AUTOMATIC BROKER TOOLS AND
This application claims priority to, and incorporates by reference, commonly owned copending U.S. Patent Application No. 60/134,383 filed May 15, 1999.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to the technical goal of providing prospective buyers and sellers of digital content with information and assurances, and relates more particularly to sampling, escrow, and barter tools and techniques for an automated broker to facilitate a market in digital content.
TECHNICAL BACKGROUND OF THE
Advances in computer technology have created an enormous body of digital content, namely, content stored as bits in some computer-readable medium. Some categories of digital content have widely used non-digital counterparts. For instance, books are still more widely available in paper form than in digital form. Other categories of digital content exist primarily or solely in response to the widespread use of digital computers; examples include databases and software. Some categories of digital content exist primarily to entertain. Others reflect research, development, or marketing efforts. Regardless of such distinctions, one result of the computer revolution is a growing body of valuable artistic, technical, business, academic, and other content stored in various digital formats.
Another result of the computer revolution is relatively easy communication of digital content. The Internet (including the World Wide Web), email, "instant messaging" services, "chat rooms", news groups, electronic discussion forums and bulletin boards, and other computer-aided avenues of communication are now available in many parts of the world. One might expect these communication tools to support a thriving market in the growing body of digital content. Indeed, much digital content is advertised, purchased, and/or delivered through the Internet and other computer-assisted communication tools.
For example, demonstration versions of computer software can be downloaded by prospective users without any direct human action, once the software owner selects the software version and places a copy of the selected software on a web site, FTP site, or other electronically accessible location. Full-function versions can also be paid for and then obtained through commercial transactions that require little or no direct human action, other than having the seller initially provide a master copy of the software and having each buyer provide payment information such as a credit card number. Shareware software can similarly be downloaded using computer programs as intermediaries, rather than relying on a human sales clerk. In short, online software shops are well-known.
Moreover, transactions involving goods other than software can also be performed using software sales "personnel". Auction sites such as www.ebay.com facilitate transactions involving software and many other types of goods, both digital and non-digital. Reverse auction or "demand collection" sites such as www.priceline.com facilitate transactions involving both goods and services.
These and/or other "e-commerce" sites offer prospective buyers and competing sellers information about goods and
services of virtually every type, and many sites also allow one to purchase goods and/or services on-line. To give just a few examples, web sites exist to advertise and/or sell patent rights, games, software, books, mortgage services, oil
5 and gas properties, medical supplies, scientific equipment, factory simulation services, insurance services, computers, management consulting services, investment banking services, and "adult" content and services. Sellers' sites generally provide textual descriptions of the goods and/or
10 services being offered, and many offerings also include images and/or sounds that represent or constitute the offered goods and/or services. The images may be still images, video clips such as those in MPEG or AVI format, or user-navigable images such as those in the IPIX format.
15 The images sometimes include samples in the form of partial images or thumbnail images. These samples are apparently selected by the seller and/or approved by the seller for posting based on the seller's understanding of the techniques used to create the samples. That is, the seller
20 apparently knows what prospective buyers will see when they view the samples. If the goods are digital images, these samples may be presented with the promise that complete and/or larger images are available to be downloaded in exchange for payment. Similarly, video and/or audio clips
25 showing part of a work may be presented to encourage purchase of a copy of the complete work.
Despite the enormous amount of activity in electronic commerce, problems remain. One factor that makes the market in digital content risky is the ease with which most
30 digital content can be copied. Of course, many efforts have been made to reduce unauthorized use of digital content. For instance, copyright laws, other intellectual property laws, encryption that prevents use of a product without user registration and/or payment, other technical measures, and
35 the basic honesty of many people, can each provide some protection against the theft of digital content.
But a content owner may still be justifiably reluctant to make that content available for inspection by prospective
4Q buyers, lest the content be copied and used without paying the owner. On the other hand, buyers may quite reasonably want to inspect the digital content before they pay for it. Unless the buyer and the seller have a working relationship based on successful completion of earlier transactions, or
, trust each other for some other reason, the lack of trust can
prevent successful completion of the transaction even when such completion would benefit both parties.
To help illustrate the issues of trust involved in a transaction between a seller and a buyer, we define some notation.
50 This notation, or similar notation, may have been used previously but the notation itself is not the invention. Rather, the notation is used in this Technical Background to describe prior approaches to marketplaces in digital content, and it is also used in later sections to describe the present invention,
55 just as English (or another language) can be used for both purposes. That is, the fact that the notation is used in discussing both past approaches and the present invention does not mean that the invention described with that notation was previously known.
go Naming the initial participants and items involved is straightforward: we use "S" to denote a seller, "B" for a buyer, "G" for the goods or services being sold, and "$" for payment (understanding that other currencies than U.S. dollars may also be used).
65 If all goes well a seller S transfers goods G to a buyer B and receives payment $ as compensation. But the order of events in the transaction can be very important, so the