Forecast future technology? Been there, done that with patented tech cited over 750 times and licensed by more than 200 companies


Filed in 1992, this quote from a patent that specified new technology for how we work and live today:

“The net result is the Vendor extends their ability to provide services and sales to their Customers right into its products, and provides the means for its Customers to obtain services and to conduct transactions as one of their product’s internal features.”


The inventor’s US Patent US5999908, “Customer-based product design module,” filed August 6, 1992:

In 1992 an early patent laid out an interactive future that has since been cited by over 270 subsequent patents.

Ancient history is 1991, when we were stuck with pay phones and landlines. If you wanted a microprocessor in your life you used DOS to run a green-screen PC or a heavy laptop. There were no browsers or websites. Networks were for corporations and universities. A mobile phone filled the trunk of a car. People used slow, loud modems that dialed up telephone connections — even AOL for Windows didn’t start until 1992. There wasn’t much to dial into.

While drinking a coffee one morning, I was thinking about a world of the future where we would have microprocessors all around us. With many things digital, these devices would also add communications and turn interactive.

With two years of work, that seed grew into a digital communications patent whose abstract said,

“The resulting two-way interactive media enables relationships to be built with individual customers and groups of customers throughout a product’s or service’s life cycle… This new medium provides a worldwide way to transform the use of products and services into interactive two-way dialogues.”

Of course that didn’t happen in the 1990′s, but it’s how we live today through our mobile phones and tablets, and many products and services. That two-way interactivity also describes how we will control the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet (IIoT). Today’s one-to-one interactive world was described in this 1992 filing:

“If that should happen, it would become increasingly difficult to think of many types of products and services as non-communicative and unresponsive On-line, networked products (i.e., those with a CB-PD Module, which this invention calls Customer Directed Products) offer a range of expanded two-way, interactive relationships between customers and vendors. Over time, these new relationships might even produce an evolution of free market economies toward increasingly responsive processes (see below for an initial description). If that evolution does begin, the companies that fail to add this type of interactivity to their products (where this is an appropriate addition added by their competitors) might grow increasingly out of touch with a faster-moving world that includes two-way opportunities to improve products and services rapidly–a new normal way to do business in a networked world.”

That patent has been licensed more than 200 times. This patent has also been cited by over 750 subsequent patents, many of them from world-leading corporations:

  • Apple: 37 patents cite this
  • International Business Machines: 24 patents cite this
  • Box, Inc.: 20 patents cite this
  • AT&T: 13 patents cite this
  • I2 Technologies: 11 patents cite this
  • Microsoft Corporation: 11 patents cite this
  • SAS Institute: 11 patents cite this
  • Bank Of America: 10 patents cite this
  • Lowe’s Companies: 10 patents cite this
  • SBC (phone company): 8 patents cite this
  • The Nielsen Company: 8 patents cite this
  • Intel: 6 patents cite this
  • Ebay: 6 patents cite this
  • Some of the 5 citations to 2 citations: General Electric (5 citations), Numoda Corporation (5), Sprint Communications (5), CNet Networks (4), Kabushiki Kaisha Toshiba (4), Amazon Technologies (3), Diebold, Incorporated (3), Harris Interactive (3), JP Morgan Chase Bank (3), Lending Tree (3), Yamaha Hatsudoki Kabushiki Kaisha (3), Accenture (2), Fujitsu Limited (2), Harcourt Assessment (2), Hewlett-Packard Development Company (2), Hitachi (2), Honeywell International (2), Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies (2), Nortel Networks (2), SAP AG (2), Sony Corporation (2), Boeing (2), Procter & Gamble (2), Verizon (2), Walker Jay S (2)
  • Some with 1 patent citation:  Bridgestone, Ford Motor Company, Google, Honda Giken Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha, Ingersoll-Rand, Lucent Technologies, NEC Corporation, Netapp, Qwest Communications, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Ricoh Elemex Corporation, Siemens Medical Solutions Health Services, Texas Instruments, Coca-Cola Company, Xerox Corporation


Timing is everything: That 1992 future is only one-third built

That 1992 patent expired years ago, but only some of the advances it taught have developed. This 1992 technology is still catching on, now that the advantages of two-way in-product communications are starting to be universally understood. This 1992 patent’s next two stages will be even more powerful.

There are actually three stages of growth for this two-way media inside of products and services. Most companies that use this will be surprised to learn that there are more opportunities to exploit. After all, this patent has expired and its leading-edge advances are free for everyone to use.

Here’s that vision of what we might become, quoted directly from that 1992 patent filing. The timing is the open question. When will each stage arrive in the coming decades?

Will we reach 1992 by 2025?


Stage 1 from 1992:  Products that communicate between vendors and users

Patent 1992 - Quote 1 Small - Col 13
This part is normal today:

To see this quote from 1992:  Column 13, line 3

Possible impacts from this invention…

A first potential impact could be on the market share of vendors who include this in their products. The CB-PD Module may provide competitive advantages that fit the vendor’s needs because, in the end, many vendors develop a product or service for only one reason, and that is to produce sales and profits. This invention offers the ability to demonstrate clearly to decision makers at the vendor company what it is about their product that is, or is not, effective, appealing, useful, etc. to their Customers while their product is being used. In many product life-cycle decisions, these clearly Defined Customer Desires (DCD) could prove to be crucial for the design, marketing, positioning, and future of the product and its specific features.

A second potential impact is that this makes material transformations in the products and services that include this invention. For example, the Defined Customer Desires (DCD) that receive the most attention by the product’s vendor may be those that appear to have the largest direct impact on the financial success and marketing performance of the product (or the fundamental goals of the organization, which may or may not be commercial; for example, an educational institution may be developing a technology-based curriculum product to produce certain learning outcomes or performance results, such as new skills in its students, and it may use a CB-PD Module to assess outcomes of its curriculum product during use, helping provide a constant flow of improvement information for this educational and non-commercial “product”).

A third potential impact is that this may change relationships between some vendors, customers and product users. For example, instead of a remote relationship between sellers (vendors) and buyers (customers) they have the opportunity to engage in an evolving dialog during product use, and redefine their relationship. One potential direction is for customers to assist or direct vendors in defining product features, interfaces, functionality, etc. Another potential direction is for customers to assist or direct vendors in developing services offered with the product, such as training, documentation, customer support, financing, volume buying discounts, etc. In addition to improving products and services, many new options are available. Three examples are on-line customer support (that is built into the product and responsive to individual customer needs), interactive performance support systems (that measure customer productivity, recommend productivity improvements, and assist customers in achieving them), and point-of-use transactions (the ability for customers to buy additional products and services from vendors through products, while they are using them, anywhere in the world).

A fourth potential range of impacts may come from using this as a broadcast, narrowcast or point-to-point communications media. One contribution of a patent could be to produce all three capabilities by requiring licensees to adhere to common standards. Thus, a vendor could “broadcast” to all the users of its CB-PD Module-equipped products throughout a marketplace, or “narrowcast” to specific groups of customers in specific market niches. If the customer chooses to identify himself or herself (such as someone who has an urgent need, wants on-line personal support, or is conducting a transaction through a product) the vendor could send a point-to-point reply to the module in that customer’s product. In reverse, users could choose to send (or sell) their data to any third-party, including information buyers FIG. 19 726. Who is more interested in the problems and needs of one vendor’s word processing software product-that software vendor, a competing software vendor, a vendor of market research data, or a corporation deciding which word processing software to buy? With modules in products and communications options, the data from users has commercial value and may be a source of revenue to product users.

An agenda for product development may thus emerge from customer participation: the sphere of involvement and influence is potentially expanded far beyond product developers and internal managers (which is generally the scope at present). Vendor employees may gain a greater recognition of the direct stake that customers have in the products and services that they buy and use. Similarly, customers may recognize the direct stake the vendors have in their ability to perform and succeed with the products they buy. These converging interests may foster new types of partnering, networking and market relationships made possible by this invention…

If that should happen, it would become increasingly difficult to think of many types of products and services as non-communicative and unresponsive On-line, networked products (i.e., those with a CB-PD Module, which this invention calls Customer Directed Products) offer a range of expanded two-way, interactive relationships between customers and vendors.

/end quote #1 from 1992


Stage 2:  The start of customer-driven ECONOMIES

Patent 1992 - Quote 2 Small - Col 70
This part, filed in 1992, is starting today.

To see this quote from 1992:  Column 70, Line 38

A Customer-Based Economy (CBE)

This CB-PD Module may produce products and services that can be closely and continuously linked to the needs and values of their Customers. The resulting Customer Directed Products (CPD) become the joint creations of Customers and Vendors. New preferences, product features, and Customer capabilities could be developed by this partnership.

The fact is, each product exists within the context or frame of reference in which it is used, so that its Customers ultimately make sense of its features and capabilities and either value or do not want the benefits claimed by the product’s Vendor. Inevitably, therefore, every product design is biased. For that bias to work for the Customer, there must be design selectivity and judgment that includes the Customer’s viewpoint. The approach embodied here is that one effective way to include the Customer’s judgment is to enable his or her participation in making these choices by means of a networking module that may be embedded into or attached to appropriate products and services.

Today, an increasing number of products and media are being merged and delivered by two-way networks. The installation of optical fiber networks to businesses and homes will produce an enormous expansion in the products and services that may be marketed and delivered over networks. In this context, which is the emergence of networked societies and economies, this invention is more than just a reflection of the financial needs of Vendors to increase revenues and profits. It can also be seen as a reflection of the emerging beliefs, assumptions, and values of such a networked society or economic system.

The fundamental change is for Customers to assist in providing the vendor’s conscious decision making function; they help choose the nature of the products and services they prefer and the features they want included or excluded. Thus, the transition proposed here is to interactive products that are actively shaped by the conscious and self-chosen needs, demands and constraints of the people and organizations that use them.

The eventual result could be that products and services are manufactured based on active preferences, beliefs and values that emerge (at least in part) from the people who buy and use them, as a normal feature of product use.

This reflects the inventor’s belief that Customers do not have to be as passive as they are today. Customers may do more than select the products they buy; they could help design them to fit their interests, goals, and beliefs. In such an environment, vendors would find it harder to throw at the market products that are based on features and capabilities that do not interest Customers or that they do not want. Customers would interact with an increasing range of products and services throughout the products’ life cycles (perhaps even from early concept/prototype stages), to help evolve them toward the features they want and will use. And if a product has been bought that is too difficult, too confusing, or offers something that Customers do not want, Customers could become very accustomed to hitting the interactive “module” to tell the Vendor immediately that there is a problem, perhaps how to fix it, or to request a specific service – like customer assistance or even a refund.

Most often, though, Customers will use only those portions of a product which they want and like, and they will interpret each product to be whatever they believe it is. For the first time, Vendors will be able to understand what that really means to customers on a day-to-day basis throughout the marketplace: Customers may or may not think the same features are valuable that the Vendor believes; they may or may not use the product for the purposes the Vendor intended; or they may apply it in new ways that are unsuspected and unknown to the Vendor. Thus, the most likely difference is the continuous education of Vendors about the current and changing real needs and interests of Customers. Since this invention provides private information only to those Vendors who include this module in their products, this is strategic information that Vendors may translate directly into improved products, revenues and profits.

/end quote #2 from 1992


Stage 3:  Can two-way product interactions increase market efficiency, economic prosperity and humanity’s achievements?

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This stage is still in the future. Is it time to consider this?

To see this quote from 1992:  Column 72, line 14

Stage 3:  Mastery

If this invention makes products and services modifiable based on what is in Customers’ heads and hearts, how do we bring that level of life (i.e., conscious imaginative transformations to achieve our goals) to the surface and into our daily activities? Is a Customer Design System (CDS) a new medium through which we might collectively improve our society, environment and world? What are the possibilities for using a Networked Marketplace (NM) to help Customers and Vendors mutually achieve their ultimate goals? Can the idea (or actuality) of Customer Directed Products be marketed as the possibility (or the promise) of new levels of achievement that may actually be generated by rapid iterative improvements? Is this a chance for Customers see themselves and the products they choose as perfectible? A chance to bring our aspirations into our lives through our products and our lifestyles? For example, “If the Customer can do it right and TELL US, then our company can make it right AND DO THAT FASTER THAN COMPETITORS, and make our customers happier and better off than their customers.” In other words, there may be a mutually worthwhile and beneficial attraction and holding power in the relationships this invention might foster between Customers and Vendors.

Thus, a possible economic impact is that this invention may cause a material transformation in products, services and Vendor-Customer relationships by producing a Networked Marketplace (NM) in which all participants may experiment with varying degrees of influence. This produces potentials for evolving toward an economy where Aggregate and Defined Customer Desires (ACD and DCD) help direct and control manufacturing, services, distribution, training customer support, etc. This would transfer some commercial control, guidance and direction from Vendors to Customers. It would redefine Customers based on their competence, preferences, buying power and control…

it might also help provide Customers with a new interactive role within which to reach out to extend their influence and guidance through commercial channels. For example, it would afford market segments new opportunities to play with product concepts and test ideas for new products, new relationships with Vendors, etc. By using a spectrum of networking opportunities simultaneously, Customers might figure out some of the “rules” for a networked society faster than Vendors.

For example, Customers might use other networks to organize their responses to specific products, and rapidly “feed” Vendors with preferences (i.e., an environmental group could use this in combination with other types of networks to publicize their cause and attract large numbers of people to give certain Vendors certain environmental messages about the ozone-depleting chemicals used to manufacture their products; or an immigrant group could send messages urging greater employment of their group members by the Vendors of products sold to that group). In other words, Customers might establish dynamic partnerships with Vendors that eventually extend beyond the design of products and their associated services. What is suggested is that the re-engineering/design space within which a Customer Design System (CDS) may operate may turn out to be considerably larger and more flexible than the preferred embodiments described above.

Can a society even consider approaching perfection? Based on systems of Customer guidance, can we conceive of a larger “invisible hand” than the one Adam Smith described, one that might work on our behalf to help with a larger task than the efficiency and effectiveness of the marketplace? With Networked Marketplaces (NM), could we see this “meta-hand” emerge from our ability to make conscious choices and the marketplace moving to provide what we say we want? Could we start to find ourselves with economic system that continuously becomes more efficient and accurate in meeting our needs – a virtuous circle that builds what we want on our behalf?

If so, this invention might open a door to responsive Customer-Vendor partnerships that are based on constantly evolving Customer needs, suggestions and preferences. That Networked Marketplace (NM) could be an explicit and self-conscious economic system that never existed before. But if that came to pass, that interactive marketplace might evolve explicit and empirically testable commercial opportunities to design and market the types of lifestyles, belief systems, social systems and world that groups of people might decide that they really want, which they would then have the built-in marketplace systems, responsive vendors and communication channels to request, design, purchase, refine and enjoy-worlds of their own desire and creation that they could try to live in simply because there would be a way to ask for it, have it made, buy it and improve it interactively.

The ultimate transformation would be from acted-upon Customers to connected partners-and perhaps then evolving from that to market segments of Customers that interactively guide and direct “Customer-responsive Vendors.” The opportunity would then exist for “Customer-responsive Vendors” to transform themselves, or one or more business units, into the companies that build and sell the lifestyles and worlds groups of people aspire to and would like to inhabit.

Instead of today’s feeling that some global corporations are becoming aggressively dominant, the economic direction proposed by this invention might lead toward emergent Customer groups who are supported and backed by major global Vendors-without feeling threatened by them.

The result might be named something like “Partnership Capitalism,” “Partnership Democracy” or “Democratic Capitalism.” This should remain consistent with fundamental beliefs about personal freedom and free markets; with the protection of the individual and of private property; with freedom of thought and speech; with the protection of privacy for individuals and corporations; with the value of a good education and honest respect for others; with the ability to live a quality secure life and to enjoy the fruits of one’s work and success. These and many more of our fundamental free-market and democratic beliefs are protected and supported by this invention.

What might be different because of this invention? First, by means of this invention the range of offers Vendors can make to Customers is likely to be wider and more personalized. Since this is a two-way environment that may be built into an increasing spectrum of products and services, this invention may become increasingly personalized so that an increasing number of individual customers may have the chance to become active participants in making their products and services into the ones that they want. By extension, they would be making this a world that they personally design and enjoy. This process would not come in one step. Rather, it would be based on the same basic processes as Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the marketplace, not from a “master plan.” In short, the process of a Networked Marketplace (NM) is an ever-changing conversation, not a final declaration. But it is the type of conversation in which many would have a voice; the Customer Design System (CDS) facilitates interactions that might enable many to make our world into their own worlds.

In the end, the outcomes from an invention like this are unknowable. Its hoped for impact is to create unstoppable technological and business advantages that allow the corporations who use them to triumph in individual competitive battles. That will produce clear financial incentives that may eventually redirect commercial marketplaces toward networked relationships that provide what customers want sooner and more accurately. To work, those incentives may collectively reward individuals (Customers), corporations (Vendors) and societies (Marketplaces) by providing Customer Directed Products (CDPs) and Networked Marketplaces (NMs) that are more efficient, profitable and accurate in fulfilling Customer and Vendor needs. Its hoped for goal is to help capitalism evolve from a somewhat centrally controlled economic system whose leaders can concentrate economic power in the hands of a smaller number of self-directed organizations, toward an economic system that functions by concentrating economic power in the hands of organizations whose business operations are explicitly dedicated to providing what people really want and need, and to protecting the privacy and integrity of Customers and people as a central part of that process.

/end quote #3 from 1992

This 1992 patent filing is still ahead of its time… Unless Expandiverse Technology accelerates an even newer and more powerful technology into today.


Image credits: Dan Abelow