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Programmable security system and method for protecting merchandise

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Title: Programmable security system and method for protecting merchandise.
Abstract: A programmable security system and method for protecting an item of merchandise includes a programming station, a programmable key and a security system. The programming station generates a security code and communicates the security code to a memory of the programmable key. The programmable key initially communicates the security code to a memory of the security device and subsequently operates the security device upon a matching of the security code in the memory of the security device with the security code in the memory of the programmable key. The programmable key may also transfer power via electrical contacts or inductive transfer from an internal battery to the security device to operate a lock mechanism. The security code may be communicated by wireless infrared (IR) systems, electrical contacts or inductive transfer. A timer inactivates the programmable key and/or the security device after a predetermine period of time. A counter inactivates the programmable key after a predetermined maximum number of activations. ...


Browse recent Invue Security Products Inc. patents - Charlotte, NC, US
USPTO Applicaton #: #20110254661 - Class: 340 561 (USPTO) - 10/20/11 - Class 340 


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The Patent Description & Claims data below is from USPTO Patent Application 20110254661, Programmable security system and method for protecting merchandise.

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CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 12/770,321, filed on Apr. 29, 2010, which is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 11/639,102, filed on Dec. 14, 2006, and now U.S. Pat. No. 7,737,846, which claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/753,908, filed on Dec. 23, 2005, the entire disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates to security systems and methods for protecting merchandise from theft, and in particular, to a security system and method including a programmable key that is programmed with a security code from a programming station and is subsequently used to program and/or operate an alarm module attached to an item of merchandise.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Retail stores use numerous types of theft deterrent security devices and security systems to discourage shoplifters. Many of these security systems use an alarm module or other security device that is attached to an item of merchandise to be protected. When the integrity of the security system or the item of merchandise protected thereby is compromised in any manner, such as by cutting a cable that attaches the item of merchandise to the alarm module, by removing the merchandise from the alarm module, by removing the alarm module from a fixture or support, or by interrupting a sense loop monitoring one or more sensors, the alarm module causes an audible alarm to be sounded to alert store personnel of a potential theft. The alarm module, as well as the item of merchandise protected thereby, may also contain various electronic article surveillance (EAS) devices that sound an alarm upon passing through a security gate.

These alarm modules or other security devices that are attached to the item of merchandise usually have some type of key, either mechanical, electrical or magnetic, which is used to arm and disarm the alarm associated with the alarm module, and in certain instances, to unlock or remove the item of merchandise from the alarm module to allow the merchandise to be taken to a cashier for purchase or to be taken from the checkout counter after purchase. A known problem with such security systems is that the keys may be stolen from the retail store and used at the same store or at another store using the same type of alarm module or other security device, to enable a shoplifter to disarm the alarm module or to unlock the security device from the merchandise. Keys may also be stolen by a dishonest employee and used by the employee in an unauthorized manner or passed to a shoplifter for use at the same store or at another store having the same type of alarm module or security device controlled by the key. It is extremely difficult to prevent the theft of security system keys by shoplifters or dishonest employees within a retail store due to the large number of keys that must be made available to store personnel in various departments of the store to facilitate use of the numerous alarm modules and other security devices needed to protect the valuable items of merchandise on display in the retail store.

Thus, the need exists for an improved security system and method including an alarm module or other security device for protecting an item of merchandise attached to the alarm module or other security device for display in a retail store. There exists a further and more particular need for a security system and method including a programmable key that is configured to prevent a shoplifter or dishonest store employee from using a key stolen from a retail store to disarm or unlock an alarm module or other security device at the same store or at another store that utilizes the same type of alarm module or other security device.

BRIEF

SUMMARY

OF THE INVENTION

In one aspect, the present invention provides a security system and method for protecting an item of merchandise including a programmable key for arming and disarming an alarm module or other security device attached to the item of merchandise. The key is programmable with a unique security code, referred to herein as a Security Disarm Code (SDC), which code is provided to the key by a programming station. The SDC is unique to a particular retail store, thereby preventing a key from being used at a different retail store than the one from which the key is stolen.

Another aspect of the present invention is to use the SDC programmed into the key by the programming station to program each alarm module or other security device used in that retail store with the same SDC when the alarm module or other security device is first activated. In a preferred embodiment, the SDC then remains with the alarm module throughout its use in that retail store.

Another aspect of the present invention is to provide such a security system and method including a programmable key provided with an internal timer that after a predetermined (i.e. factory set) or preset (i.e. at the retail store) period of time, for example 96 hours, automatically invalidates or inactivates the SDC in the key, thereby preventing its unauthorized use even in the retail store in which the programming station is located and the SDC was initially programmed into the key.

A feature of the present invention is to require the programmable key to be reprogrammed with the SDC by the programming station within a predetermined or preset period of time. In a preferred embodiment, the act of reprogramming the key may be performed only by authorized store personnel, thereby ensuring that the key will only be used by authorized persons and only in the retail store having the programming station and unique SDC for the alarm modules or other security devices in that store.

Another aspect of the present invention is to provide the programmable key with an internal counter that counts the number of activations of an alarm module or other security device performed by the key, for example the initial activation (i.e. arming) of alarm modules or other security devices as well as each time the key is used to disarm or re-arm the alarm module or other security device. In a preferred embodiment, upon a predetermined maximum number of activations occurring the key will become permanently inactivated, thereby ensuring that a useable key always has a sufficient amount of internal power to receive the SDC from the programming station and to subsequently communicate (i.e. transmit and receive data) with the alarm module or other security device to arm and disarm the alarm module or other security device, as required. Furthermore, the internal counter may cause a logic control circuit to activate an indicating signal a predetermined time before the logic control circuit of the key is permanently deactivated upon the predetermined maximum number of activations occurring.

Another aspect of the present invention is to provide various forms of data communication between the various elements of the security system, namely the programming station, programmable key, and the alarm modules or other security devices activated and deactivated by the key. In one preferred embodiment, data (e.g. the SDC) is communicated between the various components of the security system by wireless communication, such as infrared (IR), radio frequency (RF) or similar wireless communication system. In another preferred embodiment, data is communicated between the various components of the security system through electrical contacts. In yet another preferred embodiment, data is communicated between the various components of the security system by induction, for example electromagnetic induction, magnetic induction, electrostatic induction, etc.

Another aspect of the present invention is to provide such a security system and method including a programmable key and an alarm module or other security device configured to actuate an alarm if a key programmed with a different SDC than the alarm module or other security device is used to attempt to disarm the alarm module or other security device.

Another feature of the present invention is that the security system may be configured to retain the SDC in the programming station within a non-volatile memory, thereby enabling the SDC to survive a power interruption.

Another feature of the present invention is that the security system may be configured to enable the programming station to immediately “time-out” the key, thereby preventing subsequent use of the key, upon the programming station reading a SDC stored in the key that does not match the SDC of the programming station.

Another feature of the present invention is that the programming station may be provided with a plurality of visual indicators that are illuminated and/or pulsed to indicate the operational status of the programming station.

Another feature of the present invention is that the a logic control circuit of the alarm module or other security device may include an operational lifetime timer that is preset for a predetermined lifetime to ensure that an internal battery maintains sufficient power for operating the alarm module or other security device, and further, that the alarm module or other security device includes a timer that records the amount of time an alarm is activated by the alarm module or other security device and the logic control circuit automatically reduces the lifetime of the operational lifetime timer. In a preferred embodiment, the logic control circuit automatically disables the alarm module or other security device at the end of the lifetime of the operational lifetime timer.

Another feature the present invention is that the operational lifetime timer of the alarm module or other security device may be configured to activate a near end-of-life signal a predetermined time before the logic control circuit completely disables the alarm module or other security device, thereby enabling store personnel to substitute an alarm module or other security device having a sufficiently charged internal battery.

Another feature of the present invention is that the alarm module or other security device may be provided with a plurality of connection ports for attaching one or more attachment cables extending between the alarm module or other security device and items of merchandise. Each such attachment cable may contain a sense loop that will activate an alarm in the event that the integrity of the sense loop is compromised.

Another feature of the present invention is that the logic control circuit of the programming station may be configured to permanently inactivate the SDC in a programmable key if the SDC programmed in the key does not match the SDC of the programming station when a logic control circuit of the programmable key is in communication with a logic control circuit of the programming station.

Another feature of the present invention is that the programming station may be provided with a plurality of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that indicate various status displays depending upon the condition and state of operation of the programming station.

Another feature of the present invention is that the programming station may be provided with mechanical attachment means for securing it to a supporting structure in a secure location in which the programming station is connected to an external power source, thereby ensuring that power is available to the programming station and avoiding the use of an internal battery.

Another aspect of the present invention is to provide such a security system and method including a programming station for programming a programmable key and an alarm module or other security device each having a light pipe to facilitate the transfer of infrared (IR) wireless communication between the key and the alarm module or other security device. In a preferred embodiment, at least a portion of a housing of the programming station is formed of a material suitable to facilitate the transmission of infrared (IR) waves between the wireless communication systems of the programming station and the key.

Another feature of the present invention is that sense loops extending between the alarm module or other security device and the item of merchandise may be formed of an electrical conductor or fiber optic conductor located within an outer mechanical attachment cable.

The above aspects and features are provided by a security system for protecting an item of merchandise according to the present invention, the general nature of which may be stated as including a programmable key, a programming station for generating a security code in the key and a security device, such as an alarm module, for attachment to an item of merchandise wherein the security device receives the security code from the key to initially activate the security device and to subsequently disarm and re-arm the security device.

The above aspects and features are further provided by a method for protecting an item of merchandise according to the present invention, the general nature of which may be stated as including the steps of attaching a security device, such as an alarm module, to the item of merchandise, programming a programmable key with a security code, programming the security code from the key into the security device, disarming the security device upon verifying that the security code in the alarm module with the security code in the key, and invalidating the security code in the key after a predetermined or preset period of time to prevent subsequent disarming of the security device unless the security code is refreshed in the key within the predetermined or preset period of time.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

One or more exemplary and preferred embodiments of the invention illustrating the best mode presently contemplated for applying its principles is set forth in the following detailed description, is shown in the accompanying drawings and is particularly and distinctly pointed out and set forth in the appended claims.

FIG. 1 is a diagrammatic view showing the components of a security system according to the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a side elevation view of the programming station and the programmable key of the security system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional elevation view of the programming station shown in FIG. 2.

FIG. 4 is a block diagram depicting the logic control circuit of the programming station shown in FIG. 2.

FIG. 5 is a side elevation view of a security device for use with the security system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 6 is a cross-sectional elevation view of the security device shown in FIG. 5.

FIG. 7 is a block diagram depicting the logic control circuit of the security device shown in FIG. 5.

FIG. 8 is a top plan view of the programmable key of the security system shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 9 is a cross-sectional elevation view of the programmable key show in FIG. 8 taken along line 9-9.

FIG. 10 is a block diagram depicting the logic control circuit of the programmable key shown in FIG. 8.

FIGS. 11, 11A and 11B are a flow chart depicting the operation of the logic control circuit of the programmable key shown in FIG. 8.

FIGS. 12, 12A and 12B are a flow chart depicting the operation of the logic control circuit of the programming station shown in FIG. 2.

FIG. 13 is a flow chart depicting the operation of the logic control circuit of the security device shown in FIG. 5.

FIGS. 14-17 are diagrammatic views of other security devices for use with the security system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 18 is a diagrammatic view showing the components of another security system according to the present invention.

FIG. 19 is a diagrammatic view showing the programmable electronic key positioned on the programming station of the security system of FIG. 18 to be programmed with a security code.

FIG. 20 is a diagrammatic view of a merchandise security device for use with the security system of FIG. 18.

FIG. 21 is a diagrammatic view showing the programmable electronic key positioned on the charging station of the security system of FIG. 18 to recharge the internal battery of the key.

FIGS. 22 and 22A are top plan and diagrammatic sectional views, respectively, of the charging station of the security system of FIG. 18.

FIG. 23 is a diagrammatic sectional view of the programmable electronic key of the security system of FIG. 18.

FIG. 24 is a diagrammatic sectional view of the programmable electronic key of the security system of FIG. 18.

FIG. 25 is a diagrammatic view of a programmable electronic key with inductive transfer for use with a security system according to the invention.

FIG. 26 is another diagrammatic view of the programmable electronic key with inductive transfer of FIG. 25.

FIG. 27 is a diagrammatic sectional view of the programmable electronic key with inductive transfer of FIG. 25.

FIG. 28 and FIG. 28A are top plan and diagrammatic sectional views, respectively, of a charging station for use with the programmable electronic key with inductive transfer of FIG. 25.

Similar reference numbers and characters refer to like or similar parts throughout the various drawings.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

OF EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

An exemplary and preferred embodiment of a security system according to the present invention is shown in FIG. 1 and indicated generally at 1. Security system 1 includes three primary components, a programming station 3, a programmable key 5 and an alarm module 7 adapted to be attached to an item of merchandise 9 by an attachment device, such as a cable 11 that preferably contains a sense loop 13.

Programming station 3 preferably is of the type shown and described in greater detail in related U.S. Pat. No. 7,737,844, filed on Dec. 14, 2006, and entitled PROGRAMMING STATION FOR A SECURITY SYSTEM FOR PROTECTING MERCHANDISE, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference. Programming station 3 is further shown in FIGS. 2-4 and includes a housing 15 formed by an internal housing shell 16 preferably having at least a portion thereof formed of an infrared clear plastic material to facilitate the transfer of infrared wireless communication waves, as discussed further below. Housing 15 comprises a top cover plate 14 that is preferably snap-fit onto housing shell 16 and a printed circuit board 17 containing a logic control circuit 18 disposed thereon. Logic control circuit 18 is shown in block diagram form in FIG. 4.

Logic control circuit 18 includes a main controller 19, which preferably is a microprocessor, a communication circuit 20 and a security code memory 21 communicating with controller 19. The security code memory 21 stores a security code, also referred to herein as a Security Disarm Code or SDC. A status display 22 consisting of three LEDs 24 (FIG. 3), as shown herein, is also a part of logic control circuit 18 and provides a visual indication of the status of logic control circuit 18 of programming station 3 during and after use of the programming station for programming the SDC into a programmable key 5. Housing shell 16 is secured to a base 12 by fasteners 25. In turn, base 12 may be secured to a supporting structure, or support 26, such as a countertop or shelf, by fasteners 27. Alternatively, base 12 may be secured to the support 26 by a double-sided pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA). Communication circuit 20, and in particular the transmission and receive components thereof, are aligned with a key receiving port 29 formed in housing shell 16, which port is adapted to receive the programmable key 5 therein, as shown in FIG. 2. In a preferred embodiment, communication circuit 20 and the various components thereof formed on circuit board 17, define a wireless communication system. As shown and described with respect to the security system of FIG. 1, the wireless communication system is an infrared (IR) system, although radio frequency (RF) or other types of wireless communications could also be utilized. As will be described hereafter, other types of communication systems, including for example, electrical conduction and magnetic induction may also be utilized.

A key-actuated tumbler switch 31 is mounted in housing 15 and is controlled by a mechanical activation key 33 for activating the logic control circuit 18 within programming station 3 for programming a programmable key 5 with the SDC as discussed further below. The particular circuitry of logic control circuit 18 is shown in further detail in the U.S. Pat. No. 7,737,844 referenced above, but could be other types of circuitry than that shown therein that are readily known to those skilled in the art for obtaining the features and results of the programming station 3, as discussed further below.

Programming station 3 preferably is powered by an external power supply such as a usual 120 volt electrical outlet readily found in a typical retail store. Preferably, programming station 3 will be secured to support 26 in a secure location, such as inside the store manager\'s office or similar location with restricted access. Likewise, activation key 33 will be kept in the possession of the store manager or other authorized person to prevent the unauthorized use of programming station 3.

Alarm module 7, shown particularly in FIGS. 5-7 is one type of security device suitable for use with a security system according to the present invention. Alarm module 7 is of the type shown and described in greater detail in related U.S. Pat. No. 7,737,843 filed on Dec. 14, 2006, and entitled PROGRAMMABLE ALARM MODULE AND SYSTEM FOR PROTECTING MERCHANDISE, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference. Alarm module 7 includes a housing 35 preferably formed of a plastic material comprising a top cover plate 36 that is snap-fit onto a top housing member 37, which in turn is secured to a bottom housing member 38 by a plurality of fasteners 39. Posts 40 extending between a base 41 and bottom housing member 38 provide an open sound space 42 therebetween, as best shown in FIG. 6.

An internal battery 44 is mounted in the interior of housing 35 and provides a source of power to a logic control circuit, shown diagrammatically in FIG. 7 and indicated generally at 46, that is formed on a printed circuit board 48 (FIG. 6) mounted within housing 35. Logic control circuit 46 includes a main controller 49 and a communication circuit 50. In a preferred embodiment, communication circuit 50 defines a wireless communication circuit, and more preferably, is an infrared (IR) system so as to be compatible with the infrared (IR) system of programming station 3 discussed above. Logic control circuit 46 furthermore includes an audible alarm 51, such as a piezoelectric alarm, mounted within housing 35 that communicates directly with sound space 42, as shown in FIG. 6. Logic control circuit 46 further includes a security code (i.e. SDC) memory 53, an EAS detector circuit 54, and one or more sense loops 13. A plunger switch 57 preferably is mounted within bottom housing member 38 and includes a plunger 58 that engages supporting structure, or support 59 on which alarm module 7 is mounted. As previously mentioned with respect to programming station 3, alarm module 7 may be secured to support 59 with one or more attachment screws (not shown), or alternatively, by a double-sided pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA). Plunger switch 57 will activate alarm 51 if the alarm module 7 is removed from support 59 in an unauthorized manner. An LED 61 is connected to logic control circuit 46 and extends through openings formed in top housing member 37 and cover plate 36 to provide a visual indication of the status the logic control circuit 46 of alarm module 7.

One or more connection jacks 63 (FIG. 5) are formed in alarm module 7 for connecting an attachment cable 11 to alarm module 7. Cable 11 preferably contains at least one sense loop 13 comprising electrical conductors, fiber optic conductors or the like. As shown in FIG. 1, cable 11 extends between alarm module 7 and an item of merchandise 9 to be protected by the security system 1. Each sense loop 13 is operably connected to controller 49 of logic control circuit 46 so that should the integrity of the cable 11 or sense loop 13 be compromised, such as by cutting of the cable 11, or by pulling the cable 11 loose from alarm module 7 or from merchandise 9, or by removing the cable 11 from the connection jack 63 on alarm module 7, controller 49 will activate audible alarm 51 and/or cause LED 61 to emit a predetermined flashing pattern. If desired, cable 11 could be connected to a tensioned recoiler located within alarm module 7 without affecting the broad concept and intended scope of the invention. Alternatively, cable 11 could be a helical coil cable that is inherently extensible and retractable. Regardless, the primary objective is that the one or more conductors of the sense loop 13 are electrically, optically or otherwise connected between controller 49 and the item of merchandise 9.

A key receiving port 65 is formed through top cover plate 36 and top housing member 37 of housing 35 adjacent a light pipe 67 to enhance the transmission of wireless communication signals, such as infrared (IR) signals, when a programmable key 5 is placed in key receiving port 65 and aligned with the transmitter and receiver, or transceiver 69 mounted on printed circuit board 48 below the port 65, as shown in FIG. 6. Light pipe 67 facilitates the transmission of infrared (IR) waves between programmable key 5, as discussed further hereinafter, and transceiver 69 of communication circuit 50. Further details regarding the manner of operation of alarm module 7 are shown and described in the U.S. Pat. No. 7,737,843 referenced above. It will be readily understood by those skilled in the art that other types of communication circuits than shown therein and shown herein in FIG. 7 could be utilized to achieve the objectives and features of alarm module 7 without affecting the broad concept and intended scope of the invention.

A programmable key 5 for use with security system 1 is shown in detail in FIGS. 8-10. Key 5 includes a housing 71 formed by upper and lower housing members 72 and 73, respectively, that are joined together to form a hollow interior 74 in which is mounted an internal battery 75 and a printed circuit board 76 containing a logic control circuit shown in block diagram form in FIGS. 10 and indicated generally at 77. As shown in FIG. 10, logic control circuit 77 will include a communication circuit 79. In a preferred embodiment, communication circuit 79 is a wireless communication circuit, and more preferably, is an infrared (IR) system so as to be compatible with the infrared (IR) wireless communication circuits of the programming station 3 and the alarm module 7 previously described. A central controller 80, for example a microprocessor, controls the communication circuit 79, a security code (i.e. SDC) memory 81, an internal timer 82 and an activation counter 83. Logic control circuit 77 is energized by an activation switch 85 which is mounted on circuit board 76 and located beneath a flexible member 87 mounted in upper housing member 72. When flexible member 87 is depressed in the direction indicated by Arrow A in FIG. 9, activation switch 85 actuates the controller 80 of logic control circuit 77.

A light pipe 89 preferably is mounted in upper housing member 72 in alignment with an LED 90 mounted on printed circuit board 76. LED 90 provides a visual indication to a user of the status and activation of programmable key 5, as discussed further hereinafter. An optically transparent lens 91 is mounted in an opening 92 of a transfer end 93 of housing 71. Lens 91 preferably is a visible light filter to enhance the transmission and reception of infrared (IR) waves when the key 5 interacts with programming station 3 and alarm module 7, as will be described hereinafter. The circuitry and components of a logic control circuit 77 of one type of programmable key 5 suitable for use with a security system 1 according to the present invention are shown and described in greater detail in related U.S. Pat. No. 7,737,845 filed on Dec. 14, 2006, and entitled PROGRAMMABLE KEY FOR A SECURITY SYSTEM FOR PROTECTING MERCHANDISE, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference. However, it will be readily understood by those skilled in the art that other circuitry and components can be utilized to achieve the objectives and features of programmable key 5 than shown and discussed therein without affecting the broad concept and intended scope of the invention.

FIG. 1 best illustrates an exemplary and preferred system and method of the present invention. Programming station 3 is actuated by mechanical activation key 33 being placed in key opening 95 and turned to the “on” position to energize the programming station. Programmable key 5 is placed in key receiving port 29 and activation switch 85 is actuated by depressing flexible member 87. Actuation of activation switch 85 causes logic control circuit 18 of programming station 3 to randomly generate a unique security code (i.e. SDC) that is transmitted via communication circuit 20 to communication circuit 79 of programmable key 5, which in turn stores the randomly generated SDC in security code (SDC) memory 81 of the key. One or more of the LEDs 24 of programming station 3 and LED 90 of programmable key 5 (visible through light pipe 89) illuminate or flash to indicate that programming station 3 is activated and operating satisfactorily, and that the SDC has been transmitted to programmable key 5 and successfully stored in SDC memory 81.

In accordance with one of the objectives and features of the present invention, the SDC initially provided by programming station 3 is randomly generated and is unique to that programming station and always remains with that programming station for subsequent use. Thus, the SDC initially generated always stays with the programming station 3 and is subsequently programmed into one or more programmable keys 5. Once programmed with the SDC, key 5 is taken to one or more alarm modules 7 (or other security devices) and key end 93 is inserted into key receiving port 65, as shown in FIG. 5. Activation switch 85 of key 5 is then actuated, thereby programming the SDC via the communication circuit 50 of alarm module 7 and communication circuit 79 of key 5 into security code (SDC) memory 53 of the logic control circuit 46 of the alarm module 7. SDC memory 53 permanently stores the randomly generated SDC in the alarm module 7, preferably for the remaining lifetime of the alarm module. Upon actuation of activation switch 85, LED 90 of programmable key 5 and LED 61 of alarm module 7 flash in a predetermined pattern to indicate that a successful programming of the alarm module with the SDC has occurred.

In accordance with another of the objective and features of the present invention, when the SDC is stored in SDC memory 81, controller 80 of key 5 actuates a timer 82 for a predetermined time period, for example 96 hours. At the end of this time period, controller 80 automatically invalidates use of the SDC in SDC memory 81 by logic control circuit 77 to thereby render the key inoperative for use with alarm module 7. For example, controller 80 of logic control circuit 77 may prevent communication circuit 79 from transmitting the SDC from SDC memory 81. Alternatively, the SDC may be erased from SDC memory 81 so that it is no longer available for use with alarm module 7. Regardless, in this manner a programmable key 5 stolen by a thief or dishonest employee cannot be used to after passage of the predetermined time period to disarm an alarm module 7 in the same store from which the key was stolen. Furthermore, since the SDC in the programmable key 5 is unique to the particular programming station 3 of the retail store that was used to program the key with the SDC, that key cannot be taken to another retail store having the same type of alarm module 7 and used during the predetermined time period to disarm that alarm module. The programmable key 5 will not function with the alarm module 7 in the other retail store since that alarm module will have been programmed with a different SDC randomly generated by a different programming station 3. Thus, programmable key 5 overcomes one of the primary disadvantages of current merchandise security systems that use various types of keys since those keys can always be used at other retail stores having similar types of security devices, whether the key is a mechanically, electronically or magnetically actuated type of key.

A programmable key 5 according to present invention can only be used for a relatively short predetermined period of time by a thief or a dishonest employee, and only in the same retail store from which the key was stolen. The predetermined time period can be preset during manufacture, or alternatively, adjusted after manufacture to any desired time period, for example 24 hours, 36 hours, etc. without affecting the broad concept and intended scope of the invention. The 96 hour time period of the preferred embodiment shown and described herein has been found to be a time period that provides sufficient security without the SDC in the programmable key 5 having to be reprogrammed, or as also used herein “refreshed,” often. However, security concerns in a particular retail store may require the programmable key 5 to time-out and have to be refreshed after each shift of a store employee, for example after only 8 hours. Again, the transmission of the SDC between programming station 3 and programmable key 5, and subsequently between the key and alarm module 7, is by wireless communication in the preferred embodiment of the security system 1 and associated method shown and described in FIGS. 1-10, and preferably, programming station 3, programmable key 5 and alarm module 7 each utilize a compatible infrared (IR) system for communicating the SDC and other data necessary for operation of the security system 1,

Counter 83 of the logic control circuit 77 of programmable key 5 counts each time that activation switch 85 is actuated whether when being programmed (or refreshed) with the SDC from programming station 3 or when arming or disarming an alarm module 7. After a predetermined maximum number of activations of activation switch 85, counter 83 will cause logic control circuit 77 to invalidate use of the SDC in SDC memory 81, thereby rendering key 5 inoperative for further use with alarm module 7. For example, controller 80 of logic control circuit 77 may prevent communication circuit 79 from transmitting the SDC from SDC memory 81. Alternatively, the SDC may be erased from SDC memory 81 so that it is no longer available for use with alarm module 7. Regardless, invalidating use of the SDC ensures that the internal battery 75 always has a sufficient charge remaining for transmission of the SDC between the programmable key 5 and the programming station 3, or alternatively, between the key and the alarm module 7.

In order to disarm alarm module 7, a programmable key 5 programmed with a valid SDC that is still within the active predetermined time period is placed into the key receiving port 65 of the alarm module, as shown in FIG. 5, and activation switch 85 is energized by depressing the flexible member 87 on the key. Communication circuit 50 of alarm module 7 and communication circuit 79 of programmable key 5 communicate with one another to deactivate alarm 51, thereby enabling cable 11 and any associated sensor to be removed from an item of merchandise 9 for sale of the merchandise to a customer, or enabling cable 11 to be removed from the connection jack 63 of the alarm module for attaching a new or different type of merchandise to the alarm module. The programmable key 5 may then be used to re-arm the alarm module 7 by again presenting the key to the key receiving port 65 on the alarm module and depressing the flexible member 87 to energize the activation switch 85. Again, key LED 90 and alarm module LED 61 will flash in a predetermined pattern to indicate that disarming has occurred and then subsequently that arming has reoccurred. As previously mentioned, in order to disarm and re-arm alarm module 7, the SDC memory 53 of the alarm module must read the same SDC that was randomly generated by the programming station 3 and programmed into the programmable key 5 and subsequently provided by the key to the alarm module. If a SDC is sensed by alarm module 7 that is different than the one stored in SDC memory 53, controller 49 of alarm module 7 will sound alarm 51 to indicate that an invalid programmable key 5 has been used. Likewise, if the SDC has been invalidated or erased from the programmable key 5 by timer 82, the key will not operate to disarm the alarm module 7 and alarm module LED 61 will flash in a predetermined pattern to indicate that disarming has not occurred and that an invalid or uuencoded programmable key 5 is being used. Likewise, an invalid or uuencoded key 5 cannot be used to arm the alarm module 7.

As best shown in FIG. 6, the formation of sound space 42 and its direct communication with audible alarm 51 will provide a greater dB level for the same size alarm than that which occurs in an alarm module 7 wherein the audible alarm is mounted entirely within the housing 35 of the alarm module. Alarm module 7, and in particular logic control circuit 46, contains a lifetime or end of life (EOL) timer 97 that is actuated when alarm module 7 is first energized. The EOL timer 97 is preset at the factory for a specific time period, for example between about three and about five years, depending upon the particular size of internal battery 44 provided with the alarm module 7. At the end of the lifetime time period, control logic circuit 46 will deactivate alarm module 7 to prevent it from being subsequently armed with a SDC. In this manner, the internal battery 44 is certain to have sufficient power throughout the useful lifetime of the alarm module 7. Furthermore, the logic control circuit 46 of the alarm module 7 is provided with a counter 98 that records the length of time that alarm 51 is actuated since activating the alarm results in additional drain to the charge of the internal battery 44. The alarm time is then subtracted from the EOL time period according to a predetermined calibration formula. In this manner the internal battery 44 is certain to have sufficient power to satisfactorily operate alarm module 7 even though the alarm 51 has been used.

A near end-of-life (NEOF) feature is also provided in logic control circuit 46 that will again provide a visual signal, such as a predetermined flashing pattern of LED 61 and/or a non-alarming sound from alarm 51, when the EOL time period is approaching, for example five days before the EOL timer 97 completely inactivates operation of the alarm module 7.

Further details of the operation of logic control circuit 77 of programmable key 5 are shown in flow chart form in FIGS. 11, 11A and 11B. FIGS. 12, 12A and 12B shows in flow chart form additional details of the manner and method of operation of the logic control circuit 18 of programming station 3. FIG. 13 illustrates in flow chart form the manner of operation of the logic control circuit 46 of alarm module 7. The sequence of events and actions taken by the various components shown in the flow charts the aforementioned figures will be readily understood and appreciated by those skilled in the art, and thus, are not explained in greater detail herein.

FIGS. 14-17 show examples of other types of security devices that could be used in a security system and method according to the present invention. FIG. 14 shows a product display security device indicated generally at 100 for displaying and protecting an item of merchandise 101 attached to a cable 102 containing a sense loop. A key receiving port 103 is formed in the housing 104 of the security device 100. When a programmable key 5 of the type previously described is inserted into key receiving port 103, the security device 100 is initially programmed with the SDC from the key and armed so that the key is available to subsequently disarm the security device. FIG. 15 shows a garment tag security device 105 formed with a key receiving port 106 that is used with a programmable key 5 of the type previously described to deactivate the security tag and thereby enable a pin alarm 107 to be removed from an attached garment 108. FIG. 16 shows a cable alarm security device 109 connected about an item of merchandise 110 by a cable 111 containing a sense loop. A key receiving port 112 is formed in the security device 109 to deactivate a lock mechanism (not shown) retaining the cable 111 to thereby enable the security device to be removed from the item of merchandise 110 being protected. Still another type of security device, indicated generally at 115, is shown in FIG. 17. Security device 115 includes a plurality of cables 116 that extend around an item 117 to be protected. It will be readily understood and apparent to those skilled in the art that cables 116 preferably contain sense loops and are tightened about package 117 by a ratchet or similar tightening mechanism 118. A key receiving port 119 is provided in a housing 120 that contains a logic control circuit (not shown) mounted therein with the tightening mechanism 118. FIGS. 14-17 merely show other examples of how a security system of the present invention and its method of operation can be utilized, and further, that the security device for use with the security system need not be limited to the particular alarm module 7 shown and described herein.

In summary, a security system and method according to the present invention can be configured for use in, for example, retail stores. The security system and method utilizes a programmable key as a primary component that even if stolen, cannot be used in the same retail store from which it was stolen after a predetermined time period to disarm an alarm module or other security device. Furthermore, the programmable key cannot be used in another retail store having the same type of security system to disarm an alarm module or other security device since it is programmed with a randomly generated SDC unique to that particular retail store, and the SDC is initially randomly generated by a programming station used only by that particular retail store. The programmable key includes an internal timer that will deactivate a key with a valid SDC after a predetermined time period, thereby rendering the key inoperative after the time period even in the same retail store in which the key was programmed. The programmable key must be returned to the same programming station, which can be maintained in a secure location, to enable an authorized person to reprogram or refresh the SDC into the key for subsequent use with the alarm modules or other security devices within the retail store that have been programmed from a programmable key that was previously programmed by the programming station with the unique SDC for that retail store. The programming station, programmable key and alarm module or other security device may each have various types of visual indicators and/or alarms for advising an authorized person of the status of these components and that will alert store personnel if an item of merchandise and/or the alarm module are tampered with. Furthermore, the programming station will deactivate a SDC stored in the SDC memory of a key if an incorrect SDC is encountered when the programming station is attempting to reprogram or refresh the key. Also, the alarm module or other security device will sound an alarm if a programmable key containing an incorrect SDC is attempted to be used with the alarm module. In addition to these features, each of the individual components may have various timing circuits, control circuits and visual indicating circuits all of which are part of the internal logic control circuits contained in the components, as shown and described in further detail in the aforementioned United States patents, the entire disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference.

Another feature that may be incorporated into the present invention is the use of a “master” key and “employee” key(s) in order to provide an additional layer of security to the security system of a particular retail store. In this dual key system, the random number generator contained in the logic control circuit of the programming station will only generate the security code (i.e. SDC) when the master key is presented to the station and a limited access switch is activated. The master key can then be used to program the SDC into the desired alarm modules and other security devices in addition to the employee key(s) that are subsequently programmed with the SDC by the programming station after the SDC is generated using the master key.

Use of the master key enables an authorized person to change the SDC of the programming station that is subsequently used by the employee key(s) to arm and disarm the alarm modules and other security devices throughout the retail store for any reason, including for example, if the original SDC is compromised. Should a new SDC be generated by the master key and then reprogrammed into the employee key(s), the logic control circuit of the alarm module or other security device will be provided with a means of recognizing both the old and the new SDC of a key when there is communication therebetween. In this manner, the alarm module or other security device is able to accept the new SDC to disarm the alarm module or other security device without activating the alarm, which would occur as described above when the logic control circuit identifies the use of a key programmed with an incorrect SDC.

The dual key system would increase the complexity of the logic control circuits in the programming station, programmable key(s) and alarm modules or other security devices, but would provide an additional layer of security should a retail store desire the increased level of security afforded by the ability to change the SDC. However, any of the embodiments of the security system and method described herein are believed to provide adequate security for protecting items of merchandise using only the programmable key.

Although the above description refers to the security code being a Security Disarm Code (SDC), it will be readily understood, appreciated and apparent to those skilled in the art that the security code can also be used to activate and control other functions and features of a security device, including for example without limitation, arming the security device (as mentioned above), unlocking the merchandise from the security device, shutting-off an alarm, providing other or additional commands to the security device, or transferring other or additional data to the security device, without departing from the broad concept and intended scope of the invention. Likewise, the components of the logic control circuits depicted in the block diagrams and flow charts of the accompanying drawings can easily be modified by one skilled in the art to achieve the same objectives, features or results. Also, the security code can be preset in the programming station at the factory or determined by an authorized person at the retail store, and if desired, can be changed thereafter by the authorized person without affecting the broad concept and intended scope of the invention.

FIG. 18 shows another exemplary and preferred embodiment of a security system, indicated generally at 200, according to the present invention. Merchandise display security system 200 includes four primary components, a programming station indicated generally at 203, a programmable electronic key, indicated generally at 205, a merchandise security device, indicated generally at 207, that is operated by the key and an optional charging station, indicated generally at 208. Merchandise security devices 207 suitable for use with a security system and method according to the present invention include, but are not limited to, a security display (e.g. alarm module or display stand), a security fixture (e.g. hook, shelf, cabinet) and security packaging for an item of merchandise. The programmable electronic key 205 described herein is useable with any security device or locking device that utilizes power transferred from the key to operate an electronic lock mechanism, or alternatively, utilizes data transferred from the key (or transferred from the device to the key) to authorize the operation of a lock mechanism along with power transferred from the key to operate the lock mechanism. In other words, the programmable electronic key 205 is useable with any security device or locking device that requires power transfer from the key to the device, or alternatively, data transfer between the key and the device and power transfer from the key to the device.

The programming station 203 of the security system 200 is operable for programming the programmable electronic key 205 with a security code or Security Disarm Code (SDC), as previously described. The optional charging station 208 is operable for initially charging and/or subsequently recharging an internal power source disposed within the programmable electronic key 205. For example, key 205 and merchandise security device 207 may each be programmed with the same SDC into a respective permanent SDC memory. The programmable electronic key 205 may be provisioned with a single-use (i.e. non-rechargeable) power source, such as a conventional or extended-life internal battery. Preferably, however, the key 205 is provisioned with a multiple-use (i.e. rechargeable) power source, such as a conventional capacitor or rechargeable internal battery. In either instance, the internal power source may be permanent, semi-permanent (i.e. replaceable), or rechargeable, as desired. In the latter instance, charging station 208 is provided to initially charge and/or to subsequently recharge the power source provided within the programmable electronic key 205. Furthermore, the key 205 and/or the merchandise security device 207 may be provided with only a transient memory, such that the SDC must be programmed (or reprogrammed) at predetermined time intervals. In this instance, programming station 203 is provided to initially program and/or to subsequently reprogram the SDC into key 205. As previously described with respect to programmable key 5, the key 205 is operable to initially program and/or to subsequently reprogram the merchandise security device 207 with the SDC. The key 205 is further operable to operate the merchandise security device 207 by transferring power, by transferring data or, as described herein, by transferring both data and power to the merchandise security device.

As illustrated in FIG. 18 and shown enlarged in FIG. 19, the programmable electronic key 205 is presented to the programming station 203 and communication therebetween is initiated, for example by depressing a flexible member, such as a control button, 287 provided on the exterior of the key. In this exemplary and preferred embodiment, communication between the programming station 203 and the key 205 is accomplished directly by one or more electrical contacts, or alternatively, indirectly by wireless communication, as previously described with respect to programmable key 5. Any form of wireless communication capable of transferring data between the programming station 203 and key 205 is possible, including without limitation optical transmission, acoustic transmission or magnetic induction. Preferably, data communication between the programming station 203 and the programmable electronic key 205 is accomplished by wireless optical transmission, and more particularly, by infrared (IR) transceivers provided in the programming station and the key, as previously described herein and described in greater detail in the aforementioned U.S. Pat. No. 7,737,844 and U.S. Pat. No. 7,737,845. Accordingly, further details of the infrared (IR) system for wireless data communication will not be repeated. For the purpose of describing this embodiment of the present invention, it is sufficient that the programming station 203 comprises a logic control circuit including at least a controller for generating a SDC, a SDC memory for storing the SDC, and a suitable wireless communication circuit for interfacing with the programmable electronic key 205 in the manner described herein.

As best shown in FIG. 19, programming station 203 comprises a housing 215 configured to contain the logic control circuit that generates the SDC, the SDC memory that stores the SDC, and the optical transceiver for wirelessly communicating the SDC to a corresponding optical transceiver disposed within the key 205. In use, the logic control circuit generates the SDC, which may be a predetermined (i.e. “factory preset”) security code, but preferably is a random security code generated by the logic control circuit of the programming station 203 at the time a first programmable electronic key 205 is presented to the programming station for programming. In the latter instance, the logic control circuit further comprises an electronic random number generator for producing a unique SDC. A series of visual indicators, for example light-emitting diodes (LEDs) 224 may be provided on the exterior of the housing 215 for indicating the status of the programming station. Programming station 203 may further be provided with a lock mechanism, for example a conventional key-actuated tumbler switch 231 and mechanical key 233 for preventing use of the programming station by an unauthorized person, as previously described. Alternatively, the programming station 203 may be maintained within a locked enclosure to prevent access by an unauthorized person. As shown herein, the programming station 203 comprises an internal power source, for example an extended-life replaceable battery or a rechargeable battery, for providing power to the logic control circuit and LEDs 224. Alternatively, the programming station 203 may include a power cord for electrically connection to an external power source.

The logic control circuit of the programming station 203 performs an exchange of data with a similar logic control circuit of the key 205, referred to herein as a “handshake,” to determine whether the key has not previously been programmed with a SDC (i.e. a “new” key), or is an authorized key that is being presented to the programming station a subsequent time to refresh the SDC. In the event that the “handshake” fails for any reason, the programming station 203 will not provide the SDC to the device attempting to obtain the SDC, for example an infrared (IR) reader on a counterfeit key or other illegitimate device. When a proper “handshake” is completed, the programming station 203 permits the SDC generated by the logic control circuit and/or stored in the memory to be transmitted by the optical transceiver to the corresponding optical transceiver disposed within the programmable electronic key 205. As will be readily apparent and understood by those skilled in the art, alternatively the SDC may be transmitted from the programming station 203 to the programmable electronic key 205 by any suitable means, including without limitation, electrical contacts or electromechanical, electromagnetic or magnetic conductors, as desired.

Once programmed with the SDC, the programmable electronic key 205 is then available to operatively engage the merchandise security device 207. In the embodiment shown and described herein, the merchandise security device 207 is a conventional cabinet lock that has been modified to be operated by the programmable electronic key 205. Preferably, merchandise security device 207 is a passive device. As used herein, the term “passive” is intended to mean that the merchandise security device 207 does not have an internal power source to lock and unlock a physical lock mechanism disposed therein. Significant cost savings can be obtained by a retail store when the merchandise security device 207 is a passive device since the expense of an internal power source is confined to the programmable electronic key 205, and only one such key is required to operate multiple merchandise security devices. If desired, the merchandise security device 207 may also be provided with a temporary power source (e.g., capacitor or limited-life battery) having sufficient power to activate an alarm, for example a piezoelectric audible alarm, that is actuated by a security sensor in response to a security breach. The temporary power source may also be sufficient to transfer data, for example a SDC, from the merchandise security device 207 to the programmable electronic key 205 to authenticate the security device and thereby authorize the key to provide power to the merchandise security device. In contrast, the lock mechanism of existing merchandise security devices are operated mechanically, for example by a conventional key and tumbler, or magnetically, for example by a magnetic key of the type shown and described in United States Patent Application Publication No. 2008/0168811 entitled MAGNETIC KEY FOR USE WITH A SECURITY DEVICE, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference. In the security system 200 of the present invention however, the lock mechanism of the merchandise security device 207 is operated by electrical power that is transferred from the programmable electronic key 205 to the merchandise security device, as will be described.



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stats Patent Info
Application #
US 20110254661 A1
Publish Date
10/20/2011
Document #
13169968
File Date
06/27/2011
USPTO Class
340/561
Other USPTO Classes
340/565
International Class
06F7/04
Drawings
24


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