Thursday, August 30, 2007

Diebold Patent the Patently Obvious

Diebold are best known as the ethical, unpartisan maker of vote tracking machines who's CEO pledged to deliver the 2004 US presidential election to Bush. Some people may also have heard that their voting machines were found to be deeply flawed and insecure by a Princeton Computer Science department (PDF of research) - apparently, security by obscurity really doesn't work, though you can always use your lawyers to try to gag any site which reveals this. Others may know them as a company that makes ATMs (cash machines, for those in the UK). But few knew until today that they are a hotbed of mobile innovation. Using their extensive knowledge of the ATM industry, and presumably some advanced research one of their employees did in his lunch hour when messing round with this new-fangled phone thing he had bought, they have patented the following utterly non-obvious ideas:
  1. Using a phone to find the nearest ATM (according to MocoNews)
  2. Using a phone to interact with an ATM to prevent card skimming, PIN surfing etc
  3. Using a phone to pay for things at banks / checkouts
  4. Connecting an ATM to a mobile network as it's principal means of communication
  5. Remote control of an ATM with the phone's keypad
  6. Using phone to make voice calls
Actually, they only patented five of those - I sneaked one in as a joke. They reckon these innovations could be in customer's hands in 3-5 years.

You have to assume that they decided to do some research into mobile banking, and before they started their patent lawyers specifically instructed them no to look at what anyone else was doing in the industry so that they could claim it was all internal innovation. Which is why they came up with a bunch of things people have been doing for years (1,3), extremely obvious applications of a mobile network as a means of reaching the net (4), ideas with limited utility which simply won't work in any usable way on handsets in the real world (5) and an idea which is the subject of a large number of startups and activity from other players like Visa (2).

It would be nice to sigh "Only in America could this patent be granted", but sadly given the type of company they are they'll probably try to bully smaller players into licensing something to establish precedent using their lawyers and political connections, and then generally strangle innovation in search of a quick buck. Ah well.