CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
The present application is a continuation-in-part of copending application entitled INTELLIGENT KEYBOARD SYSTEM, Ser. No. 09/281,739, filed Jun. 4, 1999, which is a continuation-in-part application of a now abandoned application entitled A SYSTEM LEVEL SCHEME TO CONTROL INTELLIGENT APPLIANCES, Ser. No. 08/764,903 filed Dec. 16, 1996.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
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Purchasing transactions are an integral part of our way of life, such as in trade and travel, and affect everyone personally. However, in the prior art, purchasing transactions are often hit or miss actions with price as the primary and most often the only determinant factor. Small changes in a price, for example, will often create very large changes in the perceived value of a business transaction, and will strongly influence trade, tourism, and most other facets of life. However, especially with respect to impulse purchases, price comparisons must be fast, accurate and convenient to have maximum effect and often are not adequate in this respect.
Ideally, details of a comparison will be transparent to the user, with the user seamlessly having the ability to take advantage of a bargain or to make a price comparison under the exact conditions the user chooses. In the prior art purchasing transactions were susceptible to manipulation. The buyer often received misleading, incomplete or even no information regarding other factors that are as important as price. The fully informed and intelligent selection of a specific merchant, vendor, or service provider requires the customer to evaluate extensive collateral information and reach a timely decision. This collateral information may include choice of color, size, and feel in the environment of expected use, weight, warranty, quality, reliability, and availability. The reputation of the vendor, service, return privileges, manufacturer, make, year of manufacture, product or service attributes, expected features in next year models, sales tax, and shipping costs are also important factors in a purchasing decision.
The factors that the customer should consider and weigh are many, and are not always amenable to intelligent processing on the fly. In the prior art the comparison of prices was conducted by a query to an individual web site of the vendor or the vendors belonging to that particular group. The answer was parsed for presentation on a stationary device or a mobile device without prioritizing, categorizing and ranking. Without the aid of comprehensive algorithms and software to fully optimize the individual value proposition, the customer may make a bad decision, generating a return of the merchandise or cancellation of the service.
Expeditious, timely and value enhancing transactions are in the best interest of everyone; customers, vendors and governments. Trade and tourism are often adversely affected if users expect more or believe they received less than they are entitled to due to inadequate information and poor communication.
Presently comparisons are often made in an ad hoc manner, such as by chance or by advertising forced on the consumer. These methods are inconvenient, annoying, costly, and may provide incomplete information for making a decision, thus dissatisfying consumers and also vendors who must deal with the resulting cost of product returns or the loss of repeat customers. An example is in precious metals, where gold coins are sometimes advertised as weighing a certain number of avoirdupois ounces. Without knowing the ratio of a troy ounce (480 grains) to an avoirdupois ounce (437.5 grains), the consumer would have to guess at the value.
Knowledgeable advisors may charge relatively excessive rates, defeating the reason for getting the advice. It is in the best interest of both a government wishing to encourage trade and tourism and of a user desiring trade or tourism to have simple, reliable price comparisons and transactions.
Standard methods for making comparisons, rather than providing a benefit to the government and users seeking trade or tourism, create confusion and uncertainty. This is especially true, as stated before, of cases involving ambiguous values, for example, unfamiliar systems of units of weights and measures, currencies, quality standards, cultural standards and so forth.
In addition, to foster competition in a free economy it is necessary that vendors not cooperate to set prices. Thus there is a prohibition in having one organization as a standard setter or clearinghouse of prices, if the effect is to restrict competition. Even in a competitive market, the consumer faces a daunting task if he/she has to conduct independent research to secure the best price and value on any given product or service. The consumer generally desires access to an unbiased way of freely and expeditiously conducting a price search based on chosen criteria and optimizing the acquisition cost to obtain a value that meets individual parameters. However, the search must be easily and quickly accomplished.
In the prior art items are often tagged with a label that has a bar code attached. This requires the act of scanning by the customer or sales clerk. Some items, like garments, have tags sewn or clipped on that may alert by audible sound if the tag is not removed or if the item is being removed without authorization. These methods are often not satisfactory, since they act only to prevent theft with no direct benefit to the customer.
In the prior art, mobile communication devices such as a cellular telephone/mobile device (CT/MD) do not have spread sheet capabilities, since mobile devices such as a CT/MD have data entry and viewing limitations. There is a longstanding need for providing spreadsheets with a CT/MD.
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OF THE INVENTION
It is an object of the present invention to provide a price comparison and transaction system for supplying convenient, accurate and reliable information to a user, such as by using a mobile unit, and for simplifying the comparisons of values. This is especially true of ambiguous values, such as the English system short ton, which is 2000 pounds, and the English system long ton, which is 2240 pounds. The English ton can also represent several different units of volume in shipping, so a reference to a ton should cause the comparison system to develop a context to determine the system to use, provide detailed information about these variants, or provide prompting such as <what system do you want?>. Examples of ambiguous values are often found in shipping, where a shipping ton may be 35 cubic feet of material, 40 cubic feet of material, or 100 cubic feet of space, but is seldom 2000 or 2240 pounds. One would want to know that such differences exist, and to know which system for defining a ton is intended. It is an object of the present invention to determine these differences by context, wherever practical, or to provide suggestions if the context is unclear.
In an embodiment of the present invention, a mobile device, such as an Intelligent Keyboard, IK, a hand held computer, lap top computer, cellular phone, or other wireless device, acts as a price comparison/transaction station. These functions may also be implemented on a stationary device (SD), such as a personal computer (PC), even though the primary purpose of the present invention is to allow a high degree of mobility in connection with the desired action and is optimized for mobile devices. The comparison/transaction station provides for the acquisition of comparative pricing information and allows comparisons to be completed using a source of information, such as from web sites, that can be relied on by the consumer, the seller of the desired product or service, and other vendors. Information concerning a desired action may be entered in any language, with the request being forwarded to a central server via a wireless link for processing. At the central server, a matching routine, such as referrals to a lookup table, allows the desired action to be parsed into a more suitable form for processing. One example of a more suitable form is in language conversion, for example, from English to German or vice versa. The information might be in English, but desired in German. This could be translated, for a German speaker, to an equivalent German request, and might be answered in German text or delivered by a synthesized German voice.
In a preferred embodiment, the transaction to be used including price comparisons, along with the type of output desired, is first identified or determined for action by the system. The central processor determines the latest information relating to the desired action, such as by interrogating a web site, and calculates, for example, values for a service/product. Other information the user may wish is supplied, such as a price history, or likelihood of a better price from another source. Flags may be set for regularly interrogating a site and notifying the user of an event triggering a need which has been expressed by the user, such as about a sale on desired items meeting criteria the user has set.
Other objects, features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following detailed description when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION
The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and form a part of this specification, illustrate embodiments of the invention and, together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the invention:
FIG. 1 shows an embodiment of a mobile unit used with a price comparison or transaction system of the present invention.
FIG. 2 shows an embodiment of a table for entering the currencies desired to be used in a exchange rate comparison system.
FIG. 3 shows an embodiment of a price comparison system illustrating how information is obtained from remote sources, such as travel agencies.
FIG. 4 shows an embodiment of a price comparison request table of the present invention.
FIG. 5 shows an alternate embodiment of a price comparison table of the present invention.
FIG. 6 shows an embodiment illustrating how the prices of commodities for a specific currency might be parameterized.
FIG. 7 illustrates a mobile electronic commerce system of the present invention showing how the system would be employed with the shops in a shopping mall.
FIG. 8 is an embodiment of the mobile electronic commerce system of the present invention illustrating how an intelligent keyboard or CT/MD may be configured with a specialized input device such as an optical bar code reader.
FIG. 9 is an embodiment of the mobile electronic commerce system of the present invention illustrating how consultation with another individual is facilitated either in a physical store or a virtual store.
FIG. 10 is an embodiment of the mobile electronic commerce system of the present invention illustrating the use of user configurable lists.
FIG. 11 is an embodiment of the present invention illustrating an external monitor or other display for facilitating the input and output of information.
FIG. 12 is an embodiment of the present invention illustrating a search engine function.
FIG. 13 is an embodiment of the present invention for mobile electronic commerce.
FIG. 14 is an embodiment of the apparatus for mobile electronic commerce of the present invention, which enables a store to be fitted with a wired or wireless zone controller.
FIG. 15 is an embodiment of the present invention implemented in a department store, which has various display tables and shelves fitted with zone controllers.
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OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
Reference will now be made in detail to the preferred embodiments of the invention, examples of which are illustrated in the accompanying drawings. While the invention will be described in conjunction with the preferred embodiments, it will be understood that they are not intended to limit the invention to those embodiments. On the contrary, the invention is intended to cover alternatives, modifications and equivalents, which may be included within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.
The embodiments that follow relate to a wireless unit for making transactions. Transactions as used herein include comparisons. The embodiments include stationary units as well, such as personal computers (PCs). Further, the price comparison inquiry or request can be in any form of intelligence, such as key entries from a keyboard, voice in any language, graphics such as a key click on a graphic page, mouse clicks on a view, or even depressions of a foot pedal.
In the present invention, the price comparison of a product, such as a book, uses special software and algorithms resident on a local server or Internet Server. The servers in turn scour the available web sites for the data and present it in rank order, such as least price first. There is no bias given to any site. The CT/MD user can determine the search algorithm used. The same is done for services, such as plumbers, dentists, doctors, etc. The access to the Internet by the CT/MD may be through a wireless service provider (WSP) or through a Multi-channel Multiplexing Transmitter Receiver (MMTR).
In the present invention, a user desiring to make a comparison or request a transaction including transactions relating to a comparison makes a wireless call to the central server of the present invention. The central server receives the request for the action, and parses the necessary information to service the call. Any information may be parsed, but will normally include an identification (ID) of the user, information about the language, the type of action forming the basis of the action, the number of actions desired, and any parameters that may be pertinent. The parameters involved may include, for example, inputting a limit on the values for a comparison, such as not more than a certain amount in US dollars. In another example of a parameter, an action might depend on a value being greater than or lesser than a preset amount of money, goods, or services for a transaction to be authorized.
FIG. 1 illustrates an embodiment of the present invention. In FIG. 1, a user with a cellular telephone/mobile device (CT/MD) 102 communicates with a central server 104 through, for example, wireless service provider 106. Server 104 uses lookup tables 108 and a user profile in stored user profiles 118 to set an environment for the specific action. The environment set includes the ID of the user, the language being used, the type of action, and the value expected from a transaction or comparison, along with flags for any limits desired by the user. With the environment set, the central server obtains the desired information from vendor web sites 110 over the internet 114 or directly from the vendors 112, such as by automatic email 116. The information gathered is then inserted into the environment set up for the user, and further processed, such as by converting to the language of the user or adjusting the format as desired by the user. Depending on the results obtained and the urgency, the user is notified by phone, email, or other means, such as the US postal service.
FIG. 2 is an embodiment of the comparison and transaction system of the present invention showing how a table 200 of values is used to identify the source and value of actions being inquired about or required by the user. In FIG. 2, a template for the table 200 has been created, either from the central server or from software in the mobile device being used for inputting a request. As shown, the template allows entry of a requirement 202 for an action whose type has been determined, in this case a currency, and also allows entry of parameters as targets 204, 206, and 208. As an example, US dollars are to be compared to British pounds 204, French francs 206, and Indian rupees 208. While the table shows only three targets, it will be understood that any number of targets could be involved.
FIG. 3 shows an embodiment of the comparison and transaction system 300 of the present invention. In FIG. 3 shows a user with a mobile device (MD) 302. This could also be a stationary device (SD) such as a personal computer 320 as shown. The user with the mobile device 302 communicates a price comparison request or a request for a desired transaction to a central server 304 through a wireless service provider (WSP) 306. As described above, the central server 304 sets a user environment, such as the user ID, language being used, field of the comparisons desired, in this case currencies, and the mode of communication from lookup table 308 and user profiles 318. Answers will be sent back to the mobile device or returned by email or otherwise, as indicated by the environment. The central server interrogates vendor locations 310 for the information desired over a network connection 314 such as the Internet, or directly communicates with sources such as travel agency 312 over a communication link 316. Locations 310 or 312 respond with the desired information, or with some other information, such as a location with more current or pertinent information. The central server 304 processes the information received from the locations 310 and 312, such as by parsing the information to determine the language used, and determines how to communicate the information to the user, such as through MD 302. If new information relating to the user has been developed in the environment, it is used to update the user profile in the user profiles 318.
FIG. 4 shows an embodiment of a price comparison system of the present invention showing an alternative version of the table 200 of FIG. 2. In FIG. 4, a template for building table 400 of comparison parameters 402 allows data to be assembled such as prices 404, transaction 406 and information source 408, such as the name of a vendor supplying a price. In the example of this embodiment, gardening equipment 402 comparisons are desired, with the specific items being hoes and rakes 404. Transaction 406 for 1000 units is requested, and the information source is to be a distributor 408.
FIG. 5 shows another embodiment of the comparison system of the present invention showing a table 500 for entry of information, such as product information or a transaction. In FIG. 5, table 500 relates an action 502 to a user input in the form of a parameter 504. Table 500 also allows the entry of a limit 506 above which (or below which, in other cases) an action is not desired or is not to be completed, and the date 508 on which the action is completed. Here, an Italian dinner for six is specified as the action 502, with hearty being the parameter 504; that is, hearty portions. A limit 506 of 350.00 per person is imposed, and the date 508 desired is July 4.
FIG. 6 shows another embodiment of the price comparison and transaction system of the present invention showing a table 600. In FIG. 6, table 600 allows, for example, entries for a price comparison 602, currency to be compared 604 with the units 606. Clearly, as shown in FIG. 2 and again in FIG. 4, entries, such as in table 600, could be expanded to include other desired information, such as the current date, time at which a comparison or transaction is desired, and so on.
FIG. 7 illustrates a mobile electronic commerce system 700 of the present invention. In FIG. 7, the shops in a shopping mall, such as Store 1 702 and Store N 704, may have their own individual MMTR such as MMTR 708 in Store 1 702 or MMTR 710 in Store 2 communicating over a network 706 such as the Internet. The network 706 may also be a local network with communication to the Internet through, for example, Internet Server 712. The shops may also share a common MMTR such as MMTR 718 for Mall Central 714 of the shopping mall. When in the mall, the CT/MD such as the CT/MD held by user 1 720 or the CT/MD held by user 2 722 operates on one or more channels in a local mode. The CT/MD may use one or more MMTR 708, 710, or 716 as shown by the multiple antennas on the CT/MD of user 1 720 or the CT/MD of user 2 722. At the same time the CT/MD such as with user 1 720 or user 2 722 may operate on one or more channels using a WSP 306 in FIG. 3, and have multiple antennas, as mentioned, to enable this mode. Individual web sites of shops are auto tunable and selectable for easy browsing either through MMTR, 708, 710, 718 or a WSP 306 in FIG. 3. Products and services may be viewed on, for example, the CT/MD held by user 720. Selections may be made, auto checkout is possible and record keeping is enabled. This combines virtual browsing of the aisles with online shopping convenience. Comparison to the goods or services of other vendors is enabled in the context of this invention.
When the CT/MD of, for example, user 720 is operating in the remote mode, access and transactions are enabled by the present invention through a WSP 306 in FIG. 3. In each case the software and protocols reside either on a local server 716 or Internet server 712. A customer may input his own value optimization factors to generate an algorithm to drive individual satisfaction on all factors.
FIG. 8 is an embodiment of the mobile electronic commerce system 800 of the present invention. In FIG. 8, an intelligent keyboard or CT/MD 802 may be configured with a specialized input device 804 such as an optical bar code reader. The specialized device 804 may be used for product identification entry/scanning and uses the essential features of the present invention as described above. This is valuable for grocery shopping and other shopping. Check out and payment may be automatic. Monthly, weekly tracking of purchases, analysis of purchases, pattern, inventory tracking and replenishment through the supply chain etc., may be automatic for the user and the vendor and supplier. Also, instead of the CT/MD 802, a stand alone specialized input device such as a wireless bar code reader 806 may be supplied to each shopper to perform these functions, such as by using the MMTR 810 and local server 812 or network server 814. The wireless bar code reader 806 is returned at checkout where it transfers the information on purchases to a server 812, 814 through the MMTR 810 and enables features such as automatic checkout and billing. Video and still images of products/services may be presented by a vendor on the CT/MD 802 on one or more channels while voice and data is on other channels of the CT/MD 802. The MMTR 810 function may be embedded in the CT/MD 802. In this embodiment of the present invention, customer profiles and photos may be supplied to, for example, a sales clerk for greeting, enhanced shopping and security using the CT/MD 802, the MMTR 810, server 812, 814 and software resident on the local server 812 or network server 814. A photo of a customer may be acquired real time and compared against a database, such as on local server 812. The sales clerk may access the data on an Intelligent Keyboard or CT/MD 802 for enhanced service and reduced fraud.
FIG. 9 is an embodiment of the mobile electronic commerce system 900 of the present invention. In FIG. 9, shopping is often done in consultation with another individual 916 either in a physical store or a virtual store. The other person 916 whose input is needed may not be present. A CT/MD 904 used by a sales person 902 may acquire images, such as video photos of customer 908 or goods 910, using a built in camera or attachment 906. The CT/MD may send the photos by wired or wireless means with appropriate data and comments (text and verbal) to the other person 906 by way of, for example, CT/MD 918 to help in the purchasing process. An MMTR 912 and local server 914 or network server such as an Internet server 922 may be in the loop with or without a WSP 920. Thus the present invention enables decision makers 902, 908, 916 to fully compare all attributes and price in aiding the purchase decision.
FIG. 10 is an embodiment of the mobile electronic commerce system 1000 of the present invention. In FIG. 10, an important feature of the present invention is user configurable lists. The present invention enables configurable lists, and especially user configurable lists, with or without codes, on a CT/MD 1002. Shopping lists, grocery lists, To Do lists, address lists, cost lists, inventory lists, medication lists and other types of lists are needed by individuals and businesses. While the viewing these lists may be more convenient on a CT/MD 1002, data entry on a CT/MD 1002 poses a problem due to input limitations, such as the small keyboard. The present invention overcomes these limitations with individual customizable lists in the form of a configurable list. A configurable list of the present invention allows the user to input data on a PC 1004 or other device using a convenient input means, such as a large keyboard 1006. The number of columns and number of rows in the list are defined and named by the user such as on the PC monitor 1008. The user having defined one or more lists and named them appropriately may define numerical or alphanumeric codes to define the data in various fields. As an example the user might define a grocery list to track food shopping activity. This list may be defined, for example, with 5 columns and 20 rows. Column 1 may have the date, column 2 an item code, column 3 an item description, column 4 a quantity and column 5 may be a cost. Each row is a new entry. In addition, the user defines a list, and in this embodiment the defined list is called a code list. The code list cross references between the item description and its unique user defined code. The lists are then down loaded 1010 into the CT/MD 1002.
An example of this embodiment of the invention is shown in table 1, 2 and 3 of FIG. 10: