Lyft Receives its First Patent, and Hints at More to Come

Over the last few years, Envision IP has reported on Uber’s patenting efforts, both through its own patent application filings, and acquisitions of patents. Until recently, Uber has dominated the patent landscape in the ride hailing/sharing industry. However, we have begun to see initial patenting activity by Lyft, which until this year, did not own any issued patents or published patent applications.

Last month, Lyft was granted US 9,384,271, entitled “Driver jukebox system”.  The technology allows passengers to provide a music preference to a driver when requesting a pickup. The driver’s system then plays music according to the passenger’s preferences during the ride. What is interesting is that the driver’s system starts playing music when the vehicle and the passenger are within a threshold distance, such as when the passenger is within the vehicle or about to be picked up. Thus, the driver can listen to their own music until the pickup is about to commence. The patent states that a commercial music server such as “Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, etc.” can be used to play the passenger’s requested music, suggesting possible collaboration between Lyft and third-party music services, which may lead to co-marketing channels for Lyft.

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The patent was filed in March 2015, and claims priority to a provisional patent application filed in 2014. Our previous analysis of patents in the ride hailing/sharing industry indicated that Lyft had not placed much focus in the patenting arena. However, based on its first issued US patent, the company appears to have been filing applications as early as 2014. This patent is also a bit unique as compared to Uber’s current patent portfolio, which is heavily focused on navigation, route optimization, fee-determination, and driver/passenger matching technologies. If Lyft’s patent is any indication, perhaps the company is attempting to gain competitive advantages with proprietary passenger experience technologies.

Interestingly, it appears that Uber and Spotify are offering a feature very similar to Lyft’s patented technology. Spotify’s website states “When you request a car, you’ll be able to choose the music you want to hear on the journey. When your ride arrives, it’ll be your tunes on the car’s speakers.” This music partnership between Uber and Spotify was cited during prosecution of Lyft’s patent, and appears to have launched after the patent’s priority date of March 2014. It will be interesting to see how this patent is used by Lyft – to protect its commercial offerings, defensively in the event it is sued, or offensively in order to extract licensing/damages from potential infringers.

In addition to its issued patent, Lyft also has one published US patent application, US 20160027306, entitled “Ride Chaining”, published on January 28, 2016.  The application lists Lyft co-founder and CEO Logan Green as an inventor. The applied-for technology relates to optimizing a driver’s route and pickup schedule for shared rides. After receiving a destination from a passenger, as well as a preference that they would like to be part of a shared ride, the system determines additional ride pickups based on the first passenger’s destination. For example, the patent application states “If two riders request similar rides (e.g., with similar start points and end points) or rides that overlap significantly at points closely in time, the ride can be shared. If both requests are received by the driver dispatch server system within a predetermined window of time, the driver dispatch server system determines that the rides should be shared, determines the correct order of stops (e.g., pick up passenger 1, pick up passenger 2, drop off passenger 2, drop off passenger 1), and provides the route to the driver.” (Para. 0021).

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The technology described in Lyft’s patent application is similar to features offered by Uber, and appears consistent with technologies generally being patenting and applied-for by Uber. As with its issued patent, this patent application claims priority to a provisional patent application filed in 2014. The patent application recently received a Final Rejection from the USPTO this past July. The rejection is based in-part on a patent applications assigned to U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc. related to optimizing truckload cargo hauls, and another owned by Donald Gantz which relates to a system coined RideNET for connecting potential ride sharing partners. The other rejection is a 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection for being directed towards non-statutory subject matter, where the USPTO cites the Alice Corp. decision.

Our latest count of Uber’s US patent portfolio shows 44 issued patents. We will keep monitoring Lyft’s patenting activity and provide updates as new patents and publications become publicly available, as well as any updates on litigation which may be related to Lyft’s issued patent.

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