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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  

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