A patent on SaaS digital signage? (updated)

UPDATE: I got a note back from Mike Strand providing some background …

Yes, lots of years and dollars to get the patent through. It is actually my first completed patent, so I’m kind-of new to all this and all the benefits.

Yes, the patent is really quite broad which is quite amazing to have it through – and as you described. Another key component is that portion where the server actually does a lot of the decision work based on broad inputs from the user (a top level concept is providing weather based on a zip code input).

Almost 5 years ago when I applied for the patent, we were one of the few SAAS providers and I have always believed in the technology (even though SAAS was seen as a disadvantage back then). Also, patents are an asset for the business.

Again, being new to patents, I am not sure of all the avenues that are available to us. Obviously licensing arrangements are beneficial to everyone involved. Reviewing competitive products to determine infringement is also an option. We also have plans relating to future products and features which the patent has provisions for. Unfortunately details of our plans, as I am sure you can understand, must remain confidential.

Initial post …

I sent a note yesterday morning right to Mike Strand at mikestrand.com, but got no love back.

I was politely asking what his very broad US patent, covering SaaS digital signage, he’d just got approval on was all about and how he would be using it. This was based on a press release that came about saying Strand, and not his company StrandVision, had won Patent #7,685,259, for “Locally responsive kiosk signage from on-line source.”

The patent covers displayed content of digital signage at distant locations that is at least partially controlled by a processor and database at a central location. The processing system collects, samples and evaluates general information to determine what specific information should be displayed on local signage.

This technology enables StrandVision to deliver its highly scalable and flexible Internet-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) digital signage service to viewers around the world. Customers are able to easily and efficiently direct specific, localized content to a digital signage display or group of displays using StrandVision’s Administrator Console. The system also provides for additional signage content to be selected by the server based on general parameters setup by the user.

THIS is the interesting part:

StrandVision is licensing the patented technology to providers of distributed digital signage services. Interested parties should contact StrandVision at 715-235-7446.

I actually downloaded and read, albeit quickly, the patent. As far as I can tell it is for a method to take in external data feeds and parse them at a central server, allocate and distribute the appropriate bits of those feeds based on local parameters set up by clients. The feeds are pushed out, as far as I can tell.

There will be some particular things in the way this is done that are unique, I’d imagine, but overall this is – to borrow a friend’s term – plain old digital signage stuff that all kinds of SaaS providers do.

From the patent …

What is claimed:

1. A method of providing signage information to a viewable display comprising: a central processor system communicating with multiple information sources; the multiple information sources providing information to the central processor system; the central processor system distinguishing among information according to categories of information received; the central processor forwarding information on a periodic or continuous basis to client processing systems; and the client processing systems providing information to at least one display system for display; wherein the information forwarded is less than all information provided from the multiple information sources and determination of the amount of information and type of information forwarded is determined by at least one software program agreed to by the central processor system and the client processor system; wherein the central processor assigns priority classifications to information received; wherein the priorities are based at least in part upon an evaluation of a relationship of received information to and from a client location.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein the client processor system specifies content of what is displayed.

3. The method of claim 1 wherein information is forwarded on the basis of a priority format established between the central processor system and the client processor system.

4. The method of claim 1 wherein software automatically assists in determining time duration for display of information, frequency of displayed information items and/or space allotment to information items to be displayed.

5. The method of claim 1 wherein prior to providing information to the client processing system, content parameters for the information transmitted are formally agreed to between the central processor and the client processing system and information is provided according to parameters, conditions and/or terms of an agreement implemented in software in the central processor.

6. The method of claim 5 wherein the agreement includes payment for information received, an amount of the payment based upon contract provisions between the central processor and the client processing system.

7. The method of claim 6 wherein the client elects parameters of what is to be displayed on client displays.

8. A system for providing controlled information for display by a client comprising an information communication network allowing transmission of information between processors; multiple information sources that communicate information over the information communication network; a central processor that receives communicated information from the multiple information sources; the central processor having the capability of distributing tasks to other servers within a central processor group; the central processor categorizing received information; the central processor providing categorized information over the network; and a client processor that receives categorized information and displays categorized information that is provided according to parameters established between the central processor system and the client processor system which limits the type and content of information that may be displayed according to software executed in the central processor or the client processor; wherein the central processor assigns priority classifications to information received; wherein the priorities are based at least in part upon an evaluation of a relationship of received information to and from a client location.

9. The system of claim 8 wherein at a single client location there are multiple display systems wherein information from the client processor is uniformly displayed on the multiple display systems.

10. The system of claim 8 wherein at a single client location there are multiple display systems wherein information from the client processor is differentially displayed among the multiple display systems based upon direction effected by the client processor.

11. The system of claim 8 wherein software in the client processor automatically assists in determining time duration for display of information, frequency of displayed information items and/or space allotment to information items to be displayed.

12. The system of claim 9 wherein software in the client processor automatically assists in determining time duration for display of information, frequency of displayed information items and/or space allotment to information items to be displayed.

13. The system of claim 10 wherein software in the client processor automatically assists in determining time duration for display of information, frequency of displayed information items and/or space allotment to information items to be displayed.

14. The system of claim 8 wherein software in the central processor automatically assists in determining time duration for display of information, frequency of displayed information items and/or space allotment to information items to be displayed.

15. The system of claim 9 wherein software in the central processor automatically assists in determining time duration for display of information, frequency of displayed information items and/or space allotment to information items to be displayed.

16. The system of claim 10 wherein software in the central processor automatically assists in determining time duration for display of information, frequency of displayed information items and/or space allotment to information items to be displayed.

So, what to make of this. The stated intention of licensing this suggests Strand plans to have his lawyer contact some of the SaaS providers out there and mention that, ummm, StrandVision has patented some of what you do, but don’t worry, just license it and we won’t sue.

That is, I’ll stress, just what it suggests.

Then there is the counter-argument by Strand himself on his blog.

You can patent just about anything if you pay the money and wait the time. We actually got our first patent almost through (where I can talk about it). We had applied for one with StrandWare, but brady let it fall through because it took so long.

What I have learned about patents….

1) expect to pay over $30k to get it through the process – start to finish. I talked to one president who is over $100k already on his, and it is not even submitted yet.

2) It will take 3 to 5 years to get it through the process. So expect no return until after that.

3) Once you get the patent, it really means nothing unless you pay more money to defend it. (again, the laywers get rich).

4) You can use the patent to get “reasonable” royalties from competitors if you take the right steps.

5) There is always a way around the patent which makes all your legal work to defend or get royalties worthless.

So, if you have a quarter million to throw away towards the goal, the technology wont change too much in 5 years, and the potential return is worth at least that much, go for it. Otherwise, you may want to think a second and third time about it.

Which begs the question, why did you bother, and why did you then announce it, and mention licensing?

Simple email back, Mike, advances the information … (note,in case, you missed, Mike did sent me a follow-up note … see top of article)