Location-based service Loopt has been allowed its first patent, and it could be a big one.
The patent, as described, seems relevant to numerous existing products, including Google’s Latitude. In layman’s terms, it describes using your location to display relevant ads and offers on top of a map, as an interstitial, or as a text ad — another claim also discusses displaying where your friends are on the same map. The patent was first filed in 2007, with Loopt founder Sam Altman listed as the primary inventor (Loopt got its start long before the likes of Foursquare and Google Latitude).
The patent, which is listed as Application Number 11/931,113 by the US Patent and Trademark Office, still hasn’t technically been granted. But it has been “allowed,” which is a precursor to being granted. At this point, it could still be a few months before the patent is granted, assuming that Loopt pays all the proper fees and files the proper paperwork.
Here’s one relevant claim:
“17. A method comprising: providing, by a server, an advertising campaign including a plurality of advertising messages for transmitting to users of mobile devices at different times or locations; receiving, by the server, the geographic location of a mobile communication device operated by a user within an area; and transmitting to the mobile communication device for display, at least one of the plurality of advertising messages, wherein the advertising message includes content relevant to a characteristic of the user or activity performed by the user and is in the form of a text advertising message, coupon and/or graphic element that is superimposed over a map representation of the area around the mobile communication device displayed on a graphical user interface of the mobile communication device of the user, displayed in an interstitial display page of the graphic user interface, or displayed as a text-based message, and wherein the ad message is transmitted in response to the location of the user.”
It’s unclear what this means for Loopt (the company isn’t commenting). Loopt has sworn to the Patent Pledge, which states that they won’t offensively use their patents against any company with fewer than 25 people. Of course, most of the location-based companies you’ve heard of have more than that. Even if they never use it offensively (which would be nice), this may be a good defensive patent for Loopt going forward.
Part of me feels like the notion of putting a layer of ads on top of a map, alongside where your friends are, is an obvious use-case for smartphones. This was filed in 2007, so the assumption may be that it was less obvious back then.