U.S. Patent No. 8,162,737, issued on April 24, 2012 to IGT of Reno, NV, discloses a “photonic-powered” player card for keeping track of a gambler’s activities.
According to the ’737 patent, the ability of a casino operator to maximize their operating profits and keep their customers happy is linked in part to their ability to provide rewards or “comps” to their customers commiserate with their value to the casino (i.e., how much money they gamble). Currently, casinos use a “player card” system which uses a card with a magnetic strip (similar to a credit card) which is swiped to identify the player and to track the player’s activity. The ’737 patent explains that magnetic-striped cards can only hold a limited amount of information, must be swiped through a contact-based reader, and they don’t provide the player with easily-discernable information.
The “photonic-powered” card disclosed by the ’737 patent includes a photovoltaic cell which can receive light to provide power to the card and a bi-directional optical interface (with photodetectors and/or LEDs) for contactless communication with the gaming machine (e.g., slot machine, blackjack table). Other features disclosed by the ’737 patent for the card include non-volatile memory, a liquid-crystal display (LCD), and a touch screen. Since such an optical communication card would use “line of sight” communication, it is described by the ’737 patent as being more secure than RFID technology which, while contactless, is omnidirectional and more prone to having its signals intercepted. As interesting as this technology might seem, IGT apparently wasn’t sufficiently interested in it to warrant filing further continuation applications to pursue additional claim scope covering the technology.
According to its website, IGT is a publicly-traded company that “has been the leading company specializing in design, development, manufacturing, distribution, and sales of computerized gaming equipment, software, and network systems worldwide” since 1981. Patents are certainly a crucial factor in IGT’s protection of their innovations. The company has received 117 U.S. patents so far in 2012, and received 271 patents in 2011. The company also is willing to assert its patents against perceived infringers.
I was interested to see that IGT’s website includes a page by which anyone can submit ideas and suggestions to the company. The page includes a link to an idea submission agreement that, among other provisions, cautions potential submitters that IGT can use the information any way it wishes, and that the only protections the submitter has are those available under the patent and copyright laws of the United States. In other words, the odds are stacked in favor of the house.