Sunday, May 24, 2009

Airplane toilet queue patent: it's back!

In a 20 May 09 post titled Flushing away Bilski, Aaron R. Feigelson discusses U.S. Patent No. 7.535.367, Airplane lavatory reservation system, which evokes memories of IBM's6,329,919.

Feigelson links to an EE Times article about a talk given by Jon Dudas in San Jose [Speaking at an IP symposium here on Wednesday (April 16, 2008) ] and suggests Dudas may have been referring to the '367 when Dudas talked about an application the USPTO “recently received for what was claimed to be a better way to stand in line while waiting to use an airplane toilet” as an illustration of declining application quality. Sounds like Dudas may have been referring to this very patent, rather than IBM’s. HOWEVER, IPBiz notes that in a talk in Hollywood, CA in March 2008, Dudas linked the toilet queue patent to a "top 10" company, suggesting he did have IBM in mind. [see Ars Technica]

Nevertheless, the '367 is indeed another toilet queue patent, and, yes, IBM's (now withdrawn) US '919 IS CITED by the '367.

The background section of the '367 describes the problem:

It is a common occurrence in airplanes for passengers to stand and wait outside airplane's lavatories for long periods of time. This practice is common in long distance international flights where most passengers need to use the lavatory at one time or another. This is especially problematic in the morning hours when many passengers need to use lavatory at the same time. Many passengers find standing outside a lavatory to be an unpleasant and embarrassing experience. This is especially true for female passengers and young children. It is problematic for children as they are not accustomed to standing and waiting for long periods to use the lavatory. In addition, passengers standing outside a lavatory cause inconvenience to passengers occupying seats that are in close proximity to the lavatory. This practice invades the privacy and personal space of these passengers. Sometimes, passengers standing outside a lavatory engage in loud conversations, which is very disturbing to the passengers occupying seats in proximity to the lavatory. Sometimes, passengers waiting outside a lavatory block the view of television screen for passenger sitting behind them. On occasion, arguments and even fights occur among passengers over the issue of who is first in line to use a lavatory. This truly is an uncivilized way to use lavatory in a technologically advanced machine such as an airplane. As a result, seats close to the lavatories are undesired and are often shunned by passengers at the time of seat allocation. At times, when a large number of passengers stand and wait outside a lavatory, it becomes a safety issue on two accounts; 1) passengers do not have seat belts on during this time and are hence vulnerable to falling and sustaining injuries in case of turbulence; and 2) if a large number of passengers stand on one side of the airplane, there is a potential for causing unequal distribution of weight and consequently endanger the stability of the airplane.

Here's the solution, as given in claim 1:

A lavatory reservation system comprising of; 1) assigning lavatory set to user among multiple lavatories in a facility according to user location in the facility; 2) lavatory reservation request input means; 3) lavatory door lock having means to restrict access to the lavatory based on set of rules; operatively connected to controller; and having input means; 4) a controller; 5) a monitoring device coupled to the controller and adapted to monitor occupancy of a lavatory; 6) computer program code operative with the controller enabling the controller to: receive a request to use lavatory from user; enter user in queue in assigned lavatory set according to set of rules; assign access code for lavatory reservation request; notify user of lavatory status; automatically operate lavatory door lock from second unlocked to first locked position upon lavatory door changing from first open to second closed position subsequent to entry of valid access code into corresponding lavatory door input means.

See also

Dudas, IBM's toilet queue patent, and patent quality

Patent reform and IBM's questionable patents


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