Microsoft Starbucks Patent Application: Lewis Black and The End of the Universe

Written by Tom Ewing

aNewDomain — Comedian Lewis Black claims that a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks marks the end of the universe.

A recently published patent application from Microsoft that focuses almost exclusively on locating Starbucks cafes would test that theory out.

This week, the USPTO published a patent app from Microsoft — it’s called Progressive Spatial Searching Using Augmented Structures.

The new application, published as US20120173500 on July 5, 2012, describes its searching algorithm as:

[A] user may wish to locate a nearby Starbucks while travelling as an automobile passenger on a highway. The user may begin entering a character string on a GPS-equipped mobile device, and may have typed the prefix string “star” in the process of entering the string “Starbucks.” The user’s current location may be obtained (e.g., if the user is in range of GPS signals), and the prefix string “star” may be sent to a search engine with the current location information …. Thus, for example, as the user enters “star” the search engine may return the address and phone number of the nearest Starbucks (and similar information for other returned objects), potentially saving the user from typing in the rest of the query string.

The application presumes that a passenger rather than a driver is the one performing the query for safety reasons.

Using an augmented search structure for character strings that stores spatial bound indicators in selected non-terminal nodes that aid in finding the closest Starbucks for a moving coffee drinker

The application further clarifies:

(Because) the location information may vary as the user moves during character entry (e.g., by moving in a car while requesting information regarding Starbucks), the search technique may return different results for progressive searches as each successive character is provided (e.g., the user may move closer to one Starbucks while moving away from another Starbucks that may have been returned in response to an earlier prefix string search request).

The application doesn’t address directly the Black-Starbucks Enigma described above, but it’s easy to imagine a configuration to help you decide between two Starbucks stores at equal distances away.

So far, the Microsoft “Starbucks” patent application hasn’t had an easy time of it.

The patent examiner assigned to the ‘500 application has rejected the pending claims on a number of grounds, including ones related to prior art.

Ironically, the prior art cited by the examiner itself not only describes a spatial searching invention.

It also uses Starbucks as its reference search.  The prior art patent application is owned by mobile app developer Boopsie in San Jose.

The ‘500 application mentions Starbucks 34 times.

Some 65 published Microsoft patent applications mention “Starbucks,” according to my search of published USPTO applications.

Overall, some 1,259 published patent applications from a variety of vendors mention Starbucks by name.

The USPTO has been publishing pending patent applications since November 2000.

Starbucks itself just has 24 published patent applications and owns about 50 US patents, most of which are design patents related to how things look as opposed to innovation patents that describe how inventions are built.

Someone alert +Lewis Black.