State? I think they would. Is it going to happen? Not until we get a college play-off.

A final note to the old guard of football: It?s convenient to make claims of greatness for your teams and conferences, and keep the computer on your side, when you won?t pursue bowl bids against allegedly inferior teams come bowl time. The obvious result is that nothing gets proven or disproven, and the college football hungry public doesn?t get to see the games they are dying to see. That said, during the 2011 season, be a sport, please? And if you continue in the fashion you have, I can assure you, your toys will be taken away.

Anonymous Coward says:

I highly doubt if this patent would hold up if anyone challenged it in court. I wouldn’t worry about it for one second, and I’m a patent lawyer. It would either fail under the machine or transformation test (i.e., it is not patentable subject matter because it is an abstract idea and nothing more) or due to prior art (i.e., the invention is not new).

Patent Guy says:

Re: More on 6053823

The issued patent does include something that may be novel with respect to tournament selection. There teams enter the tournament based on a combination of coaches and writers polls in addition to an “objective poll.”

Any selection method that eliminated the subjective polls would not violate this patent.

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