Big Banks Get Software Patents Despite Alice

Financial services are one of the more interesting areas of innovation which we touch on in IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series. Many unique products and services for both individual consumers and business organizations are patent-protected, and a number of American banking institutions are regular applicants at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In our most recent look into the state of financial innovation in America, we sought out the most intriguing patent applications or patents assigned to the Bank of America Corporation, JPMorgan Chase Bank and Wells Fargo Bank. What becomes clear is that the Supreme Court decision in Alice v. CLS Bank does not seem to have slowed the allowance of financial services software patents to these and other major banking institutions.

Each of these major banking institutions have increasingly incorporated digital technologies into their financial services offerings, a development we visit in more detail below. All three of these banks have partnered with Apple for the development of the Apple Pay system, allowing iPhone users to conduct transactions directly from their device. The total transaction volume of the six banks in total that are using Apple Pay represents about 83 percent of America’s total credit card transaction volume. In other, more discouraging, technology news related to major American banks, it was recently reported that hackers were able to gain access to dozens of JPMorgan Chase servers, although no theft or fraud has been reported as a result.

Our research into recently developed financial innovations filed at the USPTO featured plenty of patent applications seeking to protect new ways of accessing financial accounts, including ATM transactions which don’t require a card and methods of sending funds through e-mail. However, it was intriguing to note the lack of innovation on behalf of these corporations for preventing identity theft. We also discuss some retirement planning services patented by the Bank of America.

Mobile technological innovations are certainly reflected in the patents recently issued by the USPTO to these banks. Customer loyalty programs, foreign currency conversion and check deposits are a few of these services implemented through mobile devices which we explore in more detail below. We also take a look at a JPMorgan Chase patent protecting a system of rewarding mortgage account holders for complying with their payment schedules.



Issued Patents of Note: More Mobile Technologies, Mortgage Rewards and Foreign Currency Services

It’s probably worth noting in this financial industry edition of the Companies We Follow series that there are plenty of patents being issued to these giants of the banking industry which protect methods of processing transactions or performing other services through computer technologies. This year’s Supreme Court decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International has drawn a lot of attention to software patents, and particularly the type of financial service software patents that were protected by the Alice Corporation patent. The Supreme Court specifically cited that fact that the software was related to financial transactions as at least some reason to rule the patent claims invalid. Yet, there are a number of patents we noticed which were recently issued to these financial corporations involving software technologies for financial services. For all our articles related to Alice please see posts tagged Alice v. CLS Bank.

From U.S. Patent No. 8800857, entitled “System and Method for Crediting Loyalty Program Points and Providing Loyalty Rewards by Use of an Electronic Tag.”

The use of electronic devices to connect bank customers with their account funds when trying to pay for a good or service is featured in a couple of patents which we found today. U.S. Patent No. 8805740, issued under the title Mobile Device Credit Account, protects a technology for allowing users to conducts transactions on a credit account using a mobile device, like a cell phone. The system, developed by Wells Fargo, associates a unique identifier of a mobile device with a credit account, replacing the need to carry around a credit card for such transactions. Portable electronic tags are part of the invention explained in U.S. Patent No. 8800857, entitled System and Method for Crediting Loyalty Program Points and Providing Loyalty Rewards by Use of an Electronic Tag. This patent protects a system which allows a business to create a loyalty rewards program for crediting loyalty program points to customers who are registered with the program when they conduct purchases. Invented by JPMorgan Chase, this technology allows a company to set up its own loyalty rewards program and embed an electronic tag within a piece of jewelry, a button or an incredible variety of objects that can be presented at a point of sale. The Bank of America is also developing mobile banking technologies, as we saw most recently in U.S. Patent No. 8811711, which is titled Recognizing Financial Document Images. This patent protects methods of using a mobile device to capture a video stream of a financial document in order to process a financial transaction. This system would allow Bank of America customers to use their mobile device to process transactions involving checks, bonds, bills of sale, promissory notes, invoices and more.

The Bank of America has also been able to leverage its research in mobile technologies into a piece of intellectual property that may be valuable for international business or even just vacationers visiting other countries. U.S. Patent No. 8818868, issued under the title Foreign Currency Solution, protects a system implemented through mobile devices which allows users to deposit money in a currency and convert it to a foreign currency for purchases in another country. This innovation is designed to improve on existing electronic wallets available through banking applications on mobile devices, which usually lack foreign currency conversion functions. Another Bank of America invention related to making payments in foreign currencies has been protected through the issue of U.S. Patent No. 8818893, entitled Dynamic Payment Generator. The system described allows a bank customer to conduct a transaction at a financial institution to transfer funds without the knowledge of all unique information required by the institution. According to examples proffered by this patent’s description of the invention, this could enable customers in foreign countries to conduct payments without requiring them to personally recall a country code for designating the destination of a fund transfer. It could also allow the bank to deny transactions from certain countries or from particular banks which are not considered to be reliable partners.

Finally, we also explored a patent discussing a rewards program similar to the loyalty program protected in the above ‘857 patent assigned to JPMorgan Chase, albeit in a different sector of financial services. U.S. Patent No. 8799155, which is titled Mortgage Matching System and Method, discusses a system of extending rewards to mortgage customers which has also been developed by JPMorgan Chase. Eligible customers must hold both a mortgage account and a checking account with the financial institution, but this system would allow a bank to make reward payments to the checking account based on their compliance in meeting mortgage payments, as determined by a computer-implemented fulfillment engine.



Patent Applications from Financial Corporations: Plenty of Transactions, Little Identity Theft Security 

Our research into innovation by major financial corporations always uncovers some intriguing new developments that will help increase the ease of using financial services in new ways. As we check in with the Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, we’re finding plenty of inventions which continue to make novel use of digital technologies for conducting transactions, as well as a few new products for financial accounts designed to improve the wealth of bank customers.

We were piqued by a couple of patent applications in the field of retirement accounts, which seemed to be an area of recent focus for the Bank of America. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140258179, filed under the title Open Retirement Account, would protect a computer-implemented method designed to reduce the complexity of leveraging a retirement account as a financial asset. This Bank of America invention allows users to access a retirement account through a mobile device and make deposits or withdrawals. The software programming involved also helps to compute the tax liability of a withdrawal from retirement accounts which allow pre- and post-tax contributions, which often becomes a source of confusion and consumer dissatisfaction when a withdrawal is made without being away of the tax liability. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140229239, which is titled Face Retirement Tool, would protect another Bank of America innovation designed to encourage retirement savings and planning. The patent application discusses a system for aging an image of an account holder’s face, making the account holder look years older.. When a bank customer is using other retirement planning services, this digital face aging technology will show a representation of the customer at points in the future which correspond with retirement planning services available to the customer.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140229239, which is titled “Face Retirement Tool.”

A trio of patent applications, one from each of the banking giants we’re profiling, discuss technologies designed to increase the number of ways that account holders can conduct transactions or access their money. JPMorgan Chase has developed a new way for its customers to send money through online channels, which is disclosed by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140046851, titled System and Method for Sending Money Via E-Mail Over the Internet. The patent application would protect a system involving a server that receives a withdrawal request and security information from a sending device for transmitting money to a deposit account. This method of conducting payments over the Internet enables transactions to occur without the need for one party to have a credit card merchant account to process payments. Wells Fargo has developed a secure method for allowing people to engage in ATM transactions without the need to insert a credit or debit card, described within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140229373, filed under the title Card-Less Financial Transaction. This technology gives users an ATM interface for conducting withdrawals, transfers, deposits and more after inputting card-less account credentials. The account credentials can include the account number, a PIN number and could even include collection of biometric data to confirm an identity. Interestingly, the patent application states that this invention could be retrofitted onto existing ATMs without a change in hardware, requiring only a simple software download. Another innovation related to intriguing technologies for processing transactions is discussed in the Bank of America filing of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140258107, entitled Generating Personal Bank Note Using Readable Indicia. This system involves the printing of personal bank notes for a customer so that money or information can be transmitted to a merchant securely. The bank note with a pre-loaded money amount is also provided with a PIN number which is provided to a merchant in order to process the transaction. This prevents against theft or makes it easier for account holders to recoup money if they lose it.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140183258, which is titled “System and Method for Secure Card With On-Board Verification.”

Interestingly, given the focus on consumer financial security risks in the face of financial data breaches at major corporation, a subject we recently covered here on IPWatchdog, we noticed very few patent applications related to identity security. The only patent application we were able to find from these three major banks which even mentions identity theft was U.S. Patent Application No. 20140143863, filed by the Bank of America under the title Enhanced Network Security. This filing would protect a system which can identify security threats within a network infrastructure and analyze those threats to determine priorities for threat management before security threats become severe. We took a look at another patent application which we thought may have applied to identity security, U.S. Patent Application No. 20140183258, which is titled System and Method for Secure Card With On-Board Verification. Filed by JPMorgan Chase, this patent application even discusses how the invention is meant to address shortcomings which are experience when using financial account cards with a magnetic stripe and the need to incorporate smart cards with computer chips. However, it appears that this technology is meant to provide a display through which a card user can view the available balance of an account directly on the smart card.



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