Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) has submitted a patent for an iTunes-type concert ticket system process. The patent (detailed on the blog Patently Apple) covers everything from purchasing tickets on a phone to using kiosks, coupon systems, physical ticket cards with RFID, and enhanced consumer experiences.
Despite being called "Concert Ticket +," the process Apple’s looking to patent covers ticketing for every type of event imaginable, including sporting games and private wedding parties. You know, all those events that don't allow cameras inside (back to that issue in a minute).
Event ticketing may only be the precursor to what Apple has planned, however, with its huge iTunes outreach and with the multiple systems outlined in its new patent.
The patent was originally applied for in 2008 and only recently released. It's likely too broad to be enforceable, though that hasn't stopped Apple before -- MP3s were not new when iTunes started, and many of Apple's mobile patents are being court-tested as unenforceable. Case in point: the current fight between Apple and HTC (makers of the Google Nexus One phone, among others).
Still, Apple has won mobile patent suits in the past, so this new one may not be as loose as some could think. And Apple's patent strength may hinge on the proposal to patent an all-in-one solution (like the original patents for the iPhone), rather than as individual parts to a whole.
Mobile phone ticketing systems are not new and predate even this patent's filing. In 2007, a year before Apple's patent was filed, the Washington Nationals and Tickets.com came together to offer tickets via mobile phone.
They are not alone. US rail system Amtrak, European rail systems, some airlines, and even a few concert venues like Carnegie Hall have mobile sites and ticketing systems already in place. Ticketmaster offers both Web-based and kiosk-enabled purchasing for events and venues but does not have a specific mobile application for doing so (outside of a Web-enabled mobile site). Ticketmaster also definitely does not incorporate radio frequency ID tags into their plans, as does the Apple patent proposal.
Despite everything it covers, there seems to be a large, glaring hole in Apple's concert ticket plans: The iPhone is a camera, and cameras aren't allowed in most concerts and theaters.
Apple may not have considered this loophole. For example, if I use its system to purchase tickets to a Rolling Stones concert and then must use my phone to show the ticket at the gate in order to get in, will the gate guards then be obliged to confiscate my phone or refuse me entrance because my phone is also a camera and video recorder -- which are not allowed into the event?
I wondered about this, but was unable to get a response from Apple's press office by phone or email before publication. But I did find cases online where camera phones are specifically banned from events. One blogger in Canada asked a legal research chair at the University of Ottawa whether video clips taken at a concert (for personal use) are OK and got a resounding “no." And a listing for a small concert club in Salt Lake City specifically says that no cellphones are allowed at all.
I'm sure there are many other examples. In my mind, unless the music industry's attitudes toward cameras and video recorders changes dramatically, this will make Apple's new patent... well, patently useless.
— Craig Agranoff is an entrepreneur and national social media consultant as well as a published specialist in online reputation management and monitoring.