back to article Apple patent endangers unbiased product reviews

Apple has filed a patent application for an online-store product-review system that turns the ideal of unbiased product evaluation on its head. "The present invention relates to electronic commerce," the application reads, "and more specifically to using the collective wisdom of a community to predict rankings for items for …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow!!

    More than usual bollocks from Apple.

    1. Ian McNee
      Stop

      But what to do about it??

      Oh yeah...I'll just remember to continue not buying anything from Apple! Sorted :-)

      1. MineHandle

        re: but what to do about it??

        "I'll just remember to continue not buying anything from Apple!"

        And that is a problem because....???

        1. Ian McNee
          Troll

          Facetious

          fa·ce·tious [fuh-see-shuhs] –adjective

          1. not meant to be taken seriously or literally: a facetious remark.

          2. amusing; humorous.

          3. lacking serious intent; concerned with something nonessential, amusing, or frivolous: a facetious person.

  2. Marco van de Voort

    Is it really a problem?

    Retailer sites often already have user comment groups, and they are on average already way,way to positive to be useful (except a few that mention details).

    These comment forums with products don't compare with 3rd party reviews, and Apple giving out a few trinkers here and there won't change that.

    1. Doug Glass
      Go

      Ahhhhh ....

      ... you do your homework.

  3. goldcd

    After a bit of thought - maybe it's not such a bad idea.

    Would discourage (or allow the down-ranking) of "I've not even heard this, but I'm sure it's 5/5" and "I called support and they told me to stop being a muppet 0/5" reviews.

    Putting aside the direct reward, it's surely just an extension of the "Did you find this review useful" button Amazon have been sporting for years.

  4. BozNZ
    WTF?

    patent!

    I thought Apple already held all the patents on unbiased reviewing?

    1. James 139

      Really?

      I thought they said "be positive or we break your legs", which wouldnt require a patent.

  5. mhoulden
    WTF?

    Why is this being patented?

    I thought patents were supposed to protect novel inventions, not marketing campaigns. I know Apple have only applied for a patent and it hasn't yet been granted, but I think the US patent & trademark office needs to say that you can't patent things unless you can provide a physical sample and explain how it isn't just a variant of an existing idea.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Coat

      Because..

      It's the only way Apple could find of patenting their Reality Distortion Field - Mk II.

    2. Arctic fox
      WTF?

      @mhoulden. I agree entirely.

      Indeed I cannot understand why or how something that is a non-physical variant of various marketing techniques that have been used for years can possibly be patentable. I realise that US patent law is different from the EU in general and the UK in particular but I cannot believe that it possible that the US patent office would accept this as a patent application? I mean, seriously?

  6. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    FAIL

    Isn't that called betting?

    Hold on, a yawn is killing me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Apple patents betting

      Yes that would had been a more interesting headline

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    terrible...

    I find it almost offensive that you can actually patent scheme like this....

    patents should strictly be for a physical product that you have designed and is a working product, even if it is only a prototype.

    patenting somthing you just thought up and is not possible to actually make yet is wrong... software should not be patented, but should be covered by copright

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      I agree with your sentiment

      that the USPTO has become nothing more than an organisation that rubberstamps everything and anything, provided the paperwork is complete and the appropriate fees are paid.

      But I'm not so sure about the restriction that only physical products should be patentable. I do have serious reservations about software patents, but given that a fair few products' usefulness, uniqueness and innovation is in, or directly related to, their (embedded) software I wouldn't want to put an outright ban on the patentability of software. But there should be way more stringent checking of trivialness and prior art, to weed out the chaff that appears to make up 99.73% of software patents.

      1. Marty

        copyright...

        then that software should be subject to copyright...

        And I agree, its all about the fee.... they take the money and just stamp it.. its only when sombody infringes on a patent that any work is done to look up prior art, and thats not even done by the USPTO..

        patents are mostly about lawyers getting rich...

  8. Adair

    I think we all know by now...

    ...that the US Patent system is utterly broken, and merely a Wild West for robbers, charlatans, and carpet baggers to come up with ever more outrageous claims and scams with which to screw each other over and skew the 'market' (I use the term advisedly), in their favour.

    Thankfully the US Patent system and corporate brigands, with their associated flocks of vulpine lawyers and tame judiciary, is not that of the whole world; although to see how they carry on they clearly want it to be.

    When is the rest of the world going to grow a pair and tell them where they can stick their useless and predatory system, and more importantly come up with something a whole lot better for all of us?

  9. Johnny Canuck
    Thumb Down

    payola

    Sounds a bit like the illegal payola schemes the recording industry used to practice. There's a reason its illegal.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Gaming this system...

    1. Review product as good (or bad).

    2. Zombie net creates flood of fake user reviews which agree with you.

    3. Cash check.

  11. Dave Bell

    Wasn't this in "The Shockwave Rider"?

    And thus terribly old. 1975, and DARPA, the Mad Science arm of the Pentagon, were going toi implement it as the Policy Analysis Market.

    DARPA is likely better prior art under patent law than a 1975 novel.

    1. dr_forrester

      Don't bet on that...

      Clarke's (then-)fictional description of the design and operation of communications satellites made them unpatentable when actually invented.

      1. Dave Bell

        Clarke's Communication Satellite ideas

        They were published on the October 1945 issue of Wireless World. Not a novel, a technical paper in a technically-oriented publication, with some calculations of such things as the power needed. That's a different thing to a novel.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reviews aren't just for products.

    Reviews also reflect the customer service of the merchant. I ordered a 2tb hard drive and it arrived in a thin mailing envelope rather than a proper box. It looked like it got run over by a forklift. Of course the drive didn't work. I wrote a negative review for the service not the product. Would my review under the Apple system get tossed because it was off topic?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      So you're the guy that's doing that!

      > Reviews also reflect the customer service of the merchant.

      You're doing it wrong.

  13. Heff
    Stop

    Err what?

    "However, today's professional reviewers are being paid a flat rate whether their reviews make advertisers happy or not – although, admittedly, a publisher might tell a reviewer to hit the road if that worthy pisses of a deep-pockets advertiser one time too many."

    Games reviewing? See also Future publishing, the Fall of Adrenaline Vault, IGNs 4.5 stars for everything process and the Firing of Jeff Gerstmann from Gamespot because his review didnt tally with GS's balls-deep subsidy from Eidos at the time. The siginificance of the article is that Jeff wasnt some kid-hopeful blogger, but the guy was Real Journalism™ and got shitcanned for it anyway. the equivalent for movies would be sacking Roger Ebert because Michael Bay took out a full page Ad in your newspaper.

    IDK which fucking reviewers you're talking about, but it sure as hell isnt games.

    1. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Not just games

      "Despite what suspicious readers often claim, most of today's product reviewers are scrupulous about not letting advertising dollars affect their evaluations."

      I call BS.

      They may be scrupulous about the appearance of not letting advertising dollars affect their evaluations but that's as far as it goes. Give a product a bad review and expect to be looking for work, kiss butt on a review and expect to get assigned to future reviews from "important" clients. Before long you have a bunch of yes men competing to see who can find the most positive things to say about a steaming turd.

      I've seen lots of independent magazines get bought out by big companies and their reviews always go to hell. Photography, auto, computer, audio, it's all the same.

    2. Youngdog
      Flame

      Flip side to the Ebert/Bay comparison.

      Best example I can remember was Robbie Collin's News of the World (a subsidery of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation) review of 'Wolverine' - a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation Production (a subsidery of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation). It now resides behind a paywall, which is a shame as the whole thing in it's entirety managed to make me so incandescent with rage that the red mist still drops just thinking about it, but the RT summary still persists and reads;

      'It's both a solid addition to the superhero list and a perfectly enjoyable watch that leaves the door pleasingly open for another X-Men prequel'

      For some inexplicable reason Robbie's legendary critical faculties for once failed him and his opinion seemed somewhat out of step with the rest of his world - a world that instead widely regarded the film as a complete sh*t sandwich.

      Who knows why this was - everyone gets it wrong sometimes after all and perhaps it was just his time. Or maybe he was right and everyone else was wrong - a lone castaway on the island of truth surrounded by an endless sea of short-sighted ignorance.

      My own (and completely unqualified theory) is that perhaps his x-factor mutation doesn't actually involve a seemingly supernatural ability to pull ultra-hip finger-on-the-pulse movie reviews out of his backside but instead involves an uncanny ability to come across (in print anyway) as a preening, oh-so-cool, Shoreditch pubbing, porkpie wearing, post-event party chasing, crap-coke snortin, C-list name droppping, media tw*t who is so desperate to be a part of 'it' (whatever 'that' is) and somehow validate his pointless existance that he happily takes the devil's shilling just to see his gormless, witless outpourings drooled over by the ignorant morons who read the News of the World. One could almost be forgiven for sympathising for the plight of such a pitiful wretch who has managed to retreat so far from the light that he honestly believes he is God's gift to the universe, blessed with an almost Wildean sense of wit and irony yet be so lacking in self awareness and a sense of perspective that he tells people, while wearing a straight face, that he laughed when watching Nathan Barley and found it funny. But I have never met the man face to face so what would I know.

      You know what mods - don't think twice about rejecting this one. Just the fact that I got that off my chest is good enough for me.

  14. Goat Jam
    Heart

    I reckon

    that this will be a big success and prove to be very popular.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Coffee/keyboard

      see icon

      as title

  15. Rodrigo Valenzuela
    WTF?

    next from Apple

    "Method and system to predict the future: using crowd sourcing and the new iCrystalBall "

    I understand why this is so convenient for Apple, they are experts when it comes to make people believe that the next piece of hardware or software they produce will improve their live to a previously nonexistent level, so owning the patent for it is logical from their point of view.

    But why does the USA legal system allows someone to even think of something like this?

  16. The Cube
    Stop

    Reviews and Astroturf

    Whilst I take the author's point about how this would be the start of a slippery slope if we actually had unbiased professional or consumer product reviews that is simply not the case on much of the Internet. Let me provide some examples;

    1) ZDNet - the "reviews" are either stunningly shallow or read just like the vendor product pack

    2) The Register - say anything negative about HP or IBM in the comments section and the paid "social media image management" leeches slither out and astroturf in minutes

    Whilst it is quite easy to spot the astroturfers in an area in which you are already expert this is not where you need help from real reviewers. Perhaps what we should have instead is a patent on a system which spans multiple "review" sites and allows users to out the fanbois and astroturfers for everybody so that they can't unduly influence product review rankings for their god vendor (or paymaster).

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Reviews

      "a patent on a system which spans multiple "review" sites and allows users to out the fanbois and astroturfers for everybody so that they can't unduly influence product review rankings for their god vendor (or paymaster)."

      Yeah, we need that a lot. However, replace "review sites" with "search engine results" and you see the size of the task in front of you. Even Google can't keep their reviews, er, search results clean, so I hardly think that a patented, and therefore public, algorithm is going to have much luck.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reward the messenger?

    So, if I predict that some Apple product is going to be a complete and utter flop, and it actually is, Apple is going to reward me for being right? really?

  18. JaitcH
    FAIL

    Leave Apple alone, it will bring the US Patent Office down unaided

    Apple makes a mockery of the purpose behind patent legislation and it, alone, will best serve as an example of why it needs an overhaul.

    Let's hope the new UK system doesn't ape that of the States. When China progresses from plagiarism to innovation, the challenges will be significant for existing patent regimes. At least India uses the English language!

  19. Lewis Mettler 1
    Go

    what patents do

    Patents do not let you make things. Neither do they assure that the things you make will sell.

    Patents PREVENT others from making the item. And maybe in this case that is a good thing. Putting together a corrupt reviewing system would be bad news. And in this case it might turn all reviews of Apple products into advertisements only. And that would be of little help to anyone. Except the advertiser of course. But, consumers would soon figure out that a review of an Apple product is only an advertisement. So just ignore it.

    Putting a patent on it means that no one could use the process without paying Apple royalties. And that alone could assure it won't happen. And interestingly enough those organizations that review products could refuse to deal with Apple products at all because it would cost them money to comply.

    It would seem that Apple wants to patent something that most or all organizations would not want. They would lose any credability with consumers. Giving organizations the incentive to refuse to do things that way is a good thing.

    1. Steve Roper
      Thumb Up

      Exactly what I thought

      when I read the article. I can understand Rik's (and by extension El Reg's) professional concern about any biased-review system, but the thought occurred to me as I read the last paragraph that maybe Apple patenting this idea was, for a change, not a bad thing.

      If Apple patent the idea of writing biased reviews wouldn't that discourage anyone else from doing so in relation to everything other than Apple products? Meaning that reviews of other products would have to be less biased and those of Apple products known to be made of pure bullshit?

      Maybe Apple have shot themselves in the foot here. Which is most definitely a GOOD thing!

  20. Graham Marsden
    WTF?

    Apple patents...

    ... the Department of Pre-Astroturfing!

  21. davenewman
    FAIL

    This patent stands little chance post-Bilski

    It is much harder to patent business process ideas like this after the Bilski judgement, but not impossible. Expect several claims to get rejected, unless the USPTO patent examiners are using the same system.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Megaphone

    rigged

    the table has always been tilted.

    Ever wonder why Justin Bieber is ALWAYS on the radio even though NO ONE in the UK buys his shit? Evidently the media companies have been paying DJs to play their shit for a long time now. This is just an extension of that program. Especially as Apple, widely perceived to be the most manipulative technology company, now think that they are primarily a media company (there’s more money in telling people what to think, by a long chalk)

    It takes a lot of money to hire someone who knows how to work the Autotune machine. They don't just invest in a guy like that to clean up Bieber's shit and then not bribe the rest of the music industry to slurp it down.

    Of course the next pop star will be the same marketing team, same guy working the Autotune machine, same crappy jingles, "ALL NEW MUSIC". They’ll give this new pop star an “edgy” new persona, like maybe he will wear a hat. And inexplicably his songs will clog up the airwaves for years on end as if people are actually buying them. Even though no one knew who the fuck he was yesterday.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      The Achilles Heel of a Corrupt and Perverted Spinning Discussion Operating System

      "Especially as Apple, widely perceived to be the most manipulative technology company, now think that they are primarily a media company (there’s more money in telling people what to think, by a long chalk)" ...... Anonymous Coward Posted Saturday 1st January 2011 20:17 GMT

      Amen to that nugget of info., AC. Tell them the truth though and they will have the ammunition to defeat all ignorant, kept in the dark and misled forces.

      Control of Words, aka Product Placement of Ideas, Controls Worlds Simply ..... http://amanfrommars.blogspot.com/2011/01/110102.html

  23. Alan Denman

    They already have the 'review something else patent'.

    Seems to me that any non Apple product always gets reviewed to death by the Apple core.

    All we ever get told is what it lacks compared to Apple.

    In fact most of the time the reviewers do not seem know what the product does or where it excels.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      re lacks compared to Apple

      Features such as a 'malfunctioning alarm clocks'?

  24. unitron

    How does this get past the "prior art" barrier?

    Isn't it a few hundred, if not thousand, years too late to patent the shill?

  25. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    Border Collies would be better

    This is the perfect scheme that can pay both ways. Sure one incentive stream could come from the authors of iFart which rewards favorable reviews of iFart but there is also another which pays for unfavorable reviews of rival iPhlatulence.

    How sad for Apple they are sure to run afoul of the DoJ as this must certainly be indistinguishable from online gambling in the FBI's ...erm... "i"s.

  26. Pypes
    Stop

    Prior art

    I signed up to something very similar a year or so ago where you would be given a synopsis of a pre-release film, and asked to predict box office takings, your accuracy was tallied and scored and there was a leader board etc.

    This may not be exactly the same thing, but fuck me if we are going to start letting people patent ideas (or is this one "software") then I'd say they are going to have to be pretty novel ideas.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Venture Capital reviews

    You can turn this into Venture Capital. You write fifteen different reviews, each in a different direction and hope that one of them hits it right-on so you win big from that one.

  28. Tempest
    Happy

    Did you hear ... Apple invented the integrated circuit, too?

    Even though the integrated dates from circa 1958 and Apple from circa 1976, Jobs' Time Machine running on iOS4 (we don't do Daylight Saving or New Year's) allows him to roll his mind back to any point in time so he can claim yet another U.S. Patent.

    Since the Jobs' Time Machine permits this he can always file a patent for anything.

    Pity that all the iPhans who missed flights, rail travel and on-time job starts don't appreciate the magic of yet another undocumented iOS feature.

    Ungrateful ingrates they are

  29. Grubby
    Thumb Up

    I have an idea

    I'm going to file a patent called "Everything". I know it may seem a little vague but basically if you do or think of anything from now on you have to pay me a few quid...

    Just got word back from the patent office, declined. :(

    I have a new idea, "iEverything"... ooh, it's been accepted.

    No cheques just cash, thank you please.

  30. PaulVD
    Thumb Down

    Not new, no big deal

    Despite el Reg's spin, this is not a review process at all. It is a well-known process called a prediction market, working on the idea that groups of people make better predictions on average than even expert individuals. It is not intended to tell readers which products are good, but to tell marketers which ones are going to sell. The basic idea is not patentable because of prior art problems; economists, in particular, have used prediction markets for many years.

    Apple's wrinkle addresses the problem that prediction markets open to any troll do not generally work well. There needs to be an incentive for participants to think about what they are saying and try to get it right. Apple's solution might work, and might be patentable, although it is likely to have problems with both obviousness and prior art.

    But the idea is no threat to the system of consumer reviews.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Premature launch

    Apple has only filed a patent application. At least wait until the patent is actually granted to vilify the USPTO

  32. Volker Hett

    It's good they patented it!

    So nobody else can do it :-)

    Imagine there where paid for reviews on Amazon, oh, wait ...

  33. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Why

    ...would any company risk publicising their dubious practises by attempting to patent them?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    how to scheme this system as reviewer

    If you get paid only for accurate reviews, how about publishing two opposite. (obviously with two different accounts)

    In that way it is ensure that you receive some payment.

    1. Pypes
      Pirate

      Not so fast

      I'm afraid I've already filed a patent for "Method of hedging and aggregating returns in rewards incentivised review systems" as a method of doing business. If you want to have a go at this then you'll have to licence your idea from me.

  35. Danny 5
    Stop

    after a lifetime

    of not buying apple product, merely because they're apple products (it's my worst bias, i thoroughly hate anything and everything to do with apple), i have no intention to change things now.

  36. skyroski
    FAIL

    nothing more than an idea, and clarity required on 'computer method'

    If it's not been said yet. Why should ideas be granted patents? That filing is nothing more than an idea.

    A computer 'method' which is the term used in the filing is nothing more than an action. Can I patent moving arms back and forth?!?! Or patent the shopping process?!? If I can patent the shopping process can I patent the process 'getting on the bus'?

    Software patents are non-sensical. Since the software 'world' can be said to essentially be another dimension of the physical world we exist.

    While I understand large companies have to protect their interest from patent trolls. I'd expect someone like Steve Jobs to fight it by actually correcting the patent system. Not abusing it.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Yes and No

      "Can I patent moving arms back and forth?!?! Or patent the shopping process?!? If I can patent the shopping process can I patent the process 'getting on the bus'?"

      Yes, you can. The USPTO will pass anything that has ticked the boxes on the application form. They were relieved of any responsibility for validity checking about 20 years ago, by legislators who took the view that since courts would have the final word anyhow, there wasn't any point in asking the USPTO to take an initial view.

      It's a bit like abdicating any responsibility for food hygiene on the grounds that we have hospitals, and then wondering why you are eating shit.

  37. Doug Glass
    Go

    Trustworthy Computing

    Never trust any rating issued by anybody who has a vested interested in the continuation of the industry. Never trust car salesmen or for that matter any sales person.

    Stick with user's comments and outfits like Consumer Reports, Consumers Union and other third party product testers. And even then be skeptical ... trust but verify.

    Frakk the rest.

  38. builder bob

    Pay them

    Bribery.

  39. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
    Joke

    Nice...

    I predict that I will not be buying crApple products.

    If that prediction turns out to be true will crApple give me a an iPhone?

  40. James Downes

    Isn't this called Fund Management?

    Don't Fund Managers just do this anyway, the more they all predict/buy the same shares the more they are rewarded when the price rises etc.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    dubious

    >But since positive product reviews engender positive product sales, a reviewer's prediction wouldn't take place in a vacuum: more positive reviews would produce more sales, making that review's positive prediction more accurate, and making that advertiser happier and triggering more incentives

    could also be written:

    But since negative product reviews engender negative product sales, a reviewer's prediction wouldn't take place in a vacuum: more negative reviews would produce fewer sales, making that review's negative prediction more accurate, and triggering more incentives

    Flawed logic?

    Also flawed, the US patent crap obviously. I am going to patent a process whereby one forms a thought in one's head, and then expresses it, totally or partially, as is or altered, by using one's mouth to produce sounds corresponding to the sounds of words of a given language. Sheesh!

    The western world has created the tools of its own demise, and never seems to use them enough.

    Paris because she also uses her mouth.

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