Amazon.com innovations continue to revolutionizing online shopping

By Steve Brachmann
January 31, 2015

AmazonAmazon.com, Inc., of Seattle, WA, is an online services company with a particular focus on retail shopping supplemented by a multitude of other consumer technologies, including cloud computing and portable electronic devices. It’s been a tough year for Amazon stock prices, which have dropped in value by 23 percent over the past 12 months. Amazon has been having some success with it’s instant video services available through Amazon Prime which is encouraging given the success of its on-demand competitor Netflix. In the most recent Golden Globes, Amazon took home two awards for its comedy series Transparent, including Best Comedy Series, and the company has been expanding its video production activities.

Amazon is continuing to develop some revolutionary innovations in the field of online retail shopping. Patent applications published recently by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office detail a bag delivery system for groceries and fragile items as well as an automated system for inhibiting fraudulent activities being attempted by members of an electronic marketplace. Other recent Amazon innovations include techniques for presenting information on a touchscreen so that it isn’t obscured by a user’s finger as well as an automated waste management system for workplaces.

Amazon’s recently issued patents showcase a great deal of development in the field of portable electronic devices in recent years. We saw some interesting peripheral components protected by this company, including a carrying case which doubles as a device stand and a system for adding extra hardware components to a device for increased functionality. We also noted an interesting patent protecting a jigsaw puzzle game to be played on computing devices.

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Amazon’s Patent Applications: Bag Delivery for Fragile Items, Touchscreen Hover Interactions and Waste Management

From 1-click checkouts to the technology infrastructure afforded by the Amazon Web Service (AWS) platform, Amazon has shown a willingness to innovate in areas of online retail shopping and other services. Among this corporation’s most recent web service innovations is the Elastic Transcoder, an online tool that allows users to store video files and transcode those files between various formats. Amazon has also been very focused in recent months on development in cloud computing services, as is evidenced by the retailer’s City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge. This program seeks to recognize and award cities of various sizes that have worked to develop a municipal cloud infrastructure as well as individuals or companies that have developed cloud applications to solve various issues faced by governments.

It was no surprise that we found a great deal of inventions directed at digital retail and shopping services among Amazon’s recently filed patent applications. Techniques for returning undesired book purchases to a marketplace for fair value is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140333761, filed under the title Automated Item Return Machines. It would protect an apparatus for purchasing a book from a seller which includes a chamber configured to receive a book from a seller, a display presenting information about the book held in the chamber and a processor that determines an attribute of the book that aids in determining a purchase price for the book. This system is intended to reduce delays encountered by customers who wish to return items to an electronic marketplace while generating a fair repurchase price for the consumer. Enhanced methods for delivering retail items purchased from an electronic marketplace are the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140367304, which is titled System and Method for Bag Delivery. The bag delivery system claimed here includes a box and a plurality of bag protectors which have bottom panels to support a bag made of flexible material and two side panels that taper towards the bottom panel, the panels meeting adjacent to the bag opening. This invention is designed to provide a sturdy shipping solution for grocery items or fragile products ordered by a customer.

We were also intrigued by the techniques to prevent fraudulent activities from occurring within an electronic marketplace which is the subject of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140358726, which is titled Inhibiting Inappropriate Communications Between Users Involving Transactions. The computer-implemented method that would be protected involves obtaining communication sent through an electronic marketplace between a sender and a receiver engaged in a transaction, applying a fraud assessment test to the communication and taking actions to inhibit possible fraudulent activities related to the transaction if potential fraud has been determined. This system is meant to prohibit buyers from defrauding sellers with false payment information as well as prohibiting sellers from “phishing” for confidential information from buyers.

The Kindle device developed by Amazon has earned the company no small measure of success and we noted a few electronic device inventions that may be used to improve future generations of this hardware. The ability to interact with a touchscreen device without directly touching the interactive screen is explained by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140282269, which is titled Non-Occluded Display for Hover Interactions. This innovation is intended to increase the area of the screen that can be viewed by the user while interacting with certain elements through the recognition that a user’s hand is hovering over the screen above a specific element. The patent application claims a computer-implemented method for displaying information on a computing device with a touchscreen that involves configuring an interface element to display data when a user’s finger hovers over the element, detecting that a user’s finger hovers over an interface element, estimating the region of the touchscreen that is occluded to the user by the user’s finger and displaying data outside of that region. A technology that helps electronic devices respond intuitively to a user context based on location is featured within U.S. Patent Application 20140378159, which is titled Using Movement Patterns to Anticipate User Expectations. The method of modifying operation of an electronic device based on previous operation of the device that involves recording a path taken by the device from a first location to a second location, recording user interactions with an application at a second location, determining when a device is on a path towards returning to the second location and activating an application before arriving at the second location.

on-demand e-bookImprovements for monetizing the content produced by Amazon’s on-demand print services are disclosed by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140372186, filed under the title On-Demand Generating E-Book Content With Advertising. This patent application would protect a method of providing computer-displayable content in response to a consumer request for content by obtaining a digital image corresponding to the requested content, selecting an advertisement to be included in an on-demand electronic content corresponding to the content, including the advertisement in the digital image, generating fixed computer-displayable content and providing that content to a consumer. We were also piqued by an Amazon innovation in the field of waste management and processing that would be protected by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140303773, which is titled System and Method for Processing Waste Material. The material handling system claimed by this patent application includes a plurality of waste holders to store waste material, a plurality of mobile drive units that transport the waste material and a management module which determines the rate at which waste accumulates in the holder and instructs a mobile drive unit to transport waste at an indicated time based upon the rate of waste accumulation. This automated method for handling waste within a workspace prevents waste management tasks from being neglected, which can result in safety concerns.

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Issued Patents of Note: From Device Component Add-Ons to Jigsaw Puzzle Games

Amazon exhibits some fairly strong pursuit of patents and always has an interesting assortment for us to scan through here at IPWatchdog. In 2013, Amazon was issued 530 patents from the USPTO, an amazing increase of 84.7 percent over the company’s 2012 totals. Some of Amazon’s patent holdings have been the subject of a great deal of confusion in the mainstream media. For instance, many were upset last year that Amazon was issued a patent for shooting photographs on a white background, but anyone who has read the patent can understand that the incredibly narrow studio arrangement claimed therein would likely not affect the work of most photographers, and some have even accused the photography world for overreacting on the issue. Amazon is also involved in United for Patent Reform, an industry group seeking reforms to the U.S. patent system that also includes Google, Facebook, Verizon and members of the National Retail Federation.

transformable casePeripheral equipment for mobile devices were at the center of a few patents that we felt worth sharing in today’s column. Carrying cases that are able to protect a device while being used are disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8915357, issued under the title Transformable Carrying Case. The transformable carrying case claimed here includes two covers with different perimeters, the covers being pivotably coupled at an edge so that the case can transform from a closed position to a stand position. The invention is intended to produce a carrying case that does not need to be removed to use the mobile device. We also noted an intriguing system for adding component functionality to a device, which is discussed by U.S. Patent No. 8935438, which is titled Skin-Dependent Device Components. The system for expanding the capability of a portable computing device protected here includes the use of a device skin with at least two skin portions connectable to the device, at least one functional device component and a communication mechanism that can transmit information to the electronic device regarding a hardware-related feature of the device skin. In this way, skins could be added to a device that provide extra speakers for surround sound capability or infrared elements for detecting gestural inputs.

A useful system for preventing others from having to peak over a person’s shoulder to view digital content on a mobile device is explained within U.S. Patent No. 8922480, issued under the title Viewer-Based Device Control. The method of controlling viewable access to content displayed by a computing device claimed here involves obtaining an image of those viewing a display element of a computing device, analyzing the image to identify unauthorized viewers, determining a gaze direction of the unauthorized viewer, identifying a mobile device of the unauthorized viewer and generating a notification to be communicated to the unauthorized user’s device that contains information related to the content on the first device. This system also enables the blurring or animating of content on the first display so that an unauthorized user cannot view private content.

jigsaw puzzlesAmazon has also been involved in research and development of computer games as is evidenced by U.S. Patent No. 8900043, which is titled Structured Jigsaw Puzzles. The invention is directed at a puzzle game that incorporates multimedia and increases the suspense of gameplay by providing a puzzle framework that doesn’t include a view of the end image of the puzzle. The computer-implemented method of providing a jigsaw puzzle-type game involves obtaining an image to be used as a puzzle image, determining a first portion of the image to be displayed with a puzzle framework and determining a plurality of second portions of the image to be displayed on respective puzzle tiles. The puzzle image could include video, animation or stereoscopic images.

We’ll close our survey of Amazon’s patented technologies with a look at two inventions that seek to promote valuable and helpful interactions among users of online networks. Methods of providing useful content to specific questions seeking encyclopedic or reference information which are more inclusive than specialized answer services are described within U.S. Patent No. 8930282, which is titled Content Generation Revenue Sharing. The patent claims a computer-implemented method for compensating users providing responses to questions based in part by revenue streams from the responses that involves receiving indications of multiple questions supplied by multiple users, obtaining multiple responses to the question, obtaining a revenue stream and determining a portion of the revenue stream to users who provided a response to the question. This innovation results in a system that generates useful content based on user interactions and incentivizes high-quality responses as well as the continued participation of valuable users. Interestingly, this patent took almost nine years to be issued after the first patent application was filed and the patent faced two final rejections, the last of which was for obviousness in the face of a different patent protecting a system of compensating users who provide responses to questions. A similar method for identifying helpful content that exists in bulletin boards and other digital communications is featured by U.S. Patent No. 8903751, entitled Detecting Participant Helpfulness in Communications. The computer-implemented method for detecting helpful messages involves generating helpfulness terminology data corresponding to responses to a helpful message, analyzing a plurality of messages using that data to detect a helpful message, associating the helpful message with a participant and establishing a helpfulness value of that participant. This technique for measuring gratitude in response to helpful messages is capable of identifying those individuals who provide helpful answers to questions as well as those who are typically unhelpful so that their unhelpfulness may be mitigated.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

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