The Bank of America Corporation (NYSE: BAC) of Charlotte, NC, is one of America’s largest banking and financial services companies and a major player in the fields of wealth management and investment banking. The company is currently at the center of a series of investigations in the United States, Europe and Asia regarding allegations that the institution intentionally manipulated foreign currency markets. Another BoA legal case was added to the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court on the subject of voiding second mortgages on a home that is “underwater,” which could have large implications for the nation’s real estate industry. In terms of its own real estate, Bank of America has closed 42 branches across the country over the past three months, the most in the country over that period, while only opening one branch, although this likely has more to do with the spread of online banking services than any signs of corporate trouble.
IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series has profiled BoA’s innovations on a few occasions in the past. In this edition, we found a number of patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect technologies for customer loyalty rewards programs, including one innovative system for encouraging account holders to achieve long-term goals. Another patent application would protect a technology designed to identify opportunities for business mergers or acquisitions. We also discuss one patent application filed to protect a platform for disseminating carbon credit data based on personal transactions.
Social networking platforms were at the core of a couple of patents recently issued to Bank of America, including one invention meant to help uncover potential social networking opportunities based on financial transactions. A couple of cybersecurity technologies, including one for isolating an infected client device to stop of the spread of a virus within a network, are also featured. We were also intrigued to share a patent protecting a method of presenting vehicle information of interest to someone who may want to buy a vehicle by capturing a video feed of that vehicle.
Bank of America’s Patent Applications: Customer Loyalty Programs, Identifying Mergers and Broadcasting Carbon Credits
The area of financial technology, also referred to as “fintech” in some industry circles, has been growing rapidly in recent years thanks to great investment on behalf of the Bank of America and many other major banking corporations. In the five year period between 2008 and 2013, global venture investment in fintech startups tripled from about $1 billion to just under $3 billion. Much of this investment has been motivated by the need for many financial companies to address issues posed by data security and regulatory challenges. Bank of America holds its own two-day summit in Silicon Valley where BoA presents challenges to technology developers and hear answers to these solutions proposed by those developers; about 17 percent of the tech companies that participate in this summit end up becoming technology vendors for the bank.
Merchant loyalty rewards programs are at the center of a number of the Bank of America technologies which we see evidenced in patent applications filed by the company. Techniques for supporting customers achieve long-term loyalty rewards are discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140279799, which is titled Providing Rewards Buckets and Savings Towards Specific Goals. The patent application would protect a system of providing a rewards program that involves a processor which is configured to detect that a customer has completed an action, such as a social media action or a financial institute relationship transaction. This system is designed to track a customer’s long-term progress towards a goal, such as saving up enough money to purchase a car or making a certain number of purchases from a single merchant, that an organization might want to reward to increase customer loyalty. Methods of enticing customers to participate in loyalty rewards programs is at the heart of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140279008, entitled Providing an Offer Based on Enrolling a Debit Account into a Merchant-Specific Account. The invention is intended to encourage members of rewards programs to register debit account information with the program to increase the ease of funding accounts and completing purchases. The system that would be protected provides an offer to a user for linking a financial account with a merchant-specific prepaid or credit account, the offer typically consisting of a discount offer for a current or future transaction. A technique for reaping more value from rewards programs for users who are enrolled in those programs is disclosed by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140279505, filed under the title Recommending Vehicle for Payment Based on Social Network Data. This patent application claims a system for determining all payment vehicles available to a user for completing a transaction; the system tracks social media connections between the customer and merchant to determine various payment vehicles. Through this method, a customer can identify methods of paying for a transaction which are available to them, including methods which may result in loyalty points or travel mile rewards, which can help engender customer loyalty to a business.
The Bank of America has also developed a few other systems other than rewards programs that are intended to help companies build better relationships with clients and business partners. A novel technique for leveraging the value of publicly available financial information to improve customer relationships is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140278751, which is titled System and Method for Identifying Rapidly-Growing Business Customers. This patent application claims a system for storing business transaction data for a plurality of customers and a number of processing modules configured to access financial information which is available publicly for entities engaging in business transactions; the system is further configured to determine from the publicly available data if an entity’s revenue has increased. This technology is designed to enable businesses to better incorporate and utilize information publicly published in Dun & Bradstreet or U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Another method of leveraging public data to pursue greater business wealth is featured within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140278752, titled System and Method for Identifying Potential Mergers and Acquisitions. This system of storing business transaction information involves analysis of public financial data to determine if a business customer has revenues that exceed a predetermined portion of the total revenue of that customer. This system is designed to enable financial institutions to better advise investment banking firms in identifying merger and acquisition targets.
The evolution of carbon credit markets as a means for encouraging consumers to make environmentally friendly decisions in financial transactions has spurred some research and development at Bank of America. We were able to see some of this activity reflected in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140317182, filed under the title Social Badging for Electronification of Paper. The patent application would protect an apparatus for social badging that includes a memory, a processor and a module for tracking user interactions with an entity, rating the environmental impacts of that interaction and broadcasting that rating on a social network. The technology is intended to serve the need for creating a trusted platform that aggregates and analyzes carbon credit data associated with buying an energy-efficient vehicle or opting for electronic and not paper receipts, to name two examples.
We were also intrigued by the technology developed by BoA to identify and notify account holders of customer enhancement opportunities while visiting a region with which they are unfamiliar, discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140279003, which is titled Enhancement of User Affinity Experience Based on Messaging Related to a Geographic Area. This innovation is meant to improve methods of providing information on relevant consumer experiences which may be of interest to a user visiting a geographic area, but who may also be unaware of the existence of that experience within that area. The system for enhancing user affinity experience that would be protected includes a topic notification module which receives location data from a mobile device and determines that an affinity object exists within a geographical vicinity.
Issued Patents of Note: From Cybersecurity to Social Networking
Among financial companies, Bank of America has been notable for its strength of intellectual property development over the past few years. The corporation was 130th overall among entities receiving U.S. patent grants during 2013; its 262 patents that year was an increase of 58.8 percent over the previous year’s totals, according to the Intellectual Property Owners Association. Our latest survey of the company’s patents recently issued by the USPTO uncovered an assortment of technologies for data security and social networking tools, among other innovations which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
Security from cyber risks has been an issue of growing importance in the technology sector, which we discussed in our recent coverage of the Cybersecurity Partnership Meeting at the USPTO’s Silicon Valley office. That’s why we felt it was important to share a couple of patents lately assigned to Bank of America for technologies in this field. Methods of preventing fraudulent activities within organizational networks are disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8880435, which is titled Detection and Tracking of Unauthorized Computer Access Attempts. The invention is designed to improve upon methods of tracking cyber fraud through the use of honeytokens, or bogus accounts and other fake information that can be monitored within an organization; any use of that information indicates that fraudulent activity has been attempted. The patent protects a method of tracking unauthorized computer access attempts involving honeytokens that detects an invalid login attempt and analyzes the attempt to determine data related to the party attempting unauthorized access. Methods of addressing security risks among mobile devices and other terminals are described by U.S. Patent No. 8874706, issued under the title Quarantine Tool. The patent protects a method for quarantining a devices which are out of compliance with network regulations by locating the device and attempting to log into the device to change the class ID of the network interface for a device to an isolated status. This technique was developed to check the spread of viruses across a network when those viruses come from a client device which interfaces with a network.
We were intrigued to note a couple of patents which represent a recent R&D focus on social networking tools within Bank of America. For instance, BoA was recently issued U.S. Patent No. 8838498, which is titled Social Network Platform for Underwriting, protects a technology that seems to be trying to establish a Facebook-style service for loan servicing among social contacts. The patent claims a system for providing a social networking platform for underwriting which receives financial service requests from users, evaluates the financial risk of extending service to the user and requests to poll the social networks of a user to determine candidates for underwriting financial requests. This system is intended to aid those who have experienced problems locating willing lenders while theoretically reducing the risk of loss through sociological and psychological principles of reciprocation; along with loans, this service could be used to identify candidates willing to underwrite various insurance policies. A social network for customers of a financial institution is the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8874674, which is titled System for Optimizing Social Networking. This patent protects an apparatus configured to optimize social networking services by offering social networking opportunities to users based on reviews of user financial accounts. The technology is intended to provide a tool for uncovering potential social networking opportunities based on financial transactions; an example given in the patent discusses a motorcycle club which could advertise for new members among account holders who have just bought a motorcycle.
Methods of establishing better relationships between customers and customer service representatives during incoming customer service calls are disclosed within U.S. Patent No. 8867732, entitled Aggregating Phone Numbers for Contact. The patent protects a system for aggregating phone numbers for a representative working to collect a payment in arrears which can associate a phone number with the contact record of a customer and that customer’s financial accounts. This system helps to provide customer service representatives with information pertaining to the customer as that customer calls, reducing the need to ask questions establishing a customer’s reason for calling the customer service number, which can be time consuming.
Finally today, we were interested in a digital tool developed by Bank of America which may help account holders quickly receive information about a vehicle of interest if they might be considering an auto purchase. U.S. Patent No. 8873807, issued under the title Vehicle Recognition, protects a method for vehicle recognition which involves receiving a video stream from a mobile device which captures a portion of a vehicle and identifying the vehicle from the video data. The method further involves the presentation of information pertaining to the vehicle, including maintenance history and estimated monthly payments, to a user by superimposing that information over the video feed.