Why the heck is RIM trying to patent improvements to roadside billboards?

When I skim through various patent applications, looking for interesting stuff to write about, I usually expect to see those patent applications to be at least in some remote way connected to the company business. After all, the time of the researcher in your R&D lab is pretty expensive, and the whole patent filing thingie ain’t very cheap too.

So I was pretty surprised to find these two patent applications, filed by RIM, among the roster of submissions aiming to patent various UI gimmicks, radio frequency controls and other stuff you’d expect to see from a mobile handset maker.

The patent applications are called “Adaptive roadside billboard system and related methods” and “Adaptive pedestrian billboard system and related methods”. And, yes, as the names indicate, RIM is trying to patent an improvement the dynamic LED billboards we are so used to by now.

Their invention/improvement? Measuring the traffic speed and density near the billboard, and adapting the message displayed according to it.

When traffic is moving fast and drivers have no time to pay attention to billboards, or there’s a dense crowd on the street so you are distracted and less likely to pay attention, the billboard may just blast a huge logo and slogan of the advertiser at you, to catch any peripheral attention it can get.  When traffic slows down in a jam, and you are sitting bored at the wheel waiting for a car in front to move the next few meters, grateful for any distraction, the same billboard will give you a detailed information about the service, prices, benefits and stuff.

Any relation to the mobile communication/messaging business Research in Motion is in? Well, RIM mentions that one of the ways to measure traffic speed and density can be via GPS sensors in mobile devices people carry with them. But it’s only one of the mentioned methods, and there are easier and more reliable ways to do the same thing – like radar detectors, cameras, pressure sensors, etc;

So what do you think RIM is up to with these patent filings? Some side project by a researcher or intern in their R&D labs, filed just in case and because it was there? Or something more?

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • Marcus Christopher McFann

    They’re obviously looking to create a new revenue stream with location based ads. They can use this technology to make sure the data is efficiently delivered.

    They already know what music we like, our friends, sometimes even our travelling destination via our mobiles. Now if combined with some mobile sensor tech, it can also make the ad data relevant to the target audience. So if there’s a traffic jam of people clogging the road to a sporting event, but most of those people are actually not even headed to that event, but to other nearby attractions, this would tell them. Plus you could place ads that best fit that audience, and based on their slow speed, you could have some really media rich ads to draw their attention.

    It’ll take alot of moving parts, but if they had a working system going and tied into a major OS or device maker, like themselves, they could have a big advantage over the other billboard operators not using the system. They could literally say they knew who’d be watching (cellular data), what music they liked (via Last.fm), what products they used (via Facebook and such), and how fast they’d be travelling (GPS, cellular data, radar, cameras, sensors…), and the carriers could start delivering ads that would be more likely to be seen, targeted to the attention span/speed, and relevant to more of the audience.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    Yeh, I’ve seen the Minority Report and all the targeted commerce stuff there
    too :)

    The problem is with those “moving pieces”. It will never work with any
    mobile device maker who has less then 50+% marketshare, and this kind of
    market concentration ain’t happening anytime soon. Unless there’s some sort
    of broad industry agreement to share this kind of location data. Which, with
    the privacy issues it would raise, is still many years away at best. I
    wouldn’t have been surprised if this patent app came from Google. But for
    such a minor player like RIM – this is an impossible feat.

    And, anyway, they are not trying to patent anything like the system you
    described. The only thing this patent tries to cover – is the idea of
    measuring speed and density of traffic, and adjusting billboard ads to it -
    more info for slow traffic, less info/bigger ad for fast moving traffic.
    That’s it. And RIM themselves tell us in the application, that there are
    much more efficient and easy ways then GPS sensors in phones, to measure
    traffic.