SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR AUTOMATED INTERNET-BASED AUCTIONS
The present invention relates to systems and methods for implementing an automated auction process that is held at a designated time on the Internet, and that ends after bidding has been completed. In accordance with these systems and methods, a server connected to a plurality of workstations may establish several auctions that allow for efficient trading of multiple goods, while simulating the live and dynamic setting of traditional auctions.
- 1. (canceled)
- 2. A method comprising:
controlling, by at least one processor; receiving, over a communication network, a plurality of electronic messages comprising a plurality of bids from a plurality of remote computers in an electronic auction session, in which at least one bid is a smart bid that automatically outbids all other bids by an incremental amount until a maximum amount is reached; displaying, over the communication network, an interface screen at a display of one of the plurality of remote computers during the electronic auction session, the interface screen simultaneously comprising; an image depicting an animated character announcing information relating to the electronic auction session, indicia of an item available for bidding, a bid indicia selectable for placing a bid, and a smart bid indicia selectable for placing a smart bid, in which the smart bid indicia is different and separate from the bid indicia; and after an auction period has ended, determining a winning bid from among the received bids, in which the winning bid is the smart bid; and displaying, over the communication network, at the interface screen of at least one first of the plurality of remote computers an indication of the winning bid.
- View Dependent Claims (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
- 11. A method comprising:
controlling, by at least one processor; determining after an auction period has ended, a winning bid from among the received bids, in which the winning bid is the smart bid; transmitting, over the communication network, to a remote device, an indication of the winning bid; receiving, before expiration of the auction period, electronic data comprising a request to rescind a previously submitted bid; and rescinding the previously submitted bid.
- 12. An apparatus comprising:
at least one processor configured to control; displaying, over the communication network, an interface screen at an electronic display of one of the plurality of computers during the electronic auction session, the interface screen simultaneously comprising; indicia of an item available for bidding, a bid indicia selectable for placing a bid;
- View Dependent Claims (13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20)
This application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/614,123, filed Sep. 13, 2012, which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/208,189, filed Sep. 10, 2008 (now U.S. Pat. No. 8,533,061), which is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 10/629,128 filed on Jul. 23, 2003 (now U.S. Pat. No. 7,440,912), which claims priority to U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/459,834 filed Mar. 31, 2003, the disclosures of which are hereby incorporated by reference herein in their entireties.
The present invention relates to systems and methods for implementing automated auction processes that may be conducted electronically.
There have been many different approaches adopted to fairly bring buyers and sellers together in a manner that is economically efficient. A main objective of such approaches is to allow transactions to be conducted as close as possible to the market price of the goods. Generally, the market price can be achieved by permitting full access to the transaction by essentially all potential educated buyers and sellers. However, the buyer/seller transaction must be structured to operate at a very low cost, or it will distort the price of goods. Therefore, some key elements in promoting effective buyer/seller transactions may conflict, thereby necessitating trade-offs between trading efficiency and market knowledge.
An auction is a well known method that brings buyers and sellers together in transacting a sale of goods. Traditionally, this process has involved the gathering of potential buyers in one location, known as an auction house, where select goods are presented to them by an auctioneer that calls for bids. At the floor of an auction, potential buyers compete for an auctioned item by bidding for it, sometimes with the assistance of bid spotters. The auctioned item is sold to the highest bidder once the auctioneer bangs a gavel—i.e., once the hammer falls. Afterwards, an auction attendant assists the winning bidder with the required formalities and the auction house assists in collecting the item the bidder has won, thereby completing the transaction.
Although successful in creating an exciting forum wherein interested parties compete for an item, the traditional auction process suffers from various disadvantages. Participants must be physically assembled at an auction site. Attending an auction is therefore not only time consuming but also expensive, as it may be associated with transportation costs. As a result, fewer buyers may attend and the true market price of the auctioned item may not be achieved.
In an effort to make auctions more convenient, some auction houses allow potential buyers or bidders to submit their bids over the telephone or the Internet, so that they need not be physically present at a particular auction house. Moreover, such bids may be placed in advance—i.e., bidders need not submit their bids while the auction is taking place. By allowing bidders to submit their maximum bids via telephone, mail, facsimile or email, the process of bidding becomes less expensive and may save time. However, such a process may hinder a bidder'"'"'s ability to increase his or her bid in response to competitive bids received from the floor as it also takes away from the excitement of being physically present at the auction. Not only do the limitations of the previous auction schemes lead to lower selling prices, but they also require the presence of a live auctioneer to conduct the auction.
More recently, Internet-based auctions have been made possible where sellers post descriptions and pictures of items they intend to sell, while buyers browse through such items and enter bids electronically. Such a scheme is particularly useful when there are no established trading locations for the select items. In addition, most Internet-based auctions are automated in that they do not require the presence of a live auctioneer. Compared to traditional auctions that have been the dominant trading form for exotic items such as rare pieces of art, antiques and the like, electronic auctions not only allow for a significant number of users to participate in the auctioning of a good, but may also be used for trading almost all kinds of goods. Moreover, Internet-based auctions allow for multiple users to bid for or sell multiple items substantially simultaneously.
In Internet-based auctions, bidding for a specific item typically starts when the item is posted by a seller and ends at a predetermined time. Bidders are permitted to bid up to the designated end time, where the winning bid is the highest bid at such time. In such a process, bidders often struggle to outbid each other close to the designated end time of the auction. As a result, processing errors or delays may occur, certain bids may not be entered, and the true market price of the auctioned item may not be achieved. Moreover, this type of auction may also lack an element of excitement that is present throughout a traditional auction.
A reverse auction is a variation of the auction process that may be used in Internet-based auctions. At the start of such a process, the price of the auctioned item is set at a predetermined value and decreases in predetermined decrements during the auction. Such a process typically takes place over a relatively short period of time during which each potential buyer is provided with the current price and the time remaining until the auction is concluded. Although more exciting and dynamic than typical Internet-based auctions, reverse auctions are associated with large activity as the auction nears its conclusion. This again may lead to the item selling at a sub-optimal price and may increase the risk of processing errors.
It would therefore be desirable to provide automated Internet-based auction systems and methods that allow for efficient and simultaneous trading of multiple goods, while simulating the live and dynamic setting of a traditional auction.
It is an object of this invention to provide automated auction systems and methods that may be implemented on the Internet.
It is another object of this invention to provide automated auction systems and methods that allow for multiple participants to trade multiple items substantially simultaneously and at low costs.
It is still another object of this invention to provide automated auction systems and methods that result in the trading of items at optimal prices while incurring the least possible number of errors.
It is yet another object of this invention to provide automated auction systems and methods that simulate the live and dynamic setting of a traditional auction, while still allowing participants to submit advance bids.
The above and other objects of the present invention are preferably realized in a computer-based processing system for implementing several auction processes that may be each held at an auction site on the Internet at a designated time and date. A sample auction process may control and display an animated automated character in the role of an auctioneer. Product information relating to an item or group of items being auctioned may also be displayed. After the animated auctioneer announces the start of the auction, the auction process may receive bids from multiple bidders participating in the auctioning of the item(s). The animated auctioneer may continue to announce the current bid based on the received bids until bidding appears to have stopped by virtue of the fact that there have been no additional bids after the expiration of a pre-determined amount of time from the last bid.
The above and other objects and advantages of the invention will be apparent upon consideration of the following detailed description, taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which like reference characters refer to like parts throughout, and in which:
The present invention is directed to methods for implementing an automated auction process that may be conducted electronically. Potential sellers may enter one or more items to be auctioned. Once the auction for a specific item or group of items is held, potential buyers may bid on such items. Animated automated characters may be displayed to auction participants and play the role of an auctioneer, a bid spotter and an auction attendant in conducting the automated auction preferably on the Internet.
The present invention is also directed to systems for implementing the automated auction process. The first aspect of such systems relates to a hardware arrangement that may provide a platform for buyers and sellers to participate in the auction process and display the auctioned items as well as the animated characters conducting the auction. The second aspect of the systems relates to a governing logic that is stored in the system memory and that may provide a sequence of protocols and rules that control the auction process and the animated characters.
Server 120 may be any suitable server, processor, computer, data processing device, or combination of the same. Server 120 may be used to implement the governing logic that runs the auction process. Computer network 103 preferably includes the Internet but may consist of any suitable computer network such as an intranet, a wide-area network (WAN), a local-area network (LAN), a wireless network, a digital subscriber line (DSL) network, a frame relay network, an asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) network, a virtual private network (VPN), or any combination of the same. Communications links 102 and 105 may be any communications links suitable for communicating data between workstations 110 and server 120, such as network links, dial-up links, wireless links, hard-wired links, etc.
Workstations 110 may be personal computers, laptop computers, mainframe computers, dumb terminals, data displays, Internet browsers, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), two-way pagers, wireless terminals, portable telephones, etc., or any combination of the same. Workstations 110 may be used by participants to post items for sale or to enter into and proceed with the auctioning of such items.
A typical workstation 110 may include processor 111, display 112, input device 113, and memory 114, which may be interconnected. In a preferred embodiment, memory 114 contains a storage device for storing a workstation program for controlling processor 111. Input device 113 may be used by potential buyers to enter bids on desired items, or by potential sellers to post items they intend to sell. Processor 111 may use the workstation program to receive product and sale information relating to the auctioned item, and present on display 112 auction information such as the current highest bid, the minimum acceptable opening bid, the minimum acceptable incremental, the auction commencement time and/or the length of time that has passed since the beginning of the auction. Display 112 may also be used to exhibit animated auctioneers, animated bid spotters and/or auction attendants to participants when appropriate.
Server 120, which may be maintained by an auction host, may include processor 121, display 122, input device 123, and memory 124, which may be interconnected. In a preferred embodiment, memory 124 contains a storage device for storing auction information and user information as well as a server program that provides the governing logic for controlling processor 121. Processor 121 may use the server program to establish auctions for specific items, allow participants to partake in the auction, sort and accept bids on such items, enter bids on behalf of potential bidders and automatically control several aspects of the electronic auctions. Processor 121 further creates and controls the automated auctioneers, bid spotters and auction attendants pertaining to the various auctions.
In a preferred embodiment of the present invention, the auction may take place on the Internet'"'"'s World Wide Web at an auction site maintained by the auction host, as described and shown in
After step 210, the seller may be directed to enter information relating to the item or items she wishes to sell at step 212. Such item or product information may include categorical classification, item description, photographs or video presentation of the items or a sample item, units of the item available for sale, etc. The seller may also be directed to enter certain information relating to the sale or delivery of the item(s) at step 212. Such sale information may include the preferred payment method, the preferred auction duration and commencement time, the seller'"'"'s reserve price (if any), etc.
Once the seller enters the required information, the entered information may be communicated from workstation 110 to server 120 of
The minimum acceptable opening bid and the minimum acceptable incremental bid may also be determined at step 214. Alternatively, they may be determined at some other time before the start of the auction or at the start of the auction, based on the nature, expected selling price or value of the item(s) being auctioned, or based on the reserve price (if any) entered by the seller. The minimum acceptable incremental bid may also change as a function of the current bid during the auction. Confirmation of the setting of the auction date and time along with other auction information may be displayed or communicated to the seller at step 216. The seller may also be notified of the upcoming auction via email some time prior to the commencement of the auction.
Process 200 may also be used by a potential buyer in order to participate in an already established auction. A potential buyer may undergo steps 202, 204 and 206 of process 200 as well, according to the preferred embodiment of the present invention described in
At step 220, the potential buyer may be queried as to whether he would like to enter a particular auction once he views search results by an animated auction attendant, such as the one described in connection with
If the potential buyer chooses to enter an available auction, the system may determine whether the auction has commenced at step 224. If the particular auction has not yet begun but is about to start, the process may continue to step 402 in
An auction attendant in the form of character 311 of
In the preferred embodiment illustrated in
An unregistered participant who wishes to access the auction and who does not have a username or password may be prompted to create an account with the auction house hosting the site if he so desires. Such a process may require him to pay a fee and disclose certain user-related information that may be used to create a user profile. Alternatively, the process of creating a user account may be free of charge. This may apply to both potential sellers and buyers. In addition to assigning a potential buyer a username and a password, the process of creating an account may involve receiving a shipping address and a preferred payment method that may be stored in the system memory, as part of the user profile. In addition, the buyer may select the animated characters he would like to have appear as discussed in relation to
In another embodiment of the present invention designed to attract potential participants, users may access the auction site and not be prompted to enter a username or a password until they decide to either post an item for sale or enter a bid on an auction. In yet another embodiment of the present invention, unregistered users may access the auction site in order to buy certain items and need not undergo any of steps 202, 204 or 206 of
Screen 500 of
Screen 500 may also include window 520 that displays an animated character in the form of an auctioneer 522 presiding over the auction behind table 524, and holding gavel or hammer 526. Auctioneer 522 is automated and controlled by the controlling logic of system 100 depicted in
At the start of the auction, auctioneer 522 of
Screen 500 of
Referring back to process 400 of
Participants who have not entered the auction at the auction starting time may be allowed to enter the auction after step 404 of process 400, as indicated by the arrow from step 224 of process 200, in the event that the answer to the question of step 224 of
An advance bid may be the highest amount of money a potential buyer is willing to pay for the item being auctioned. The potential buyer may have the option of submitting his advance bid as a Smart Bid. In doing so, the potential buyer may specify a level of improvement he wishes to have applied. If the user does not specify the level of improvement, his bid may be assigned a default improvement level. The improvement level may be implemented as described in co-pending commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/171,009, filed Jun. 11, 2002 and provisional patent application No. 60/463,835 filed Apr. 16, 2003, which are hereby incorporated by reference herein in their entireties.
At step 406 of
Each received bid may be registered based on the bidder who entered it, the amount it is for, the time it was entered, and/or whether it is an advance bid. Each bid may also be validated—e.g., the system may check whether the bid is over the sum of the minimum acceptable incremental bid and the most recent current highest bid. In the event that two or more bids are equal in amount, the bid that was received first may be given higher priority.
Advance bids may be modified and placed at the next allowable bid amount, up to the maximum amount authorized by the bidder. The next allowable bid amount may be calculated by adding the minimum acceptable incremental bid to the current highest bid. In the event the bidder submitted an advance bid under the Smart Bid option, his bid may be modified and placed at a higher bid amount, without exceeding the maximum amount authorized by the bidder. The higher bid amount may be calculated by multiplying the minimum acceptable incremental bid by a variable factor, and adding the result to the current highest bid. The factor may be chosen based on the improvement level selected by the bidder, the current highest bid and/or the maximum amount authorized by the bidder. Alternatively, the advance bid may be modified under the Smart Bid option in any other way that ensures that the highest amount the advance bidder is willing to pay for the item is entered as a valid bid by the system.
In the event that an advance bid is equal to the highest bid entered by a participant, the advance bid may or may not be given priority over that highest bid. In the event that two or more advance bids are equal in amount, the bid that was entered first may be given higher priority. Alternatively, in the event that two or more bids are equal in amount, the bid entered by the more established bidder the user who has placed more bids, placed bids on more items, participated in more auctions, etc.—may be given higher priority.
In order for a potential buyer participating in the auction to place a bid on the item(s) being auctioned, he may press Bid button 544. His bid may be placed at the next allowable bid amount based on the minimum acceptable incremental bid, or may be received as entered by the bidder through his keyboard. However, before the bid may be received by the system, the individual bidder may be asked to confirm his bid through screen 600 of
Smart Bid button 545 provides another way for the potential buyer to place a bid on the item(s) being auctioned. Smart Bid button 545 may give the potential buyer the option of placing a bid that the system determines while bidding is taking place and may be particularly useful when the current highest bid is nearing the maximum amount the potential buyer may be willing to pay for the item(s) or when there may not be enough time for the potential buyer to successfully enter his desired bid on the item(s).
More specifically, when the Smart Bid button is pressed, the system may enter a bid on behalf of the potential buyer that is higher than the sum of the minimum acceptable incremental bid and the current highest bid, without exceeding the maximum amount the potential buyer is willing to pay for the item. The bid entered by the system on behalf of the user may be based on bids entered by other potential buyers, the current highest bid, the minimum acceptable incremental bid and/or the maximum amount authorized by the bidder. In a preferred embodiment, when the Smart Bid button is pressed, the potential buyer may be prompted to enter the maximum amount he is willing to pay and the system may then calculate and enter an appropriate bid by multiplying the minimum acceptable incremental bid by a variable factor, and adding the result to the current highest bid. The factor may be chosen based on the improvement level, as described above.
For example, if the current bid is S80, the minimum acceptable incremental bid is 5 and the maximum amount a first bidder—bidder A—is willing to pay is S100, the Smart Bid option may allow a bid for S90 to be entered on behalf of bidder A. If bidder A had entered a bid for S85, another bidder—bidder B—may enter a bid for 90, which would still allow bidder A to enter a bid for 100 under the Smart Bid option. However, if bidder A enters a bid for 95 instead, then bidder B may enter a bid for S100, thereby preventing bidder A from entering the amount he was willing to pay for the item being auctioned. The Smart Bid option may therefore be implemented in such a way that ensures that a bid for S100 for the item is ultimately entered on behalf of bidder A as a valid bid.
Screen 600 of
After step 406, process 400 may determine whether a new highest bid was established at step 408, and if so, continues to step 410. A bidder may be allowed to retract his bid. The bidder may do so by pressing on Retract button 546 of
At step 410 of
In an alternative embodiment, process 400 need not recalculate the bidding period at step 404 and may reset the timer according to the previously calculated bidding period at step 404. In yet another alternative embodiment, the bidding period may be chosen to be a fixed time period throughout the entire auction process and need not be calculated at step 404.
After undergoing step 404 again, process 400 may solicit bids at step 406 by causing bid spotter 533 of
The exemplary screen 500 shown in
The exemplary screen 600 shown in
In the event that the bidding period has passed without new bids having been accepted at step 412 of
In the event that the seller has entered a reserve price at step 212 of
After announcement “Going Once” is made at step 416, process 400 may go back to step 404. Alternatively, after announcement “Going Twice” is made at step 420, process 400 may go back to step 404. Further to what was described above in relation to step 404, the bidding period may then be recalculated based on the current highest bid, the amount of bidding activity, and whether announcement “Going Once” or “Going Twice” has been made. In addition, the timer may be reset for counting down the newly calculated bidding period at step 404. Again, the bidding period need not be recalculated at step 404 and may be based on the previously determined bidding period. Process 400 may step through steps 406 and 408 again in order to receive bids and determine whether a new current highest bid is accepted. Process 400 may solicit bids at step 406 by causing bid spotter 533 of
As can be understood, process 400 of
Whether or not there were any bids accepted in process 900 of
Screen 700 of
The auction host operating the auction site may act as escrow agent, thereby serving as a counterparty between the buyer and the seller. In this case, once the buyer enters the required information, an email message may be automatically sent to the seller, informing her that the auction has ended and notifying her of the winning bid price, the payment mechanism and the shipping method. Auction attendant 744 may then thank the buyer for using the auction site. Afterwards, the seller may be directed via email to a homepage where she may enter the total balance due. After the seller completes the required fields, the buyer may be notified of that amount via email. When payment in available funds is received by the auction host, the seller may ship the item to the buyer. Following receipt of the goods in satisfactory condition by the buyer, or the expiration of a pre-determined period during which the buyer may object, the auction host may release the funds to the seller.
The exemplary screen 700 shown in
Screen 800 of
Exemplary screens 700 and 800 of
Upon conclusion of an auction, system 100 of
Whether or not there are similar items being auctioned, system 100 of
One of ordinary skill in the art should appreciate that portions of the present invention may be practiced by means other than the ones described herein. For example, a potential seller may post an item for sale via email, while potential buyers may bid on auctioned items via email. Such an embodiment still makes use of the Internet. The auction site need not be hosted on the Internet'"'"'s World Wide Web, however, and may be implemented on a WAN, LAN or DSL network instead. Alternatively, the seller may contact the auction site via telephone to enter information regarding an item she may wish to sell. Although some of the methods of practicing the present invention disclosed herein may require the assistance of a person in setting up different aspects of the auction, the nature of the auction process described in connection with
Finally, one of ordinary skill in the art should appreciate that the present invention may be practiced in embodiments other than those illustrated herein without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention, and that the invention is only limited by the claims which follow.