No joke: Google wants a patent on splitting the restaurant bill

billThe Onion, September 2006: “Sequestered in a private booth at a Pasadena-area Cheesecake Factory for nearly 25 minutes, a party of eight California Institute Of Technology physicists emerged exhausted but visibly excited Friday evening after successfully splitting the bill.”

Google Patent Application, October 2013: “For example, continuing with the example of FIG. 4, assume that Users A-C have drinks at a bar and User B pays a bill of $45 for the drinks. User B adds the payment transaction as an expenditure of the group and allocates $15 of the transaction to User A, $20 to User B, $10 to User C. In this example, the balance module 308 would update the individual balances of Users A-C to indicate that User B now owes $115 to User A ($130-$15) and User C owes $10 to User B ($0+$10).”

Yes, it’s true: In a classic example of parody coming to life, a newly published patent filing reveals Google’s ambitions to solve one of the most troublesome challenges known to humanity: Splitting the bill at the end of a meal.

The filing outlines a system (such as a mobile app) for automatically storing information about group expenses, tracking how much is owed by different people in the group, and ultimately settling the balance by transferring money between their respective accounts.

SplitBill

Appropriately enough, six Googlers are listed as inventors on the patent filing. Is there any doubt how they came up with this idea?

“Oftentimes, people engage in activities as a group,” the filing says. “For example, a group of friends may go on vacation together, plan an event together, or go to dinner. When the group incurs a bill, typically one of the group members will pay the bill out of convenience and expects to be paid back by the other group members. However, some group members may not pay back their entire share of the bill or may forget and not pay back their share at all. This is unfair for the group member that paid the bill. Thus, there is a need in the art for an efficient way to track group expenditures and settle balances between group members.”

At times the patent application reads like the plot for a Seinfeld episode. Here’s another “hypothetical” example from the filing.

As an example, assume that a group is created to track and manage the expenditures of four friends (Friends 1-4) while on vacation in Miami. While on vacation, one of the days only three of the friends (Friends 1-3) go eat lunch at a restaurant because Friend 4 is not hungry at the time. The bill for lunch is $60 and Friend 1 pays the bill using a mobile payment service available on his device 104. Friend 1 adds the lunch as an expenditure of the group. When the form is presented to Friend 1 for the lunch, Friend 1 indicates that the lunch should be allocated to Friends 1-3. The lunch is not allocated to Friend 4 because Friend 4 did not participate in the lunch. Further, Friend 1 provides the following amounts of allocation in the form: Friend 1 $25, Friend 2 $16, and Friend 3 $19. In this example, the amount of allocation for each friend is based on what each friend ordered during lunch.

The patent application, “Tracking and Managing Group Expenditures,” was originally filed in March 2012 and made public this week.

Top photo by Flickr user Scorpions and Centaurs  

  • Guest

    Google is such a hypocrite when it comes to patents.

    • Guest

      And how many people have Google sued…?

      • Whose God

        Uh.. plenty?

        Are you just now getting online?

  • K

    There’s already an app which does all of this. Splitwise.

    • Out For Justice

      those that can’t create, litigate…

    • Caspar Wrede

      Or Kittysplit (if you want the doodle-ified version)

    • Matthias Schicker

      Or Pockets United when you’re in Europe.

  • Ryan Parrish

    This sounds an awul lot like a spreadsheet. Aren’t there patents that cover those concepts on the books already?

  • RealityAlwaysBites

    Sadly the morons in the patent office will probably grant it.

  • Out For Justice

    Goggle, don’t be evil… …patenting the obvious == evil

  • Bill Craven

    Everyone knows that Caltech people assign the task of splitting the check to the youngest non-Math major. Typical of Google / millennials to overthink the problem and try to get a patent on it. Seriously?

    • http://troyjmorris.blogspot.com Troy Morris

      “Typical of Google / millennials to overthink the problem and try to get a patent on it”

      I’m not sure how you can just put a slash between a company and an entire generation without any effort to explain your proposed interchangability…

  • laura

    *makes mental note to patent multiplying, my profits on that that will increase with every times that it’s used.*

    • Bob_Robert

      Your profits will Multiply(reg us pat off)!

  • Mabel

    You can patent a specific app for this, but you can’t patent a process that people do in various ways. If I add up the bill on a napkin with a pen from my purse, is Google going to send patent trolls after me for that? Please.

    • dabble53

      On the contrary. The patent office for years has patented processes – just look at all the software patents. Each and every one is a patent on the process, not the specific implementation (or way) that the process is carried out. Never mind that it’s an algorithm (MATH – is not supposed to be patent eligible) but the PTO keeps issuing them anyway.
      Obviously not a single person in the PTO qualifies as a “person skilled in the art” when it comes to software and algorithms.

    • BobK54

      Uh Oh. I have 30 years of “prior art” in my expense report files. That’s going to amount to a huge patent troll bill huh?

  • captain obvious

    it’s been done, several times.

    • Meow

      Thank you, Captain Obvious.

  • dabble53

    Some restaurants have done this for years already. You get the bill with each persons order and associated costs (including even a tax breakdown) listed on the check. If this gets past the examiners, they all need to be fired.
    And if Google is serious about this type of patent, they should be shunned…they’ve obviously forgotten their motto of “do no evil.”

  • Joe Shmo

    You all seem to be missing a vital part of the process. “and ultimately settling the balance by transferring money between their respective accounts”. As far as I know this has not been done by other apps. They simply do the math for you, but they don’t handle any monetary transfers.

  • Charlie Whitman

    Clearly this is a ridiculous patent application. The really sad part, however, is that it’s not any more ridiculous than countless other software patents. Almost all software patents should be invalid based on the Patent Office’s own rules requiring a patent to be for a novel, non-obvious implementation of an idea (whether the idea itself is novel and non-obvious is irrelevant).

  • Jeff

    can you modify it to account for the cheap ass who only wants to tip 10% and the guy who thinks he has a shot with the hot waitress who wants to tip 30%?

    • Clinton Weir

      If the waitress goes to bed with a guy just for giving her a 30% tip, then hers is the cheapest ass involved in the story.

  • http://pediacities.com/ Joel Natividad
  • Calvin

    I’ll start by saying that this is a slightly misleading article written by someone who doesn’t have seem to know how the patent system works. A patent application has different components, including the specification (description of the patent and the context of the invention), figures (visual aids to represent concepts relevant to the invention) and claims (“the invention” actual thing that the patent is trying to invent and the patent owner legals owns).

    Patent examiners focus on patent claims and use the specification of the patent to clarify and support those claims. You really can’t call out the specification for being too broad, because the whole point of it is to provide context for the invention before actually claiming the invention in the claims. The patent is not just about splitting restaurant bills, but about tracking transactions and expenses for a group of people, figuring out who owes money, and completing an actual transaction to settle the balance.

    That said, the patent is pretty broad and almost certainly won’t pass an examiner review in its current state. Google is certainly a major hypocrite when it comes to patenting as well.

  • David

    Come on, let’s use pen and napkin, just like in the last century. Can’t you remember how to do a simple calc?

  • JW

    For all of you with examples of prior art, this is the related thread on askpatents.

    http://patents.stackexchange.com/questions/5182/tracking-and-managing-group-expenditures-google-patent-application-prior-a

  • David Vávra

    Hi,

    I’m author of bill-splitting app Settle Up. The problem sounds trivial, but actually it’s not. If you want optimal solution in a larger group of people, it’s actually a NP-problem. If you are interested, here is my master thesis about it: http://www.settleup.info/files/master-thesis-david-vavra.pdf

    Or you can just check out Settle Up, it’s pretty neat too:

    http://www.settleup.info/

  • anonymoose

    Does it really take google employees to figure this out?

    Just pay for what you got + taxes. How is that difficult? I hate going to dinner with a group of friends who “refuses to split the bill because it’s too difficult.” In actually this is read as “refuses to split the bill so that other people can pay for my extra food and drinks”.

  • MrRtd

    Here’s a thought. Tell the waiter/waitress you are all on separate bills before anyone orders. But please do leave him/her a tip.

  • larslinq

    I consider the sharing scenario much more complicating and stressful.

    From time to time I can be a bit low cash and when out with
    friends order the cheapest starter on the menu and a glass of tap water. When
    this happens there is always one of the guys that, when the bill arrives, suggests
    that we split the bill equally. Usually
    that’s the friend who had lobster, Chateaux Briand and champagne. Unfortunately
    in these situations I am not good at suggesting that we split the bill
    according to consumption. So all that saving was a complete waste.

    That’s bad.

    However what’s even worse is when one my friends unexpected
    and generously offers to pay for all of us. That’s a shameful waste of good appetite.

  • Adam Liechty

    I have prior art. We had a system exactly like this in college in 2004. It wasn’t groundbreaking then, and definitely isn’t now.

  • Bhagwat Chouhan

    Feeling bad for Google at this point. Splitting bills is a general activity which we do on our daily basis and they want patent for it ? Such an innovative company is falling short in innovations … Poor Google ….

  • will

    I think everyone should pay for their part, split shared things and tip on that amount. It gets a little strange with friends, but I think having a neutral party (like an app) removes the social stigma.

    There’s a good app on iPhone to help with that, it’s called Splitt. http://www.getsplitt.com