Microsoft patent bribes people to watch TV ads

Ad incentive technology and foot-controlled PCs are among a handful of interesting new Microsoft patents

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In this age of DVRs, Microsoft has refreshed a patent on an idea for getting people to watch the commercials instead of fast-forwarding through them.

The patent, originally issued in 2000, is called "System and method for encouraging viewers to watch television programs." It's not a bad idea, as far as ideas that have never come to fruition go. Seeing it reminded me of Microsoft's Magic Wand and Holographic meetings patents issued in 2009. It made me wonder what other oddball patents Microsoft has acquired recently. Answer: quite a few.

For the commercial watching patent, the plan is to give people an incentive to watch commercials, or other stuff on television, such as letting them earn frequent-flier miles, or enter into a drawing. They simply answer a trivia question at the end of the commercial. The technology allows viewers to interact with the question via a button on their TV remote, or by selecting an icon on the screen. It involves a "set-top box receiver that is configured to display video television programming that is broadcast from a broadcast signal source to one or more viewers and to receive, display and store web content encoded in the broadcast from the broadcast signal source."

Sounds like an Xbox might work for this, and perhaps a Windows 7 computer. One day, maybe it could use a Windows Phone 7 as the remote, if app developers ever decide to try and turn those phones into TV remotes, the way they are trying to do with the iPhone.

Microsoft Patent bribes people to watch TV ads

Microsoft patent offers prizes to get people to watch TV ads.

As I mentioned, this was originally an old patent, but in November Microsoft recieved a continuation, which generally means a second patent that incorporates and expands on the first.

The technology first belonged to WebTV, a 1990's company that was going to change television and the Web forever -- turning your TV set into a Web surfing machine. In actually, the reverse happened: the PC became a TV watching machine. The IT industry hasn't given up on the idea though. Google TV is the latest attempt.

Given how much Microsoft has invested in advertising and technologies that let users interact with television, maybe the television-content-quiz-awards program will materialize one day soon. Would you watch a commercial for free miles? I would.

As for other interesting-sounding Microsoft patents in the last few weeks, I found a a truckload. Microsoft accumulated nearly 400 patents since October 1 and many of them are for some seemingly strange concepts. For the record, I'm not a fan of software patents but looking at them offers a window into the kinds of technologies coming out of Microsoft's labs.

Foot-based interface for interacting with a computerPatent ID: US7830359

Issue date: November 09, 2010

Yes, this allows you to operate a computer with your feet, so you can do things like exercise while still working. Maybe you can't run on the treadmill and use this interface, but perhaps you can stand and do some arm curls while your feet do the typing.

Microsoft patent: Foot based interface

Patent title: Walled gardens

Patent ID: US7832003

Issue date: November 09, 2010

This is a system that allows people to set various privacy settings in an online community. The idea is you can share select information with other users -- inviting them to different "walled gardens" so to speak. You can share, for instance, your real name and your photos with one group of people and only your screen name with others and still engage in communication with all of them. Ironically, Windows Live is a privacy setting mess. Let's hope this patent can translate into technology that fixes that.

Patent title: Dynamic window anatomyPatent ID: US7817163Issue Date: October 19, 2010

A method for creating fancy looking operating system Windows, such as ones that mimic the look of frosted glass. I liked the name of the patent ... Anatomy of a Window? Sounds like a cult classic movie.

Physical device bondingPatent ID:  US7822983 Issue Date: October 26, 2010

If you have a mobile device that can connect to your PC or your network via a physical connection like a cradle, or a wireless connection, this invention lets the physical connection configure the wireless connection. So once the computer/network "bonds" with the device of a physical cable, the device will be authenticated when it connects wirelessly. But this is another patent that I like for its name, too: Bondage among devices? There are PCs into that, I've heard.

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