Very large, successful multinational companies, whether they drill for oil, make cool technology products or are huge e-commerce platforms, tend to have one thing in common these days – they have very clever people working for them who are very good at coming up with new ideas. And those ideas need protection.
This is why companies like ExxonMobil, Apple and Amazon regularly submit ideas for patent protection.
Very large, successful social media platforms are no exception. What may surprise you is how frequently they do this.
A search through applications made via the US Patent Office shows that Facebook is a prolific applier for patents for its innovative ideas, with nearly 1,450 listed, and Twitter have far fewer – 97 and 69 respectively.
Facebook is quick to point out that it does not always intend to implement and commercialise ideas for that it has sought to protect. One recent story to hit the headlines related to a patent application for a way to turn on the microphone on someone’s smartphone using hidden signals broadcast over the TV network .
In the report of this story, Facebook told The Guardian about its patent strategy. “It is common practice to file patents to prevent aggression from other companies. Because of this, patents tend to focus on future-looking technology that is often speculative in nature and could be commercialised by other companies,” said Facebook’s head of intellectual property, Allen Lo.
The company claims that it has no plans to use the system. It would have to say that of course. Since when do public companies reveal their commercial plans before they are ready?
So with that in mind, what other applications has the social media giant made that may be of interest to companies in the travel and tourism sector and individual travellers? I’m not saying they will become reality but they can give a general idea of where things might be going.
The honeymoon predictor
Predicting Life Changes of Members of a Social Networking System is a patent outlining a method for working out when social network users undergo a change in marital status, relationship status, employment status or other personal detail. Some have said the patent means the company is developing a death prediction algorithm. While the death of a potential customer is interesting, travel companies may well be more interested in when a user is getting engaged or married and might be in the market for a honeymoon.
Collaborative travel guides
Location-based content aggregation and distribution is a patent that describes a method for sharing content between groups of friends on social networks who are visiting specific geographic locations. This could be form the basis of social real-time travel guides.
Interesting travel itineraries
You know how you sometimes want to travel from A to B but passing through C, D and E? Facebook’s patent application Identifying a route configured to travel through multiple points of interest describes a method to do just that. It’s not just Google and TomTom who are interested in mapping.
You’re out in a new travel destination and you are peckish. Where should you eat? You could always look at TripAdvisor to find a good restaurant. How about going to a restaurant where one of your social network friends is currently eating? Facebook’s patent application Recommendations based on geolocation describes how the company plans to do just that.
Social travel agent
Facebook has proven very good at monetising its users, and one of the ways it wants to do this is by being a social travel agent providing relevant posts and adverts to users based on their location and the posts of friends who have been to the same location. The patent Travel recommendations on online social networks describes how Facebook might use the vast amount of data per user, and his social circle provides on the network to produce “optimized travel itineraries”.
Mark Frary is co-founder of Travel Perspective, a social and digital consultancy working with travel companies and tourism organisations to help them share their amazing stories digitally, work collaboratively with travel influencers through video, images and words and drive new business.