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Publication numberUS20030064788 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 10/171,439
Publication dateApr 3, 2003
Filing dateJun 13, 2002
Priority dateJun 13, 2001
Publication number10171439, 171439, US 2003/0064788 A1, US 2003/064788 A1, US 20030064788 A1, US 20030064788A1, US 2003064788 A1, US 2003064788A1, US-A1-20030064788, US-A1-2003064788, US2003/0064788A1, US2003/064788A1, US20030064788 A1, US20030064788A1, US2003064788 A1, US2003064788A1
InventorsJay Walker, Daniel Tedesco, James Jorasch, Norman Gilman, Geoffrey Gelman, Peter Kim, Andrew Golden, Michael Downs
Original AssigneeWalker Jay S., Tedesco Daniel E., Jorasch James A., Gilman Norman C., Gelman Geoffrey M., Peter Kim, Golden Andrew P., Downs Michael D.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Method and apparatus for processing a reward offer for a self-forming group
US 20030064788 A1
Abstract
One embodiment of the present invention provides for: transmitting an offer for a credit card, the offer for the credit card comprising an offer for a first reward in exchange for each consumer of a group of consumers accepting a respective credit card, the group comprising a number of consumers that is greater than a predetermined number of consumers, the first reward comprising a first monetary amount, and the first reward to be donated to a beneficiary identified by the group; an offer for a second reward in exchange for the group transferring at least a predetermined aggregate amount of funds to the respective credit cards; and an offer for a third reward in exchange for: each consumer of the group of consumers making a respective minimum payment within a first predetermined period of time, and each consumer charging at least a predetermined minimum charge amount within a second predetermined period of time.
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Claims(50)
We claim:
1. A method comprising:
transmitting an offer for a credit card, the offer for the credit card comprising:
an offer for a first reward to be provided to at least one consumer of a plurality of consumers in exchange for each consumer of the plurality of consumers accepting a respective credit card,
in which the first reward comprises a first monetary amount;
an offer for a second reward in exchange for the plurality of consumers transferring at least a predetermined aggregate amount of funds to the respective credit cards; and
an offer for a third reward in exchange for each consumer of the plurality of consumers making a respective minimum payment within a first predetermined period of time.
2. The method of claim 1, further comprising:
receiving from each consumer of the plurality of consumers an identifier that identifies the plurality of consumers;
receiving from each consumer of the plurality of consumers a password that is associated with the plurality of consumers; and
receiving from each consumer of the plurality of consumers a respective request for a credit card.
3. The method of claim 2, in which the plurality of consumers determines the identifier based on a vote.
4. The method of claim 2, in which the plurality of consumers determines the password based on a vote.
5. The method of claim 2, in which at least one of the respective requests is received via a website.
6. The method of claim 2, in which at least one of the respective requests is received via an email.
7. The method of claim 2, in which at least one of the respective requests is received via a telephone connection.
8. The method of claim 2, in which at least one of the respective requests is received via a kiosk.
9. The method of claim 2, in which at least one of the respective requests is received via a slot machine.
10. The method of claim 2, in which at least one of the respective requests is received via postal mail.
11. The method of claim 1, further comprising:
receiving from a first consumer of the plurality of consumers an identifier that identifies the plurality of consumers;
receiving an indication of a request by the first consumer for the credit card, the request including data associated with the first consumer;
determining whether the first consumer is eligible for the credit card based on the data; and
providing the credit card to the first consumer if the first consumer is eligible.
12. The method of claim 1, further comprising:
in which the offer for the credit card further comprises:
an offer for a fourth reward in exchange for each consumer of the plurality of consumers charging at least a predetermined minimum charge amount within a second predetermined period of time.
13. A method comprising:
receiving a request to accept a group, the group comprising a first peer and a second peer,
the request to accept the group indicating at least one characteristic shared by the first peer and the second peer, and
the request to accept the group indicating at least one reward preferred by the first peer and the second peer,
receiving a request by the first peer for a first credit card account; and receiving a request by the second peer for a second credit card account.
14. A method comprising:
transmitting an offer for a credit card account,
the offer for the credit card account comprising an offer to register a group,
the offer to register the group indicating a condition that a first peer agree to attempt to communicate with a second peer at least once during a first predetermined period of time, and
the offer to register the group indicating at least one reward to be provided to the group in exchange for at least the first peer signing up for the credit card account.
15. The method of claim 14, further comprising:
receiving an indication of a request by the first peer to sign up for the credit card account;
registering the group, the group comprising the first peer and the second peer; and
providing the at least one reward to the group.
16. A method comprising:
identifying a first account that is associated with a first account holder;
determining information corresponding to the first account, in which the information comprises transaction data;
determining whether a second credit card account is eligible for a reward based on the information corresponding to the first credit card account and at least one predetermined obligation,
in which the second credit card account is associated with a second account holder,
identifying at least one term associated with the second credit card account; and
adjusting the at least one term if the second credit card account is eligible for the reward.
17. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of purchases.
18. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined balance amount.
19. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of late payments.
20. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of insurance claims.
21. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined insurance claim amount.
22. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises an amount corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a balance amount.
23. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a number corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a number of purchases.
24. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a number corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a number of claims.
25. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises an amount corresponding to a predetermined percentage of an insurance claim amount.
26. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a number corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a number of late payments.
27. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of traffic violations.
28. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of uses of alcohol.
29. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of uses of tobacco.
30. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a number corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a number of traffic violations.
31. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a number corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a number of uses of alcohol.
32. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a number corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a number of uses of tobacco.
33. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of physical examinations.
34. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of gambling sessions.
35. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of plays of a slot machine.
36. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined number of plays of a table game.
37. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined amount wagered.
38. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined amount wagered at a slot machine.
39. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a predetermined amount wagered at a table game.
40. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a number corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a number of gambling sessions.
41. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a number corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a number of plays of a slot machine.
42. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises a number corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a number of plays of a table game.
43. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises an amount corresponding to a predetermined percentage of an amount wagered.
44. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises an amount corresponding to a predetermined percentage of a amount wagered at a slot machine.
45. The method of claim 16, in which the at least one predetermined obligation comprises an amount corresponding to a predetermined percentage of an amount wagered at a table game.
46. A method comprising:
receiving a request to form a group comprising a plurality of peers, in which each peer of the plurality of peers has agreed to attempt to communicate with at least one other peer of the plurality of peers during a predetermined period of time; and receiving a request from one peer of the plurality of peers to open a financial account.
47. A method comprising:
receiving a request to form a group, the group comprising a first peer and a second peer,
the request to register the group indicating a respective agreement by each of the first peer and the second peer to abstain from at least one behavior;
receiving a request by the first peer for an insurance account, the insurance account being associated with a premium amount;
receiving first behavior data corresponding to the first peer;
receiving second behavior data corresponding to the second peer;
determining whether the group has abstained from the at least one behavior based on the first behavior data and the second behavior data; and
decreasing the premium amount if the group has abstained from the at least one behavior.
48. The method of claim L, in which the at least one behavior includes at least one of:
consuming alcohol,
using tobacco, and
illegally operating a motor vehicle.
49. The method of claim 48, in which illegally operating a motor vehicle comprises operating a motor vehicle at a speed in excess of a speed limit.
50. The method of claim 48, in which illegally operating a motor vehicle comprises operating a motor vehicle under influence of alcohol.
Description

[0001] This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/121,243, filed Apr. 11, 2002; and also

[0002] this application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/297,976, filed Jun. 13, 2001.

[0003] Each of the above is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety for all purposes.

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0004] This application is related to the following co-pending U.S. Patent Applications:

[0005] (i) U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/427,163, filed Oct. 26, 1999; and

[0006] (ii) U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/422,415, filed Oct. 21, 1999.

[0007] Each of the above is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety for all purposes.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0008] The present invention relates to methods and apparatus for offering and managing reward offers. More particularly, the present invention relates to methods and systems that facilitate generating, communicating and/or managing offers that provide a benefit in exchange for a commitment by a group of consumers to an obligation.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0009] The lifetime value of a credit card holder to an issuing bank averages between $600 and $1000. Issuing banks are therefore motivated to acquire new card holders. In addition, increased usage of the issuing bank's credit card by a card holder can increase the profitability of the card holder's account. One tactic used by credit card issuers is to offer individual card holders low introductory interest rates on balances transferred from other credit cards.

[0010] Currently, there are approximately $700 billion in credit card receivables in the United States annually. Not all receivables are collected, however. A charge-off is a credit card debt that a card issuer is not able to collect and is therefore removed from the books. Credit card charge-off rates range from four to seven percent. Accordingly, charge-off amounts range from $28 billion to $49 billion annually.

[0011] A consumer may pay high prices for being statistically at risk, even when the particular consumer is relatively safe or is risk-averse. For example, a young credit consumer with little credit history may be charged a higher interest rate for a credit card or loan, even though the young consumer is thrifty and has a support system of family or friends available to assist him financially. In another example, a young male may be a careful driver, but is charged a high automobile insurance premium anyway because he is a young male, a statistically risky group to insure.

[0012] Tens of millions of credit card holders have an account which is sponsored by an affinity group partner. Methods and systems for promoting usage of credit card accounts based on affinity relationships are well known. Such methods and systems are generally designed to reward the affinity group sponsor based on account usage of credit card holders belonging to the sponsor's affinity group. Examples of affinity group sponsors include trade groups, alumni associations, religious organizations, sports teams, and professional associations.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0013] Some embodiments of the present invention are described with reference to the accompanying drawings. In the drawings, like reference numbers indicate identical or similar elements.

[0014]FIG. 1 comprises a flow diagram illustrating an exemplary process according to an embodiment of the present invention;

[0015]FIG. 2A is a block diagram of an embodiment of a system consistent with the present invention;

[0016]FIG. 2B is a block diagram of another embodiment of a system consistent with the present invention;

[0017]FIG. 3 is a block diagram of one embodiment of a gaming device;

[0018]FIG. 4 is a block diagram of one embodiment of a controller;

[0019]FIG. 5 is a table illustrating an exemplary data structure of a consumer database;

[0020]FIG. 6 is a table illustrating an exemplary data structure of a group database;

[0021]FIG. 7 is a table illustrating an exemplary data structure of a beneficiary database;

[0022] FIGS. 8A-8B is a table illustrating an exemplary data structure of a group offers database;

[0023]FIG. 9 is a table illustrating an exemplary data structure of an accepted offer tracking database; and

[0024] FIGS. 10A-10B comprise a flow diagram illustrating an exemplary process according to an embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0025] 1. Introduction

[0026] In accordance with one or more embodiments of the present invention, a consumer receives an offer for a benefit to be provided in exchange for the fulfilling of an obligation by a group of consumers. Benefits provided to the group, to individuals in the group, or to beneficiaries, thus depend upon the performance and behavior of others in the group.

[0027] Such an offer may encourage the consumer to form his own group of consumers in order to take advantage of the offer. An example of a benefit is a monetary amount given to the group, monetary amounts given to individual group members, or a monetary amount donated to a beneficiary on behalf of the group. An example of an obligation the group needs to commit to in order to obtain a benefit is each group member filling out an application for a credit card from a credit card issuer. Another example of an obligation is that a minimum amount be charged to group members' credit card accounts during a predefined period. Another example of an obligation committed to by the group is that at least one group member will satisfy an individual obligation customized for the member, such as a customized minimum charge amount. Individual members of the group may thus be given different obligations to fulfill, with the benefit being provided if all of the group and individual obligations are met. In some embodiments, the offer may be for a benefit to be provided in exchange for a commitment to an obligation by a group of consumers. The offer may be subsidized by a subsidizing entity (e.g., a credit card issuer in the above example).

[0028] Embodiments of the present invention provide numerous benefits and advantages. Applicants have recognized that a need exists for systems and methods that help merchants and other entities acquire new consumers, retain current consumers, and encourage behavior by consumers that is profitable to the merchant. One benefit of embodiments of the invention is that a merchant may encourage the formation of a group of consumers that are likely to influence each other to engage behavior that is profitable for the merchant. For example, if the benefit to be provided to the group may be forfeited, or the group may suffer a penalty, if an obligation is not met, the group members are likely to influence and encourage one another in order to satisfy the obligation. The merchant is thus able to promote the commitment of consumers to obligations tailored to reduce costs or increase income for the merchant.

[0029] Also, by encouraging consumers to seek out others to join a group, the present invention also reduces the dependency on labor in acquiring and selling to new consumers. Further, once a group is identified, a merchant is able to tailor obligations, penalties and penalties based on group as well as individual characteristics, making offers more likely to be accepted by the group and more likely to be effective in influencing the behavior of the group members.

[0030] In addition to providing benefits to merchants and other entities, embodiments of the present invention provide benefits to consumers. For example, consumers may be more willing to join in a group reward program if they can determine who is in their group. Some embodiments of the present invention provide the benefit that a consumer may benefit not only from the behavior of other group members, but also from the influence, motivation, encouragement, or discouragement by those members of the consumer's own behavior.

[0031] Some embodiments may provide the opportunity for a consumer to bring account terms and conditions, such as insurance premiums or insurance rates, in line with his actual risk profile, or may allow the consumer to benefit from a lower risk assessment of the group of which he is a member. For example, a consumer may be classified by an insurer as being in a statistically high risk pool of consumers. The risk assessment may or may not reflect the consumer's actual risk as an account holder. Some embodiments of the present invention allow the consumer to associate himself with a group of others (some of whom may be classified in a statistically lower risk pool). For example, a friend of a consumer might be willing to form a group with the consumer and agree to a goal of less than two speeding tickets in a year because the friend knows that the consumer was once a passenger in a high-speed accident and now never drives above the speed limit. Because of the friend's willingness to commit to such an obligation, the consumer may look like a better risk to an automobile insurer, even though the insurer may not know of the consumer's experience. Further, if the group's ability to earn a reward is dependent on the behavior of the consumer, the insurer may determine that this incentive of the other group members to keep the consumer in line mitigates some of the risk factors that would otherwise make the consumer appear a poorer risk.

[0032] The present invention may be more filly understood with reference to the following drawings. In the following description, reference is made to the accompanying drawings that form a part hereof, and in which is shown by way of illustration, specific embodiments in which the invention may be practiced. These embodiments are described in sufficient detail to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention, and it is to be understood that other embodiments may be utilized and that structural, logical and electrical changes may be made without departing from the scope of the present invention. The following description is, therefore, not to be taken in a limited sense but as an illustration of embodiments of the present invention.

[0033] For example, although many of the embodiments are illustrated herein as involving a credit card issuer, a credit card issuer is not necessary for the implementation of the present invention. For example, an offer for a benefit for a group in exchange for commitment to and/or fulfillment of an obligation may be generated, presented, and/or managed by various types of merchants. The merchant may be, for example, an account issuer (e.g., a credit card issuer, a loan provider, or an insurance provider), a retail merchant, a casino, or an entity that facilitates a group formation and/or offer management process on behalf of one or more other merchants.

[0034] It should be noted that in the description herein the term “consumer device” shall refer to any device, including a conventional personal computer, a portable type of computer (e.g., a laptop computer, a palm-top computer, a hand-held computer, or a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)), point-of-sale (POS) terminal, kiosk, telephone, automatic teller machine (ATM), pager, slot machine (e.g., a slot reel machine, a video lottery terminal, a video poker machine, a video bingo machine, a video keno machine, a video blackjack machine, etc.), facsimile machine, etc., or combination thereof, that facilitates one- or two-way communication with an entity providing an offer, an entity managing an offer, an entity monitoring consumer behavior, and/or an entity providing a benefit.

[0035] Although many of the embodiments are illustrated herein as involving a consumer device, a consumer device is not necessary for the implementation of the present invention. For example, a credit card issuer could present an offer for a group benefit in a magazine, and a group could respond to the offer by mailing back an acceptance form torn from the magazine. The credit card issuer and the group could correspond entirely by mail and/or in person (e.g., one or more members could meet with an employee of the credit card issuer).

[0036] Referring now to FIG. 1, a flow diagram illustrates an exemplary process 100 according to an embodiment of the present invention. The process 100 begins when an offer is presented (step 110). The offer defines a benefit to be provided in exchange for the fulfilling of an obligation by a group of consumers. Benefits and obligations are described in more detail below. An offer may be presented to one or more consumers, for example as an advertisement in the mail, in a publication, or in a periodical; via an email; at a Web site; or by a sales representative. The consumers to whom the offer is presented may or may not already be associated with a group of consumers. The offer may be presented to a group of consumers, such as to one or more members of the group. The offer may be visually and/or audibly presented. For example, a visual presentation of the offer may be provided to a consumer via a pop-up window at a Web page being viewed by the consumer. In other embodiments a visual presentation may be presented to a consumer viewing a Web page via a means other than a pop-up window, such as an advertisement displayed on the Web page.

[0037] If it is determined that a group of consumers has accepted the offer (step 115) an indication of the group and its members is stored (step 120) and an indication of the group's commitment to fulfill the obligation is stored (step 125).

[0038] A group may signal an acceptance of an offer in various ways. For example, an individual consumer may visit a Web page indicated by the offer and indicate a willingness to be associated with one or more other consumers (e.g., if the obligation is to form a group). In other embodiments a group of consumers may signal acceptance of the offer by indicating their association with one another and fulfilling, or beginning to fulfill, the obligation (e.g., if the obligation is for each member of a group to apply for a credit card). In other embodiments acceptance of the offer by a group may be signaled by one or more members of the group on behalf of the group (e.g., one member accepts the offer for the group and submits a list of the members of the group). If an acceptance of the offer is not received, in some embodiments a second offer or the first offer in an altered form may be presented.

[0039] The group is monitored (step 130). If it is determined that the group has fulfilled the obligation (step 135) the benefit defined by the offer is provided to the group (e.g., a donation is made to a beneficiary, or a monetary amount is given to the group and/or group members) and an indication of the group's fulfillment of the obligation is stored (step 140). In some embodiments the benefit may be provided to the group before the group actually fulfills the obligation. For example, the benefit may be provided when the group commits to the obligation.

[0040] An indication of the group's commitment may be stored in a database for use in determining whether the group has fulfilled the obligation in a satisfactory manner (e.g., within a specified period of time) and/or whether a penalty should be assessed to the group if the group fails to fulfill the obligation. An indication of a group's commitment to an offer may also be stored for future reference regarding, for example, what types of commitments are accepted by consumers or groups in general and/or by this particular group or these particular consumers.

[0041] Various other embodiments of the present invention are described below. An example of an implementation of the present invention follows:

[0042] John, a member of the Stony Brook Church, received a credit card offer in the mail from AnyBank, USA. The offer had an interesting twist: if ten people formed a group and signed up for AnyBank's credit card and were approved, then the group of account holders would immediately earn $200 to be donated to any charitable organization. Furthermore, if the group transferred $10,000, in aggregate, from existing credit card balances onto their AnyBank credit cards, then the group would earn another $100 for their favorite charity.

[0043] John thought this offer would be an effective way to earn some of the money necessary to repair his church's damaged sidewalk. He talked to some of his friends about the credit card offer. Some of the friends were members of his church, and others were co-workers. John knew that some of his friends could be relied upon to meet individual and group goals. He also knew some of his friends were typically a little loose with their spending, but he believed that with the amount of contact he and other group members would have with them, and with the closeness of some his relationships, it would be easy to discuss each other's situations and to dispense a little friendly encouragement where necessary to meet any obligations.

[0044] John convinced nine of his friends to join him in a group. They agreed on a group name (“The Stony Brooks”) and a password (“sidewalk2002”). John sent his friends a link to a Web site hosted by AnyBank, so that they could apply for the AnyBank credit card. John and the other members of the group applied for the card using an application form on the Web site.

[0045] John used his personal computer and an Internet connection to visit the Web site. At the Web site, John was prompted to provide personal information and financial information, such as age, address, and annual income, in an on-line form. John was also prompted to indicate any affiliation with a group. He entered his group's name and password at the Web site.

[0046] AnyBank ultimately approved each of the applications and sent each of the applicants a new credit card. Each group member had his own credit limit, and credit limits ranged from $1000 to $5000. AnyBank monitored activity related to the group. AnyBank determined that since ten people identifying themselves as members of The Stony Brooks group had been approved for AnyBank credit cards, the group had earned the $200 reward. As the designated group leader, John received an email message from AnyBank, asking what he would like to do with the $200 charitable donation. John entered the address of Stony Brook Church into the AnyBank Web site and requested that a check in the donated amount be sent to Stony Brook Church along with a message that the check was to pay for the sidewalk. AnyBank sent a check to Stony Brook Church as requested.

[0047] AnyBank continued to monitor activity related to the group. Nine months later, AnyBank determined that the group, in aggregate, had satisfied the $10,000 balance transfer obligation (some members had not transferred any balance amount). Accordingly, AnyBank issued another check for $100 to Stony Brook Church. By encouraging one another to meet the group's obligations, The Stony Brooks group was provided with the reward of a $300 donation to Stony Brook Church.

[0048] 2. Description of the System

[0049] Referring now to FIG. 2A, a system 200 according to an embodiment of the present invention includes a controller 210 that is in communication with (wired and/or wirelessly) one or more consumer devices 220 and one or more optional beneficiaries 230 via a network such as an intranet, the Internet, via another network protocol, or via other means for communication as would be understood by those of ordinary skill in the art. Although two consumer devices 220 are depicted in FIG. 2A, any number of consumer devices may be in communication with the controller 210. Although two beneficiaries 230 are depicted in FIG. 2A, any number of beneficiaries may be in communication with the controller 210. The controller 210, consumer devices 220 and/or beneficiaries 230 may comprise one or more computing devices, such as those based on the INTEL® PENTIUM® processor.

[0050] In operation, the controller 210 may function under the control of a merchant or other entity. For example, the controller 210 may be a Web server operated by or on behalf of a credit card issuing bank. In some embodiments, a merchant or other entity may control the consumer devices 220. For example, the consumer devices 220 may be POS terminals operated by and located at a retail store. In some embodiments, some or all of the functions described herein as being performed by the controller 210 may be performed by any or all of the consumer devices 220. Similarly, in some embodiments of the present invention, some or all of the functions described herein as being performed by one or more of the consumer devices 220 may be performed by controller 210.

[0051] Referring now to FIG. 2B, a system 200 according to another embodiment of the present invention includes a primary controller 260 that is in communication with (wired and/or wirelessly) a secondary controller 270 and a secondary controller 280. Although two secondary controllers are illustrated in FIG. 2B it should be understood that any number of secondary controllers may be used. Secondary controller 270 is in communication with consumer devices 275. Secondary controller 280 is in communication with consumer devices 285. It should be understood that secondary controller 270 and secondary controller 280 may be in communication with any number of consumer devices. Each of the devices of FIG. 2B are in communication with one another via a network such as an intranet, the Internet, via another network protocol, or via other means for communication as would be understood by those of ordinary skill in the art.

[0052] In some embodiments, some or all of the functions described herein as being performed by the primary controller 260 may be performed by either or both of the secondary controllers 270 and 280. Similarly, in some embodiments of the present invention, some or all of the functions described herein as being performed by one or more of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 may be performed by the primary controller 260.

[0053] A difference between the two alternative embodiments depicted in FIGS. 2A and 2B is that the embodiment of FIG. 2B includes the primary controller 260 being in communication with secondary controller 270 and secondary controller 280 rather than being in communication with any of the consumer devices. Of course in other embodiments the primary controller may be in communication with any or all of the consumer devices 275 and 285 in addition to being in communication with any or all of secondary controllers 270 and 280. Another difference between the two alternative embodiments depicted in FIGS. 2A and 2B is that the embodiment of FIG. 2B does not depict the primary controller 260 as being in communication with any of the optional beneficiaries 230. Of course in other embodiments the primary controller may be in communication with any or all of the optional beneficiaries 230. Primary controller 260 may be operable by an entity both distinct and physically remote from an entity operating the secondary controller 270 and/or the secondary controller 280.

[0054] The primary controller 260 may perform various methods of the present invention by sending signals to the secondary controller 270 and secondary controller 280 to be relayed to the consumer devices 275 and the consumer devices 285, respectively. For example, a merchant or a subsidizing entity may operate a primary controller 260 that communicates with a Web server (functioning as a secondary controller 270 and/or secondary controller 280) to provide a consumer viewing a Web site using a personal computer (functioning as any of the consumer devices 275 and/or consumer devices 285) an offer for one or more benefits in exchange for fulfillment of an obligation by a group of two or more consumers.

[0055] In some embodiments, the primary controller 260 may perform various methods of the present invention by receiving signals from the secondary controller 270 and/or secondary controller 280. For example, a merchant or a subsidizing entity may operate a server (functioning as a secondary controller 270 and/or secondary controller 280) to receive and/or store information related to a consumer, such as information about a transaction between the merchant and the consumer and/or information about an account the consumer has with the merchant, and to send signals indicating any such information to a group reward controller (functioning as a primary controller 260). Alternatively, a merchant may operate a server (functioning as a secondary controller 270 and/or secondary controller 280) to relay such information from the consumer devices 276 and/or the consumer devices 285 to the primary controller 260 without storing the information. Information from one or more merchants may be used by the group reward controller, for example, in determining whether an obligation of a consumer or group of consumers has been fulfilled, such as by meeting certain purchase requirements.

[0056] In one embodiment of the system illustrated in FIG. 2A, the functions of the primary controller 260 are consolidated into the controller 210. In some embodiments, the secondary controller 270 and secondary controller 280 of FIG. 2B may each be controlled by different merchants or by different affiliates (e.g., franchisees, subsidiaries) of the same merchant.

[0057] Referring now to both FIG. 2A and FIG. 2B, communication with the controller 210, the primary controller 260, and/or either of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 may be direct or indirect. For example, communication (wired and/or wireless) may be via an intranet; the Internet through a Web site maintained on a remote server by controller 210, the primary controller 260, and/or either of the secondary controllers 270 and 280; or an on-line data network, including commercial on-line service providers, bulletin board systems and the like. In some embodiments, the consumer devices 220 and the beneficiaries 230 may communicate with controller 210 (and the consumer devices 275 and 285 may communicate with secondary controller 270 and 280, respectively) over radio frequency (“RF”), infrared (“IR”), cable TV, satellite links and the like, including combinations thereof.

[0058] Those skilled in the art will understand that devices in communication with each other need not be continually transmitting to each other. On the contrary, such devices need only transmit to each other as necessary, and may actually refrain from exchanging data most of the time. For example, a device in communication with another device via the Internet may not transmit data to the other device for weeks at a time.

[0059] The controller 210, the primary controller 260, and/or either of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 may function as a “Web server” that generates Web pages (documents on the Web that typically include an HTML file and associated graphics and script files). Such Web pages may be accessed via the Web and allow communication with the controller 210, the primary controller 260, and/or either of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 in a manner known in the art. The controller 210, the primary controller 260, and/or either of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 may function in such a capacity, for example, in embodiments wherein a merchant comprises an online store or catalog. Those of skill in the art will understand that there are a variety of well-known ways for creating and operating Web pages, and accordingly a detailed description of such known processes is omitted here.

[0060] Any or all of the controller 210, the optional beneficiaries 230, the primary controller 260, the secondary controllers 270 and 280 and the consumer devices 220, 275, and 285 may comprise, e.g., a conventional personal computer, a portable type of computer, such as a laptop computer, a palm-top computer, a hand-held computer, or a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), or combinations thereof.

[0061] In operation, the consumer devices 220, 275 and 285 may exchange information about a consumer or group of consumers with the controller 210, the primary controller 260, and/or the secondary controllers 270 and 280. The consumer devices 220, 275, and 285 may also exchange information about an offer provided to a consumer or group, or accepted by a consumer or group, with the controller 210, primary controller 260, and/or secondary controllers 270 and 280. The controller 210, the primary controller 260, and/or the secondary controllers 270 and 280 may, for example, provide information about an offer such as obligation information, penalty information, benefit information and/or other information to the consumer devices 220, 275 and 285 and/or the beneficiaries 230. The consumer devices 220, 275, and 285 may, for example, provide acceptance information, obligation information, penalty information, benefit information, information related to a consumer's account and/or information related to a transaction to the controller 210, the primary controller 260, and/or the secondary controllers 270 and 280. The secondary controllers 270 and 280 may provide information about accepted offers and/or information related to a consumer or to a group of consumers to the primary controller 260 and also may provide control signals to the consumer devices 220, 275, and 285 directing them to provide benefits or to apply penalties to groups. The secondary controllers 270 and 280 may also provide control signals to the consumer devices 220, 275, and 285 directing them to provide benefits or to apply penalties to groups.

[0062] Referring now to FIG. 3, depicted therein is a block diagram illustrating details of an example of consumer device 300. Consumer device 300 may be any and all of consumer devices 220, 275 and 285. A consumer device may comprise any device facilitating one- or two-way communication with an entity providing an offer, an entity managing an offer, an entity monitoring consumer behavior, and/or an entity providing a benefit. Consumer devices may or may not be owned by a merchant and/or may or may not be located within a merchant establishment (e.g., a merchant corporate headquarters, a retail store). For example, in an embodiment wherein a merchant comprises an online store or catalog, consumer device 300 may comprise a personal computer or other computing device operable to run a program that simulates the functions of the components of a consumer device as described herein.

[0063] For illustrative purposes, FIG. 3 depicts an example of a consumer device that comprises a conventional personal computer. As would be understood by one skilled in the art, if other consumer devices are used additional or substitute components may be included in consumer device 300. The consumer device 300 includes known hardware components, such as a processor 305, which may be one or more processors such as an INTEL® PENTIUM® processor. Processor 305 is shown as being in communication with each of (i) a data storage device 310, (ii) an output device 315, (iii) a communications port 320, and (v) an input device 330. Processor 305 can be in communication with the data storage device 310, output device 315, communications port 320, random number generator 325 and input device 330, for example, by means of a shared data bus or by dedicated connections, as is well known in the art. Consumer device 300 may comprise additional conventional components such as, for example, a power supply.

[0064] The processor 305 may include or be coupled to one or more clocks or timers (not pictured), which may be useful for determining information relating to, for example, whether an obligation is fulfilled within a specified time. The processor 305 may also include or be in communication with one or more communication ports 320 through which the processor 305 communicates with, for example, controller 210, primary controller 260, and/or secondary controllers 270 and 280. The processor 305 is also in communication with a data storage device 310. The data storage device 310 includes an appropriate combination of magnetic, optical and/or semiconductor memory, and may include, for example, additional processors, communication ports, Random Access Memory (“RAM”), Read-Only Memory (“ROM”), a compact disc and/or a hard disk. The processor 305 and the storage device 310 may each be, for example: (i) located entirely within a single computer or other computing device; or (ii) connected to each other by a remote communication medium, such as a serial port cable, a LAN, a telephone line, radio frequency transceiver, a fiber optic connection or the like. In some embodiments for example, the consumer device 300 may comprise one or more computers (or processors 305) that are connected to a remote server computer operative to maintain databases, where the data storage device 310 is comprised of the combination of the remote server computer and the associated databases.

[0065] The data storage device 310 stores a program 335 for controlling the processor 305. The processor 305 performs instructions of the program 335, and thereby operates in accordance with the present invention, and particularly in accordance with the methods described in detail herein. The present invention can be embodied as a computer program developed using an object oriented language that allows the modeling of complex systems with modular objects to create abstractions that are representative of real world, physical objects and their interrelationships. However, it would be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art that the invention as described herein can be implemented in many different ways using a wide range of programming techniques as well as general purpose hardware systems or dedicated controllers. The program 335 may be stored in a compressed, uncompiled and/or encrypted format. The program 335 furthermore may include program elements that may be generally useful, such as an operating system, a Web browser, a database management system and “device drivers” for allowing the processor 305 to interface with computer peripheral devices. Appropriate general purpose program elements are known to those skilled in the art, and need not be described in detail herein.

[0066] According to some embodiments of the present invention, the instructions of the program 335 may be read into a main memory of the processor 305 from another computer-readable medium, such from a ROM to a RAM. Execution of sequences of the instructions in the program 335 causes processor 305 to perform the process steps described herein. In alternative embodiments, hard-wired circuitry or integrated circuits may be used in place of, or in combination with, software instructions for implementation of the processes of the present invention. Thus, embodiments of the present invention are not limited to any specific combination of hardware, firmware, and/or software.

[0067] Communications port 320 may be any input/output port commonly used for computer communications, such as a modem or other data transfer device. The communications port 320 enables the consumer device 300 to communicate with another device such as, for example, controller 210. It is also contemplated that the consumer device 300 may be in communication with other devices via the communications port 320. Among other functions, the communications port 320, under the control of the processor 305, may receive and/or transmit data relevant to providing an offer to a consumer that is interacting with the consumer device 300. The communications port 320 may also receive and/or transmit data, such as information related to the consumer, information relevant to an offer, information related to a transaction by the consumer, information related to an account of the consumer, and/or information related to a group in which the consumer is a member, received through the input device 330, described below. The communications port 320 may include multiple communication channels for simultaneous connections with a plurality of external devices.

[0068] The output device 315 may comprise any device capable of providing information and/or a benefit to a consumer (it should be noted that in some embodiments of the present invention a benefit may comprise information). An output device may communicate with or be part of another device (e.g. a benefit dispensing device, a touch screen display that may also comprise input device 330). Possible output devices include: a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor, liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, light emitting diode (LED) screen, a printer, an audio speaker, an infra-red transmitter, and a radio transmitter. In embodiments wherein the output device 315 also functions as a benefit dispensing device, the output device 315 may comprise any device capable of providing a benefit such as: dispensing money and/or casino tokens; dispensing a product of value (e.g., a ticket, a coupon); printing a confirmation of a benefit (e.g.,. a receipt confirming reservations at a restaurant); and/or printing or otherwise outputting coupons and/or cashless gaming receipts. In some embodiments output device 315 may comprise a printing device capable of printing a written agreement describing an offer that a consumer was presented with and/or was accepted. It should be noted that although output device 315 is depicted as a component of consumer device 300, in some embodiments output device 315 may comprise an output device that is external to the consumer device 300 (e.g., located near consumer device 300).

[0069] The input device 330 may include a keyboard, a numeric keypad, a pointer device (e.g., a mouse), a microphone, a touch screen display with an associated consumer interface, and/or a card reader for reading input from credit cards and/or tracking cards (e.g., a casino consumer tracking card). One such card reader is the OMNI 490 by VERIFONE, INC.

[0070] Referring now to FIG. 4, depicted therein is a block diagram illustrating details of an example of a controller 400. Controller 400 may be controller 210 of FIG. 2A, and/or the primary controller 260 and the secondary controllers 270 and 280 of FIG. 2B. The controller 400 is operative to manage the system and execute the methods of the present invention. The controller 400 may be implemented as one or more system controllers, one or more dedicated hardware circuits, one or more appropriately programmed general purpose computers, or any other similar electronic, mechanical, electromechanical, and/or human operated device.

[0071] The controller 400 may include a processor 405, such as one or more INTEL® PENTIUM® processors. The processor 405 may include or be coupled to one or more clocks or timers (not pictured), which may be useful for determining information relating to, for example, whether an obligation is fulfilled within a specified time. The processor 405 may also include or be in communication with and one or more communication ports 410 through which the processor 405 communicates with other devices such as the consumer devices 220, 275, and 285. The processor 405 is also in communication with a data storage device 415. The data storage device 415 includes an appropriate combination of magnetic, optical and/or semiconductor memory, and may include, for example, additional processors, communication ports, Random Access Memory (“RAM”), Read-Only Memory (“ROM”), a compact disc and/or a hard disk. The processor 405 and the storage device 415 may each be, for example: (i) located entirely within a single computer or other computing device; or (ii) connected to each other by a remote communication medium, such as a serial port cable, a LAN, a telephone line, radio frequency transceiver, a fiber optic connection or the like. In some embodiments for example, the controller 400 may comprise one or more computers (or processors 405) that are connected to a remote server computer operative to maintain databases, where the data storage device 415 is comprised of the combination of the remote server computer and the associated databases.

[0072] The data storage device 415 stores a program 420 for controlling the processor 405. The processor 405 performs instructions of the program 420, and thereby operates in accordance with the present invention, and particularly in accordance with the methods described in detail herein. The present invention can be embodied as a computer program developed using an object oriented language that allows the modeling of complex systems with modular objects to create abstractions that are representative of real world, physical objects and their interrelationships. However, it would be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art that the invention as described herein can be implemented in many different ways using a wide range of programming techniques as well as general purpose hardware systems or dedicated controllers. The program 420 may be stored in a compressed, uncompiled and/or encrypted format. The program 420 furthermore may include program elements that may be generally useful, such as an operating system, a database management system and “device drivers” for allowing the processor 405 to interface with computer peripheral devices. Appropriate general purpose program elements are known to those skilled in the art, and need not be described in detail herein.

[0073] Further, the program 420 is operative to execute a number of invention-specific modules or subroutines including, but not limited to: one or more routines to generate an offer to be provided to a consumer or a group; one or more routines to receive information about an offer to be provided to a consumer or a group; one or more routines to identify a consumer or group as a potential candidate to be provided with an offer; one or more routines to provide an offer or cause an offer to be provided to a consumer or a group; one or more routines to receive information about a consumer; one or more routines to receive information about a group; one or more routines to receive information about a beneficiary; one or more routines to associate a consumer with a group of consumers; one or more routines to determine if a consumer or a group accepts an offer; one or more routines to signal consumer devices 220, 275 and/or 285 to output a benefit to a consumer or to a group; one or more routines to verify a consumer's fulfillment of an obligation that was the subject of an offer which the consumer or a group accepted; one or more routines to verify a group's fulfillment of an obligation that was the subject of an offer which the group accepted; one or more routines to impose a consequence upon a consumer or a group that fails to fulfill an obligation; and one or more routines to control databases or software objects that track information regarding, for example, consumers, subsidizing entities, groups of consumers, consumer devices 220, 275 and 285, offers, and fulfillment of obligations. Examples of these routines and their operation are described in detail below in conjunction with the flow diagrams.

[0074] According to some embodiments of the present invention, the instructions of the program 420 may be read into a main memory of the processor 405 from another computer-readable medium, such from a ROM to a RAM. Execution of sequences of the instructions in the program 420 causes processor 405 to perform the process steps described herein. In alternative embodiments, hard-wired circuitry or integrated circuits may be used in place of, or in combination with, software instructions for implementation of the processes of the present invention. Thus, embodiments of the present invention are not limited to any specific combination of hardware, firmware, and/or software.

[0075] In addition to the program 420, the storage device 415 is also operative to store (i) a consumer database 425, (ii) a group database 427, (iii) a beneficiary database 430, (iv) a group offers database 435, (v) an accepted offer tracking database 450, and (vi) a consumer transaction database 455. The databases 425, 427, 430, 435, 450, and 455 are described in detail below and example structures are depicted with sample entries in the accompanying figures. As will be understood by those skilled in the art, the schematic illustrations and accompanying descriptions of the sample databases presented herein are exemplary arrangements for stored representations of information. Any number of other arrangements may be employed besides those suggested by the tables shown. For example, even though six separate databases are illustrated, the invention could be practiced effectively using one, two, three, four, five, seven, or more functionally equivalent databases. Similarly, the illustrated entries of the databases represent exemplary information only; those skilled in the art will understand that the number and content of the entries can be different from those illustrated herein. Further, despite the depiction of the databases as tables, an object based model could be used to store and manipulate the data types of the present invention and likewise, object methods or behaviors can be used to implement the processes of the present invention. These processes are described below in detail with respect to the flow diagrams.

[0076] 3. Description of Databases

[0077] 3.1. Consumer Database

[0078] Referring to FIG. 5, a table represents the consumer database 425 that may be stored at the controller 210, primary controller 260 or one or more of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 according to some embodiments of the present invention. According to another embodiment, some or all of the information in the consumer database 425 may be stored at one or more of the consumer devices 220, 275, and 285 instead. The table includes entries identifying consumers. The table defines fields 502, 504, 505, 506, 512, 514, 516, and 518 for each of the entries. The fields specify: a consumer identifier 502; a consumer name 504; a consumer address 505; an account identifier 506; demographic information 512; other information 514; consumer obligation 516; and a date 518.

[0079] The information in the consumer database 425 may be created and updated, for example, based on information received from a consumer. For example, the information may be created when a consumer registers with a credit card issuer and receives a credit card having a credit card account identifier. The information may be subsequently updated when a consumer requests to update the information (e.g., when a consumer indicates a desire to change his address of record) or when additional information is obtained about the consumer via the credit card issuer's interactions with the consumer (e.g., the shopping habits of the consumer may be updated over time).

[0080] The consumer identifier 502 may be, for example, an alphanumeric code associated with a consumer who may operate a consumer device. The consumer identifier 502 may be generated or selected, for example, by the controller 210 or by the consumer (e.g., when a consumer first registers with a credit card issuer via a Web site).

[0081] For each consumer, the consumer database 425 may also store the consumer's name 504 and address (e.g., for use in presenting offers to the consumer). The consumer address 505 stores an indication of how to contact the consumer. Address information may comprise, e.g., a telephone number, electronic mail (“e-mail”) address, or postal address. The consumer may be contacted in a variety of circumstances in accordance with various embodiments of the present invention, as discussed further below.

[0082] The consumer database 425 also stores an account identifier 506 (e.g., a credit card account number, a debit card account number, a checking account number, or an insurance policy number) associated with the consumer. The account identifier 506 may be used, for example, to credit a payment to the consumer (e.g., wherein a benefit comprises a monetary amount) and/or to apply a penalty to a consumer if he or the consumer's group does not satisfy an obligation defined by an offer accepted by the consumer or the consumer's group. The account identifier 506 may also be used to charge a monetary amount to the account wherein the monetary amount is based on a value of a benefit provided, in an embodiment where, for example, a group is provided a benefit before satisfying an obligation and subsequently does not satisfy the obligation.

[0083] The demographic information 512 and other information 514 may store information that is useful for targeting offers to a consumer of a consumer device. In one embodiment a merchant may specify one or more consumer-related prerequisites to be satisfied before a particular offer may be provided to a consumer or to a group. For example, a merchant may specify that the offer be provided only to female consumers, to consumers within a certain age group, or consumers having certain interests or hobbies. In this example, when determining whether to provide a consumer at a consumer device with the merchant's offer, the demographic information field 512 and/or other information field 514 may be accessed, based on the consumer identifier of the consumer at the consumer device, to determine whether the demographic information and the other information satisfies the merchant's prerequisites. Of course a merchant may specify other consumer-related prerequisites in addition to or instead of demographic information. Such consumer-related prerequisites are discussed in detail below. Further, an entity other than a merchant may specify consumer-related prerequisites that are to be satisfied before an offer is provided to a consumer. For example, in an embodiment where the controller is not the merchant the controller may specify consumer-related prerequisites in addition to or instead of any specified by the merchant.

[0084] It should be understood that although a consumer identifier and information related to each registered consumer is described in detail with reference to providing offers to consumers, a consumer need not be registered in order to receive an offer in accordance with the present invention. For example, an offer may be provided to a consumer regardless of any information about the consumer that is known (e.g., the offer may not be targeted but may instead be provided to any consumer). In some embodiments an offer may be provided based on an event or condition at a consumer device. For example, an offer may be provided to a consumer who clicks on a particular hyperlink on a Web site, or who makes a particular purchase at a POS terminal. In such embodiments no information about the consumer need be stored or registered ahead of time. The information necessary for determining whether to provide an offer may simply be accumulated by, e.g., controller 210 and/or consumer devices 220. In yet other embodiments information about a consumer may be gathered (e.g., via a survey presented to the consumer at a Web site) while the consumer is using the consumer device 220. In other words, in some embodiments of the present invention no pre-registration of a consumer or consumer-related information is necessary or preferred.

[0085] The consumer obligation 516 stores an indication of an obligation the consumer individually must commit to and/or fulfill in order to obtain the corresponding benefit defined by an offer to the consumer's group. It should be noted that an offer may define more than one obligation for the consumer. In embodiments where an offer defines a plurality of individual obligations for the consumer, the consumer may or may not be required to perform each of the obligations defined by the offer in order for the group to obtain the corresponding benefit. For example, the consumer may be allowed to choose a subset of the obligations defined by the offer (e.g., one of the plurality of obligations) and the group may be provided with the corresponding benefit in exchange for the consumer committing to and/or fulfilling the subset of obligations. An obligation defined by an offer may or may not be defined by the merchant associated with the offer or by the same entity that defined the corresponding benefit. For example, a merchant other than a credit card issuer, such as a retail store owner, may provide the offer or define a benefit while the credit card issuer may specify one or more of the obligations defined by the offer. In some embodiments the group or one or more members of the group may be allowed to define an individual obligation for the consumer. For example, each member of the group may indicate an obligation preference on an online form at a Web site (functioning as a secondary controller 270 and/or 280) hosted by an entity acting as the primary controller 260 (FIG. 2B), such as by casting a vote for one or more of a set of obligations defined by the offer, or writing in a preferred obligation. Alternatively, the members may agree to an obligation and the group leader then may indicate a preference for the obligation to an entity operating the system, on behalf of the consumer and/or the group.

[0086] Examples of obligations include, but are not limited to: (i) purchasing a product or service (e.g., signing up for a magazine subscription, switching to a new service provider, or buying $20 worth of books from AMAZON.COM™); (ii) using a product or service (e.g. applying for a new credit card, using a new long distance provider for a trial period, printing at least 100 pages per week from a specified brand of printer, receiving 3 free new issues of a magazine, test driving a car); (iii) providing a product or service (e.g., providing advice via a Web site, donating to a specified cause or organization); (iv) selling a product or service (e.g., selling a product on EBAY™, providing advice for a fee); (v) providing information (e.g., answering survey questions or giving permission to access personal information such as medical files or credit report); (vi) viewing information (e.g., watching an advertisement or other video clip, listening to a message that is prerecorded or from a live person); (vii) convincing another person to perform one or more activities (e.g., convincing a friend to apply for a new credit card, test drive a car, view information, or buy a product); and (viii) visiting a retailer (e.g., visiting a Web site of an online retailer or visiting a store location of a brick-and-mortar retailer).

[0087] Examples of obligations imposed by a credit card issuer may include, but are not limited to: (i) transferring a minimum amount of funds to a new credit card; (ii) new charges in excess of predetermined minimum; (iii) increasing the amount charged at a predetermined rate or by a predetermined percentage; (iv) getting a current balance to exceed a threshold; (v) getting a current balance to be less than a threshold; (vi) charging more than a predetermined minimum amount at a particular merchant or group of merchants; (vii) increasing the membership of the group by a predetermined number of members; (viii) retaining a predetermined number of members in the group; and (ix) paying off a certain amount or percentage of prior balances.

[0088] As discussed further below, obligations may apply in aggregate to the group as a whole, may apply on a per-member basis, or some combination thereof.

[0089] In some embodiments obligations may be time-based. For example, members may have to fulfill an obligation within a certain time period, or may have to fulfill an obligation periodically. In some embodiments, obligations may need only be met a certain percentage of time. For example, an obligation may be that in any given time period, only 80% of the group members have balances exceeding a certain threshold.

[0090] Examples of gambling-related obligations include, but are not limited to: (i) playing a specified game or game device for a predetermined period of time or for a predetermined number of rounds; (ii) placing a specified wager amount for a specified period of time or for a predetermined number of rounds; and (iii) playing a game or game device until an occurrence of a specified event (e.g., obtaining a specified outcome, a specified payout amount, or winning a specified total amount of payout amounts).

[0091] An obligation may specify further conditions such as a requirement to begin an activity defined by the obligation within a specified period of time, before a specified time or after a specified time. Another example of a further condition is a requirement to finish an activity defined by the obligation within a specified period of time or by a specified time. Further, an obligation may require a commitment from a person different from the consumer accepting the offer (e.g., a commitment from an associated person that is to be provided the benefit defined by the offer) or an activity to be performed by a person different from the consumer accepting the offer (e.g., the obligation may be to convince a friend or family member of the consumer to switch service providers or test a product).

[0092] An obligation may be defined at the time the corresponding offer is entered into the table 425 or at another time. For example, as discussed below, an obligation may be defined on an ad hoc basis based on revenue management principles. In one example, a casino determines that not enough consumers are playing a particular type of slot machine. The casino defines the playing of the slot machine for a specified period of time as an obligation defined by an offer until the number of consumers playing the particular type of slot machine reaches an acceptable number. In another example, a merchant that is a car manufacturer may define an obligation as a test drive of a model A of the manufacturer's cars. However, as the manufacturer determines that the sales of model A are at an acceptable level but the sales level of model B is below an acceptable level the manufacturer may define the obligation to be a test drive of model B rather than model A. An obligation may be defined based on other information such as consumer-related information. For example, in the above example the particular model to be test-driven as defined by the obligation may be determined based on the income level of the consumer to whom the offer is to be provided.

[0093] It should be understood that an obligation defined by an offer may or may not be performed, or be capable of being performed, at a consumer device. For example, in some embodiments an obligation comprises an activity that cannot be performed at a personal computer (e.g., test driving a car). In other embodiments an obligation may be performed at a consumer device (e.g., answering survey questions or applying for a credit card). In the embodiments where an obligation may be performed at a consumer device, the consumer may be allowed to defer the performance of the activity. For example, a consumer may be given an option to answer survey questions at a consumer device or on a Web site at a later time. In the embodiments where the consumer performs an obligation at a consumer device the consumer may be presented with the means of performing the obligation once the consumer accepts the offer (e.g., the consumer may be presented with a survey or credit card application on a screen of the consumer device). As discussed above, the benefit corresponding to an obligation may be provided, e.g., at the time of the consumer's acceptance of the offer defining the obligation and benefit or once the consumer satisfies the obligation.

[0094] In some embodiments the group may be provided with the benefit before the consumer satisfies the obligation. In such an embodiment the group may be informed of a penalty, if any, that may be imposed on the group if the consumer subsequently fails to satisfy the individual obligation. For example, the group may be required to return the benefit or provide a value equivalent to the benefit if the consumer does not satisfy the obligation. In embodiments where the group is not provided the benefit until the consumer satisfies the obligation members of the group may be informed of the progress of the consumer towards satisfying the obligation. For example, assuming the obligation comprises making a minimum amount of credit card charges to a credit card account in a three-month period, the group may be updated every month as to the consumer's progress towards satisfying the obligation (e.g., via e-mail messages transmitted to the group). In one embodiment the consumer and the group may be placed in contact (e.g., via a telephone or video connection) while the consumer is attempting to satisfy the obligation such that the group may encourage the consumer to satisfy the obligation. In another example, assuming the obligation comprises a commitment to visit a retailer or test a product before a predefined date, the group may be informed of the consumer's failure to satisfy the commitment as the predefined date approaches. In one embodiment the consumer may be provided with a message that the group will be informed of the consumer's failure to satisfy the obligation unless the consumer does satisfy the obligation. Such a message may be provided to the consumer (i) on or before the predefined date (e.g., to encourage the consumer to fulfill the obligation before the predefined date); and/or (ii) on or after the predefined date (e.g., to give the consumer one more chance to satisfy the obligation even though the predefined date has passed). A consumer may be motivated to satisfy an obligation upon receiving such a message to avoid having the group learn of the consumer's individual failure and potential responsibility for the failure of the entire group to earn a benefit.

[0095] The date 518 stores an indication of a time by which the customer must fulfill an obligation, if applicable. It should be noted that more than one time may be indicated, e.g., if the consumer is associated with more than one obligation.

[0096] 3.2. Group Database

[0097] Referring to FIG. 6, a table represents the group database 427 that may be stored at the controller 210, primary controller 260 or one or more of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 according to some embodiments of the present invention. The table includes entries identifying a group corresponding to one or more consumers. The table defines fields 1102, 1104, 1106, 1108, 1110, and 1112 for each of the entries. The fields specify: a group identifier 1102; a group name 1104; a group leader 1106; group members 1108; accepted offers 1110; and beneficiaries 1112.

[0098] The information in the group database 427 may be created and updated, for example, based on information received from a group (e.g., from a group leader on behalf of the group). For example, the information may be created when a consumer or a group registers with a merchant. The information may be subsequently updated when a consumer requests to update the information (e.g., when a group indicates a desire to add or remove a group) or when additional information is obtained from a group identified by one of the entries (e.g., when a group elects a new group leader).

[0099] The group identifier 1102 may comprise any identifier that uniquely identifies a group. The group identifier may comprise, e.g., a string of alphanumeric digits and/or an image. The group identifier may be (i) provided by a group at the time the group designates the group; (ii) generated or selected by one of the controller 210, primary controller 260, one of the secondary controllers 270 and 280, and/or any of the consumer devices 220, 275 and 285; or (iii) provided by the group in embodiments where the group is contacted. For example, the group identifier may comprise a unique string of alphanumeric digits that is generated to uniquely identify the group.

[0100] The group name 1104 stores the name of the group corresponding to the group identifier. The name may be (i) provided by the group; (ii) designated by the merchant; or (iii) otherwise obtained by the merchant (e.g., received from a beneficiary). The name of the group may be retrieved and incorporated into the provision of an offer to the group. For example, assuming the group's name is “The Youngsters,” the group may be provided with an offer that invites the group to commit to an obligation in order to earn the benefit defined by the offer for “The Youngsters.” Personalizing an offer in such a manner may substantially increase the acceptance rate of the offer.

[0101] The group leader 1106 stores an identification of a group leader, if any, that the group has designated. The group leader 1006 may comprise any information sufficient to identify the group leader. Information identifying the group leader as stored in the group leader 1006 may correspond to or be the same as one or more of the consumer identifiers stored in the consumer identifier field 502 of the consumer database 425 (FIG. 5).

[0102] It should be noted that more than one group leader may be in association with a particular group identifier 1102. For example, a group may establish more than one leader so that it is more likely one will be available if any of the group members, merchants, or entities controlling the system need to get in contact with the group.

[0103] The group leader may perform various functions including, but not limited to: (i) communicating information to the group regarding the group's progress toward fulfilling its obligations; (ii) presenting offer information to the group, including potential benefits, penalties, and/or obligations; (iii) communicating with one or more group members who are in danger of not fulfilling an obligation (e.g., where a predefined time limit is expiring); (iv) communicating with various entities on behalf of the group (e.g., a beneficiary, a merchant, or a controller); (v) identifying and enrolling new members in the group; and (vi) recommending that a group member be removed from the group.

[0104] The group leader may be (i) designated by the group; or (ii) designated by some other entity. For example, the group may vote to elect a leader. In some embodiments, the controller may appoint the group leader based on any number of different criteria. For example, the controller may designate the group member to identify himself to the controller as the leader of the group, or may select the oldest group member, the senior group member, the member having the longest affiliation with a designated beneficiary, etc.

[0105] The name of the group leader may be retrieved and incorporated into the provision of an offer to the group. For example, assuming the group leader's name is “Mick Darby,” the group may be provided with an offer “from your leader Mick Darby” that invites the group to commit to an obligation in order to earn the benefit defined by the offer. Personalizing an offer in such a manner may substantially increase the acceptance rate of the offer.

[0106] The accepted offers field 1110 stores an identification of one or more offers, if any, that the group has accepted. The accepted offers 1110 may comprise any information sufficient to identify an accepted offer. An identifier stored in the accepted offers field 1110 may correspond to or be the same as one or more of the offer identifiers stored in the offer identifier field 1004 in the accepted offer tracking database 450 (FIG. 9) or the offer identifiers stored in offer identifier field 700 in the group offers database 435 (FIG. 8A). As illustrated in table 427, more than one indication of an accepted offer may be stored in association with a particular group identifier 1102.

[0107] The beneficiaries field 1112 stores an identification of one or more beneficiaries, if any, that the group has designated. The beneficiaries 1112 may comprise any information sufficient to identify a designated beneficiary. An identifier stored in the beneficiaries field 1112 may correspond to or be the same as one or more of the offer identifiers stored in the beneficiary identifier field 602 in the beneficiary database 430 (FIG. 7) or the beneficiary identifier stored in beneficiary identifier field 1006 in the accepted offer database 450 (FIG. 9). As illustrated in table 427, more than one indication of a beneficiary may be stored in association with a particular group identifier 1102.

[0108] The beneficiary may be (i) provided by the group (e.g., as the result of a vote, as indicated by the group leader); (ii) designated by the merchant (e.g., as defined in an offer); or (iii) otherwise obtained by the merchant.

[0109] 3.3. Beneficiary Database

[0110] Referring to FIG. 7, a table represents the beneficiary database 430 that may be stored at the controller 210, primary controller 260 or one or more of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 according to some embodiments of the present invention. The table includes entries identifying one or more entities associated with a group of consumers. The entities (e.g., persons or organizations) are beneficiaries designated by a group of consumers as the recipient of a benefit defined by an offer accepted by the group. The table defines fields 602, 604, 606, and 608 for each of the entries. The fields specify: a beneficiary identifier 602; a beneficiary name 604; a financial account identifier 606; and a beneficiary address 608.

[0111] The information in the beneficiary database 430 may be created and updated, for example, based on information received from a consumer or a group. For example, the information may be created when a consumer or a group registers with a merchant. The information may be subsequently updated when a consumer requests to update the information (e.g., when a group indicates a desire to add or remove a beneficiary) or when additional information is obtained from a beneficiary identified by one of the entries (e.g., when a request to be removed from the beneficiary database 430 or updated contact information is received from a beneficiary).

[0112] As described above, according to some embodiments of the present invention a group of consumers may designate a recipient other than the group to receive a benefit defined by an offer accepted by the group. Such a person is referred to as a beneficiary in the present invention. A group may designate a beneficiary when the group first registers with a credit card issuer or at a time subsequent to registering with the credit card issuer by, e.g., contacting a representative of the credit card issuer and indicating the group's desire to designate the beneficiary. Alternatively, the group may be able to designate a beneficiary by filling out a form (e.g., a paper document that is handed or mailed to an employee of the credit card issuer or an electronic form at a Web site operated by the credit card issuer). In some embodiments the group may designate a beneficiary while one of the group members (e.g., the group leader) is operating a consumer device. For example, when presented at a Web site with an offer that defines a benefit a group leader may be presented with an option of obtaining the benefit for the group or for another entity. If the group leader (e.g., after consulting with other group members) chooses the option of obtaining the benefit for another person the group leader may be requested to enter information to identify the beneficiary. In another embodiment a group may indicate a desire to designate a beneficiary without first being presented with an offer. For example, a group leader may select a “designate beneficiary to receive benefits” option on a menu of options on a Web site operated by a credit card issuer.

[0113] It should be noted that a beneficiary need not be affiliated with the merchant in any manner beyond being a beneficiary designated by a group of consumers.

[0114] A particular beneficiary may or may not correspond to a particular benefit or accepted offer. In some embodiments a consumer group may designate one or more beneficiaries to be associated with the group's group identifier. In such embodiments the group may specify which particular beneficiary is to be provided the benefit defined by a particular offer at the time the consumer accepts the offer. In other embodiments a group may provide information designating a beneficiary as the person to be provided the benefit defined by an offer as the group is accepting the offer, for purposes of that particular offer only. In embodiments where a group designates one or more beneficiaries without constraint to a particular offer, the information the consumer provides regarding the one or more beneficiaries may be used to target or tailor offers to the group. Such an embodiment will be described with particular reference to table 430.

[0115] Returning now to table 430, the beneficiary identifier 602 may comprise any identifier that uniquely identifies a beneficiary. The beneficiary identifier may comprise, e.g., a string of alphanumeric digits and/or an image. The beneficiary identifier may be (i) provided by a group at the time the group designates the beneficiary; (ii) generated or selected by one of the controller 210, primary controller 260, one of the secondary controllers 270 and 280, and/or any of the consumer devices 220, 275 and 285; or (iii) provided by the beneficiary in embodiments where the beneficiary is contacted. For example, the beneficiary identifier may comprise a unique string of alphanumeric digits that is generated to uniquely identify the beneficiary.

[0116] The beneficiary name 604 stores the name of the beneficiary corresponding to the beneficiary identifier. The name may be (i) provided by the group designating the beneficiary; (ii) provided by the beneficiary; or (iii) otherwise obtained by the merchant. As illustrated by the names stored in table 430, the beneficiary need not be a natural person but may instead comprise a corporation, non-profit organization, or other entity. The name of the beneficiary may be retrieved and incorporated into the provision of an offer to the consumer who had designated the beneficiary. For example, assuming the beneficiary's name is “John Doe” a group may be provided with an offer that invites the group to commit to an obligation in order to earn the benefit defined by the offer for “John”. The relationship of the beneficiary to the group may also be stored in table 430 (e.g., an indication that the beneficiary is the brother of one of the group members, or is an organization to which some or all of the group members belong). In such an embodiment the group may be provided with an offer that invites the group to earn the benefit “for Sam's brother John.” Personalizing an offer in such a manner may substantially increase the acceptance rate of the offer.

[0117] The beneficiary database 430 also stores a financial account identifier 606 (e.g., a credit card account number, a debit card account number, a checking account number) associated with the beneficiary. The financial account identifier 606 may be used, for example, to credit a payment to the beneficiary (e.g., wherein a benefit comprises a monetary amount). The financial account identifier 606 may also be used to charge a monetary amount to the account wherein the monetary amount is based on a value of a benefit provided to the beneficiary, in an embodiment where, for example, a group is provided a benefit before satisfying an obligation and subsequently does not satisfy the obligation.

[0118] The beneficiary address 608 stores an indication of how to contact the beneficiary. Beneficiary address information may comprise, e.g., a telephone number, electronic mail (“e-mail”) address, or postal address. The information may be utilized to contact the beneficiary. The beneficiary may be contacted in a variety of circumstances in accordance with various embodiments of the present invention. In one embodiment the beneficiary may be contacted initially when a consumer first designates the entity as a beneficiary. For example, the beneficiary's permission to be associated with the group as a beneficiary may be necessary or preferred. In another embodiment the beneficiary may be contacted when a group accepts an offer and specifies that the beneficiary is to be provided the benefit defined by the offer. For example, before finalizing that the beneficiary is to be provided with the benefit the beneficiary's acquiescence may be necessary or preferred. This may be preferred to avoid a situation in which the intended recipient feels uncomfortable as a result of the offer. In embodiments where the beneficiary is contacted when a group accepts an offer, the beneficiary may be informed of what the benefit is and/or the obligation the consumer committed to in exchange for the benefit.

[0119] In some embodiments the beneficiary may be provided with the benefit before the consumer satisfies the obligation. In such an embodiment the beneficiary may be informed of a penalty, if any, that may be imposed on the group and/or the beneficiary if the group subsequently fails to satisfy the obligation. For example, the beneficiary may be required to return the benefit or provide a value equivalent to the benefit if the group does not satisfy the obligation. In embodiments where the beneficiary is not provided the benefit until the group satisfies the obligation the beneficiary may be informed of the progress of the group towards satisfying the obligation. For example, assuming the obligation comprises playing at a slot machine for an hour, the beneficiary may be updated every fifteen minutes as to the group's progress towards satisfying the obligation (e.g., via e-mail messages transmitted to the beneficiary). In one embodiment the group and the beneficiary may be placed in contact while the group is attempting to satisfy the obligation (e.g., via a telephone or video connection) such that the beneficiary may encourage the group to satisfy the obligation. In another example, assuming the obligation comprises a commitment to visit a retailer or test a product before a predefined date, the beneficiary may be informed of the group's failure to satisfy the commitment as the predefined date approaches. In one embodiment the group may be provided with a message that the beneficiary will be informed of the group's failure to satisfy the obligation unless the group does satisfy the obligation. Such a message may be provided to the group (i) on or before the predefined date (e.g., to encourage the group to fulfill the obligation before the predefined date); and/or (ii) on or after the predefined date (e.g., to give the group one more chance to satisfy the obligation even though the predefined date has passed). A group may be motivated to satisfy an obligation upon receiving such a message to avoid having the beneficiary learn of the group's failure.

[0120] Further information relevant to a beneficiary may be stored and used to increase the effectiveness of offers. Such further information may comprise, for example, information related to the beneficiary's interests, hobbies, and/or demographic profile. In some embodiments a beneficiary may be allowed to provide information to the system that may be used to customize and/or target offers to a consumer. A consumer may or may not be informed of such information provided by the beneficiary. For example, in one embodiment a beneficiary may access some or all of the offers in the system of the present invention and provide an indication of which benefits the beneficiary is interested in (thus indicating which offers that define these benefits should be provided to the consumer). In one embodiment once a consumer designates a beneficiary the beneficiary may be allowed to indicate to the consumer which benefits the beneficiary is interested in by means of, e.g., a wish list stored in association with the beneficiary. When selecting offers to be presented to the consumer the system may access such a wish list and, e.g., select an offer based on the wish list.

[0121] 3.4. Group Offers Database

[0122] Referring to FIGS. 8A-8B, a table represents the group offers database 435 that may be stored at the controller 210, primary controller 260 or one or more of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 according to some embodiments of the present invention. According to another embodiment, some or all of the information in the group offers database 435 may be stored at one or more of the consumer devices 220, 275, and 285 instead. The table includes entries identifying offers that are available for presentation and/or have been accepted by at least one group. The table defines fields 700, 702, 704, 706, 708, 710, and 712 for each of the entries. The fields specify: an offer identifier 700; a benefit 702; an obligation 704; a consumer prerequisite 706; a group prerequisite 708; offer criterion 710; and a penalty 712.

[0123] The information in the group offers database 435 may be created and updated, for example, based on information received from a merchant or subsidizing entity. For example, an offer identifier may be generated and a record storing the information corresponding to the generated offer identifier may be stored in the group offers database 435 when a merchant transmits the information to a controller. The information may be subsequently updated, for example, based on a request from the merchant and/or based on information obtained once the offer is presented to one or more groups (e.g., the value of a benefit may be increased if an acceptance rate of a particular offer is not sufficiently high). In some embodiments, the information may be subsequently updated based on a request or a desired preference of a group. For example, an offer presented to a group may have provided a selection of benefits from which the group was asked to select. Once the group selected a benefit, the information in the corresponding record may be updated to indicate the selected benefit. Obligations and penalties, as well as other types of information stored in the record, may be updated in a similar manner.

[0124] The offer identifier 700 may comprise, e.g., an alphanumeric string of digits that uniquely identifies an offer. The offer identifier may be generated or selected (e.g., from a list of previously generated identifiers) when an offer is first entered into the system of the present invention.

[0125] The benefit 702 stores an indication of the benefit to be provided in accordance with an offer. A benefit is anything (e.g., a good or service) provided in exchange for the group's commitment to and/or fulfillment of an obligation defined by the offer. As described above, a benefit may be provided to a person or entity other than the group. For example, the benefit may go to each of the group members, to particular group members, to the group as a whole, to a designated beneficiary, or a combination thereof. A benefit may be provided at the time the group commits to the obligation (e.g., when the group accepts the offer) or at another time (e.g., after the group satisfies the obligation corresponding to the benefit). In some embodiments, a group may earn a benefit merely by forming a group (e.g., by registering as a group and supplying a membership roster, or otherwise affiliating as a group).

[0126] In some embodiments the benefit may be divisible temporally such that a portion of the benefit may be provided at the time of the group's commitment and another portion of the benefit may be provided at the time the group satisfies the obligation. In some embodiments the benefit may be provided in multiple portions as the group progresses towards satisfying the obligation. A benefit may also be divisible among more than one recipient. For example, a portion of a benefit may be provided to the group and another portion to a beneficiary designated by the group. In another example a benefit may be provided to two or more beneficiaries. If the benefit is to be provided to more than one recipient, the value of the benefit received by respective recipients need not be equal. In yet another embodiment a particular offer may define more than one benefit. In such an embodiment each of the defined benefits may be provided to the same person or to different persons.

[0127] Examples of benefits include but are not limited to (i) a monetary amount (e.g., U.S. dollars, casino coins, cashless gaming receipts, credits added to the group members' credit balances, or a gift certificate to a retailer or restaurant); (ii) a product or service (e.g., a piece of jewelry, a gadget, a magazine subscription, tickets to a show, dinner at a restaurant, a carwash, a manicure); (iv) discounts on products or services (e.g., 20% off a television, dinner for two for the price of one); (v) alternate currencies (e.g., a specified number of comp points or frequent flier miles); (vi) an entry into a game of chance (e.g., a lottery ticket or an entry into a sweepstakes); (vii) an amount or value based on the amount that the group potentially saves for a merchant in fulfilling an obligation (e.g., the group receives 50% of the difference between the group's actual charge-offs and the expected charge-offs for the group); and (viii) an adjustment in the operation of a game device (e.g., a more favorable probability table, higher available payout amounts, lower maximum wager amount). A benefit may be customized based on information about the group to whom the offer is to be provided. For example, assuming the benefit defined by an offer is a gift certificate to a restaurant or retailer for each member of the group, the actual restaurant(s) or retailer(s) identified in the offer may be determined based on the respective home addresses of the group members or beneficiary to be provided the benefit.

[0128] Examples of benefits that may be sponsored by a credit card issuer may include, but are not limited to: (i) reduced or maintained increase rates; (ii) postponement of payment due dates; (iii) increased credit limits; (iv) decreased minimum payments; and (v) forgiveness of a percentage of debt.

[0129] A benefit may be defined, e.g., at the time the offer to which the benefit corresponds is entered into the group offers database 435. A benefit defined by an offer may or may not be defined by a merchant associated with the offer or by the same entity that defined the corresponding benefit. For example, a merchant other than a controller may provide the offer or define a benefit, while a retailer may specify one or more of the benefits defined by the offer. In some embodiments the group or one or more members of the group may be allowed to define a benefit for the group. For example, each member of the group may indicate a benefit preference on an online form at a Web site hosted by an entity operating controller 210 (FIG. 2A), primary controller 260 or either of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 (FIG. 2B), by casting a vote for one or more of a set of benefits defined by the offer, or by writing in a preferred benefit. Alternatively, the members may agree to a benefit and the group leader then may indicate a preference for the benefit to an entity operating the system, on behalf of the group. In some embodiments, the group and a merchant may negotiate some or all terms of the offer (e.g., the group may accept a lesser benefit in exchange for a less burdensome obligation).

[0130] In another embodiment the benefit may be defined on an ad hoc basis based on, for example, revenue management considerations of the casino or other subsidizing entity providing the offer. For example, a retailer may determine that a product is not selling at an acceptable rate. The retailer may thus define a benefit of an offer provided by the retailer as a free unit of the product or a discount on the product.

[0131] The benefit may be provided to the group or beneficiary designated by the consumer by (i) the controller, (ii) a merchant other than the controller, (iii) another entity, or (iv) a combination thereof For example, assume the subsidizing entity of an offer is an insurance provider and the benefit comprises a monetary amount to be provided to the group once each member of the group has taken a test drive of a particular car at a car dealership. In such an example the car dealership may provide the benefit to the group even though the dealership is not the subsidizing entity. In embodiments where the benefit is provided to a group by an entity other than the subsidizing entity, the entity that provided the benefit may be subsequently reimbursed for the value of the benefit by the subsidizing entity. For example, in the above example the dealership may be reimbursed by the insurance provider for the value of the monetary amount. In another example, assume the dealership is the subsidizing entity and that the offer presented to a group defines an obligation of test driving two different car models in exchange for a benefit of a discount on a product at a retailer being provided to a beneficiary designated by the group. In this example the retailer may provide the discount to the beneficiary and be subsequently reimbursed for the value of the discount by the dealership. In some embodiments the entity that provides the benefit may be reimbursed for an amount greater than or less than the value of the benefit. For example, the entity that provides the benefit may be reimbursed for the value of the benefit plus a premium for processing the provision of the benefit. In another example the entity that provides the benefit may be reimbursed for the value of the benefit less an amount for the lead on a new customer (e.g., in the above example where the beneficiary obtains the discount from the retailer the retailer benefits by acquiring a new potential customer by having the beneficiary purchase the product from the retailer).

[0132] The obligation 704 stores an indication of the obligation the group must commit to and/or fulfill to receive the corresponding benefit. An obligation comprises any task that one or more members of a group must commit to in order to obtain the corresponding benefit defined by the offer. As discussed above with respect the consumer database 425, in some embodiments one or more members of the group may have to commit to and/or fulfill an individual obligation in order for the group to earn the benefit. For example, a group member may accept an obligation to acquire no more than one speeding ticket in a given year. Even though such an obligation may be specific to only a subset of the group membership, such embodiments may still be described herein as an obligation of the group; it is an obligation of the group that each individual member fulfill any specific individual obligations. Accordingly, the group members have an incentive to encourage each other to achieve any individual obligations. One or more of the group members may or may not have the same individual obligation.

[0133] In other embodiments, the obligation may be met by aggregate activity or behavior of the group. For example, an obligation may require that the group make $10,000 in aggregated purchases at a retailer within a year. No one particular group member need make a particular amount of purchases to meet the obligation, or need even make a purchase at all. However, by the end of the year, some combination of one or more members must have accumulated $10,000 in purchases at the retailer in order for the group to earn the reward. Accordingly, the group members have an incentive to encourage each other to make purchases at the retailer.

[0134] It should be noted that an offer may define more than one obligation. In some embodiments, a group of consumers may commit to both aggregate and individual obligations. In embodiments where an offer defines a plurality of obligations the group may or may not be required to perform each of the obligations defined by the offer in order to obtain the corresponding benefit. For example, the group may be allowed to choose a subset of the obligations defined by the offer (e.g., one of the plurality of obligations) and be provided with the corresponding benefit in exchange for committing to the subset of obligations. An obligation defined by an offer may or may not be defined by a subsidizing entity associated with the offer or by the same entity that defined the corresponding benefit. For example, a merchant other than a controller may provide the offer or define a benefit while the casino may specify one or more of the obligations defined by the offer. In some embodiments the group or one or more members of the group may be allowed to define an obligation for the group. For example, each member of the group may indicate an obligation preference on an online form at a Web site hosted by an entity operating controller 210 (FIG. 2A), primary controller 260 or either of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 (FIG. 2B), by casting a vote for one or more of a set of obligations defined by the offer, or by writing in a preferred obligation. Alternatively, the members may agree to an obligation and the group leader then may indicate a preference for the obligation to an entity operating the system, on behalf of the consumer and/or the group.

[0135] Examples of obligations and conditions applicable to obligations, as well as other characteristics of obligations, are discussed above with respect to consumer database 430.

[0136] The consumer prerequisite 706 stores an indication of any prerequisites related to a group member that may need to be satisfied before the member's group can accept the offer. Alternatively, the consumer prerequisite may need to be satisfied before the offer corresponding to the prerequisite may be presented to the consumer and/or the consumer's group. A consumer-related prerequisite is a prerequisite that is based on information related to a group member. For example, a consumer-related prerequisite may be a demographic profile of a group member. A consumer prerequisite may be specified by the entity providing the offer to the system of the present invention, such as a retailer, in embodiments wherein the retailer is not acting as the entity operating the primary controller 260 (FIG. 2B). A consumer prerequisite may need to be satisfied by each member of a group or by a certain number or percentage of members of the group for the group to qualify for the offer.

[0137] More than one consumer-related prerequisite may be specified. In embodiments where more than one consumer-related prerequisite is specified for a given offer, only one of the specified consumer-related prerequisites may need be satisfied before a group qualifies for the offer. In other embodiments all of the specified consumer-related prerequisites or a particular number or combination of the consumer-related prerequisites need be satisfied before the group is eligible for the corresponding offer.

[0138] Examples of consumer-related prerequisites comprise: (i) the group member must be female; (ii) the group member must not have previously accepted this offer; (iii) the group member must not have previously accepted any offer; (iv) the group member must have previously rejected another offer; (v) the group member must not have been presented with another offer within a predetermined time period; (vi) the group member must visit the retailer a predetermined number of times within a predetermined time period; (vii) the group member must not be a customer of a specified service provider that is the subject of the offer; (viii) the group member must not own the product that is the subject of the offer; (ix) the group member must have a specified credit rating; (x) the group member must have a specified income; (xi) the group member must have a specified risk score; and (xii) the group member must have performed an activity within a specified time period before the current date (e.g., traveled outside of the country). Merchants may specify the consumer-related prerequisites when submitting an offer to the system in order to better target, and therefore at least theoretically increase the acceptance rate of, the offer.

[0139] The group prerequisite 708 stores an indication of any prerequisites related to a group that may need to be satisfied before the group is eligible to be recognized by the controller and/or is eligible to accept an offer. Alternatively, the group prerequisite may need to be satisfied before the offer corresponding to the prerequisite is presented to the group. A group-related prerequisite is a prerequisite that is based on information related to a group. For example, a group-related prerequisite may be an average credit risk score or an average outstanding monthly credit card balance of the group. A group prerequisite may be specified by the entity providing the offer to the system of the present invention, such as a credit card issuer, in embodiments wherein the retailer is not acting as the entity operating the controller 260 (FIG. 2B).

[0140] More than one group-related prerequisite may be specified. In embodiments where more than one group-related prerequisite is specified for a given offer, only one of the specified group-related prerequisites may need be satisfied before a group qualifies for an offer. In other embodiments all of the specified group-related prerequisites or a particular number or combination of the group-related prerequisites need be satisfied before the group qualifies for the corresponding offer.

[0141] Examples of group-related prerequisites comprise: (i) the group must have at least five members; (ii) the group must not have previously accepted this offer; (iii) the group must not have previously accepted any offer; (iv) the group must have previously rejected another offer; (v) the group must not have been presented with another offer within a predetermined time period; (vi) in aggregate, the group must visit a retailer a predetermined number of times within a predetermined time period; (vii) the group must have a specified average monthly aggregate credit card charge amount; (viii) the group have a specified average amount wagered annually; (ix) the group must have a specified average credit rating; (x) the group must have a specified average income; (xi) the group must have a specified average risk score; and (xii) the group must have a specified average age. Merchants may specify the group-related prerequisites when submitting an offer to the system in order to better target, and therefore at least theoretically increase the acceptance rate of, the offer.

[0142] Merchants may effectively use group and consumer prerequisites to establish rules for the formation of groups. For example, a merchant may require that each group member responding seeking to accept an offer agree to be in the group with the other members. This may assure that group members can work together and help each other in accomplishing group goals. A merchant may desire that group members have common characteristics, believing that a commonality will make members more likely to work together. Accordingly, a merchant may set up a prerequisite that members be of similar ages; be from the same geographic location; be affiliated with the same organization, beneficiary, or religion; and/or have the same marital status, credit status, or risk score. A requirement that a member of group agree to contact or attempt to communicate with at least one other member a certain minimum times per month (or some other period) may help assure that group members exert influence over one another. A member prerequisite may be that the consumers seeking to form a group had to have indicated a common preference for an obligation and/or penalty. Further, a requirement that group members agree to remain in the group (and therefore subject to any obligations it may assume) for a particular period of time might assure that more dedicated consumers enroll in groups.

[0143] The offer criterion 710 stores an indication of a criterion that must be satisfied before an offer may be presented to a consumer or group. An offer criterion may function as a trigger that causes an offer to be output to a consumer or group. In other words, in some embodiments an offer is output to a group once it is determined that the offer criterion corresponding to the offer has been met in relation to the group. In other embodiments an event or condition other than the offer criterion functions as a trigger which causes the potential output of an offer to a consumer or a group and the offer criterion functions in the determination of whether to output the offer (i.e., the offer is only actually output if the offer criterion is satisfied). An offer criterion, in contrast to a consumer- or group-related prerequisite, is a criterion not based on a characteristic of a particular consumer or group.

[0144] It should be understood that the information stored in consumer prerequisite 706 and group prerequisite 708 and the information stored in offer criterion 710 is not mutually exclusive (i.e., there may be some overlap in the information stored in the three fields). Of course in some embodiments the information stored in consumer prerequisite 706 and group prerequisite 708 and the information stored in offer criterion 710 may be combined or segregated in a manner other than described above.

[0145] An offer criterion may be specified by (i) a merchant or subsidizing entity associated with the offer; (ii) an owner or operator of a consumer device; (iii) controller 210 (FIG. 2A), primary controller 260 or one or more of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 (FIG. 2B); or (iv) any combination thereof. It should be understood that more than one offer criterion may be specified for a given offer. In embodiments where more than one offer criterion is specified for a given offer, only one of the specified offer criteria may need be satisfied before an offer is output to a consumer. In other embodiments all of the specified offer criteria or a particular number of combination of the criteria need be satisfied before the corresponding offer is output to a consumer or a group.

[0146] Methods of determining when or which offer to output to a consumer may be utilized by an operator of the systems of the present invention. For example, an offer may be output or selected based on revenue management considerations of a retailer. Revenue management considerations include the availability of a product or service of the retailer and are discussed variously above.

[0147] The penalty 712 stores information identifying a penalty that may be applied if a group fails to fulfill an obligation defined by an offer the group accepted. As illustrated in the group offers database 435, not every offer need identify a penalty. For example, some credit card issuers may be willing to accept the risk that a group will not satisfy an obligation the group committed to. In embodiments where the benefit is not provided to a group or beneficiary until the group or any required group member fulfills the obligation a penalty may not be necessary (the withholding of the benefit may be enough incentive to encourage the fulfillment of the obligation). A penalty may be assessed to (i) the group who committed to the obligation defined by the offer; (ii) the beneficiary designated by the group; or (iii) a combination thereof. A group is informed of any penalty associated with an offer at the time the group is presented with the offer.

[0148] Examples of penalties include but are not limited to (i) a monetary charge or debit to an account identifier; (ii) an adjustment to the operation of a slot machine (e.g., a decrease in available payout amounts of any consumer device operated by the consumer during the consumer's next visit to the casino or an unavailability of certain bonuses when the consumer subsequently plays a specified game in a casino); (iii) an unavailability of a service or product to a consumer (e.g., the consumer will be unable to stay in the casino hotel for a predetermined amount of time); (iv) publication of the group's or one or more group member's failure to fulfill the obligation; (v) a return of the benefit or a monetary amount based on the value of the benefit; (vi) an inability by the consumer to receive subsequent offers; (vii) a deduction from a balance of alternate currency associated with a consumer (e.g., a deduction of comp consumer points or frequent flier miles); (viii) a detrimental change in the terms or conditions of an account (e.g., an increased interest rate, a higher premium, a lower credit limit, an earlier payment due date).

[0149] In some embodiments a group or a group member may be provided with an opportunity to avoid a penalty even after the group or consumer fails to fulfill an obligation corresponding to the penalty within a predetermined amount of time. For example, assume a ten-member group commits to seven members visiting a retailer within thirty (30) days in exchange for each member receiving a software application at the time the consumer commits to the obligation. Assume further that the penalty defined by the offer is the disabling of the software application. Once it is determined that the group has failed to encourage seven of its members to visit the retailer within the 30 days the consumer may be provided with a message (e.g., via e-mail) that the software application will become inoperative unless one group member visits the retailer within the following five (5) days. In some embodiments the consumer may be required to commit to an obligation in addition to the original obligation in order to avoid the penalty (e.g., in the above example the group member may now be required to not only visit the retailer but to also complete a minimum purchase with the retailer).

[0150] The monitoring function of whether a consumer has fulfilled an obligation and/or whether a penalty should be assessed may be performed by (i) a merchant; (ii) a subsidizing entity; (iii) an entity providing a benefit; (iv) an entity operating controller 210 (FIG. 2A), primary controller 260 or either of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 (FIG. 2B); (v) an entity operating any of the consumer devices 220 (FIG. 2A), or the consumer devices 275 and 285 (FIG. 2B); (vi) any other entity tasked with such a function; or (vii) a combination thereof.

[0151] For example, assume a group commits to an obligation to visit a specified retailer within a specified period of time. Once the group commits to the obligation the retailer may be informed of the identities of the members of the group and the period of time within which each member of the group must make the visit. The retailer may then monitor visiting customers to determine whether any group member visits in fulfillment of the obligation. Once the retailer determines that group member has visited the retailer the retailer may inform the controller or other operator tasked with assessing a penalty corresponding to the consumer's failure to perform the task. If at the end of the predetermined period of time no indication of the group's visit to the retailer is received the penalty may be assessed. In such an example the group, at the time of committing to the obligation, may be provided with an identifier to provide to the retailer at the time of each member's visit to the retailer in order to aid the retailer in identifying the group members as having visited in fulfillment of the obligation. The retailer may also be informed of the identifier provided to the group at the time the group commits to the obligation. Other methods of determining whether a group has fulfilled an obligation would be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art and are within the scope of the present invention.

[0152] 3.5. Accepted Offer Tracking Database

[0153] Referring to FIG. 9, a table represents the accepted offer database 450 that may be stored at the controller 210, primary controller 260 or one or more of the secondary controllers 270 and 280 according to some embodiments of the present invention. According to another embodiment, some or all of the information in the accepted offer database 450 may be stored at one or more of the consumer devices 220, 275, and 285 instead. The table includes entries identifying offers that have been accepted by groups of consumers. The table defines fields 1002, 1004, 1006, 1008, and 1010 for each of the entries. The fields specify: a group identifier 1002; an offer identifier 1004; a beneficiary identifier 1006; a status of obligation 1008; and a status of benefit 1010.

[0154] The information in the accepted offer tracking database 450 may be created and updated, for example, based on information received from a consumer device. For example, the information may be created when a group leader accepts an offer on behalf of his group at a consumer device. The information may be subsequently updated, e.g., when a group fulfills an obligation or a benefit is provided to the group or the group's designated beneficiary.

[0155] The group identifier 1002 stores an indication of a group identifier that uniquely identifies a group who accepted the offer corresponding to a given record of the accepted offer tracking database 450. The group identifier 1002 may comprise an alphanumeric code. A group identifier stored in the group identifier field 1002 may correspond to or be the same as one or more of the group identifiers stored in group identifier field 1102 in the group database 427 (FIG. 6).

[0156] The offer identifier 1004 stores information uniquely identifying an offer that was accepted by the group identified by the group identifier of the same record. The offer identifier 1004 may comprise, for example, an alphanumeric code. An offer identifier stored in the offer identifier field 1004 may correspond to or be the same as one or more offer identifiers stored in offer identifier field 700 in the group offers database 435 (FIG. 8A). An offer identifier stored in the offer identifier field 1004 may be used to determine, for example, (i) the benefit to be provided to the group that accepted the offer of the same record, (ii) any additional requirements of the offer that the group is to abide by, or (iii) what penalty, if any, is to be assessed to the group and/or a beneficiary designated by the group.

[0157] The beneficiary identifier 1006 stores an identification of a beneficiary, if any, that the group has designated as the beneficiary to be provided with the benefit defined by the offer. The beneficiary identifier 1006 may comprise any information sufficient to identify a beneficiary. A beneficiary identifier stored in the beneficiary identifier field 1006 may correspond to or be the same as one or more of the beneficiary identifiers stored in the beneficiary identifier field 602 of the beneficiary database 430 (FIG. 7). As illustrated in table 450, more than one beneficiary identifier may be stored in association with a particular group identifier 1002. Furthermore, the same beneficiary identifier 1004 may be stored in association with more than one group identifier 1002.

[0158] The status of obligation 1008 stores an indication of the status of the obligation defined by the offer of a given record. Example statuses, some of which are illustrated in table 450, are: (i) a status of “satisfied” (indicating that the consumer has satisfied the obligation); (ii) a status of “failed” (indicating that the consumer has failed to satisfy the obligation); (iii) a status of “in progress” (indicating that the consumer is currently attempting to satisfy the obligation); and a status of “pending” (indicating that a consumer has not yet attempted to satisfy an obligation but has time remaining to do so before the consumer is considered to have failed to fulfill the obligation). Other appropriate statuses may be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art and are within the scope of the present invention.

[0159] The status of benefit 1010 stores an indication of whether the benefit defined by the offer of a given record has or has not been provided. As discussed above, a benefit may be provided to the group or to a beneficiary. Thus a status of “provided” indicates that the benefit has been provided to the group if no beneficiary is indicated in the record and that the benefit has been provided to the beneficiary if one or more beneficiaries are indicated in the record. In an embodiment wherein a benefit, or portion of a benefit, is provided to both a group and a beneficiary or to more than one beneficiary, a separate indication for each of the persons to whom the benefit is to be provided may be stored. As also discussed above, a benefit may be provided at the time a group commits to an obligation and/or at the time a group satisfies the obligation. If a benefit is provided at the time a group commits to an obligation but the group subsequently fails to satisfy the obligation a penalty may be assessed. Such an example is illustrated in the second record of table 450. In the example of this record the system may, upon determining that the status of the benefit is “provided” and the status of the obligation is “failed” retrieve the penalty corresponding to the offer based on the offer identifier. The system may then assess the penalty as appropriate.

[0160] 4. Description of Flow Diagram

[0161] Referring now to FIGS. 10A and 10B, a flow diagram illustrating an embodiment of the present invention is illustrated as process 1200. Process 1200 may be performed by (i) a consumer device (such as one of the consumer devices 220, 275, and 285); (ii) a controller in communication with the consumer device (such as one of the controller 210, the primary controller 260, and one or more of the secondary controllers 270 and 280); or (iii) a combination thereof.

[0162] Process 1200 begins with step 1210, which comprises outputting an offer to provide a benefit in exchange for a peer group satisfying at least one obligation.

[0163] An offer may be presented to in various ways. Examples of how an offer may be presented include, but are not limited to: (i) a visual presentation (which may be accompanied by audio) on a screen associated with a consumer device (e.g., POS terminal, game device, or conventional personal computer); (ii) an audio presentation via a speaker associated with a consumer device; (iii) printing of the offer or outputting of the offer on paper; (iv) transmission of the offer via email; (v) mailing of a representation of the offer to one or more consumers; (vi) publishing of a representation of the offer in a periodical; and (vii) an oral presentation of the offer by an employee of a merchant.

[0164] The consumers to whom the offer is presented may or may not be associated with a group of consumers. As the offer is to provide a benefit in exchange for a peer group satisfying an obligation, the offer may motivate consumers to attempt to form a peer group in order to take advantage of the offer.

[0165] In step 1215, consumer information is received. Such information may take a variety of forms. For example, as described herein, one or more consumers may decide to form a peer group in order to accept the presented offer. Accordingly, the consumers will attempt to have their peer group accepted by the merchant operating the reward program. In some embodiments, the peer group may indicate its desire to be accepted by fulfilling, or starting to fulfill, an obligation defined by the offer. For example, members of a group may apply for a credit card referenced by the offer. Based on information received through the application process, the merchant, such as a credit card issuer, determines in step 1220 whether to accept the peer group for the purposes of the offer. A variety of consumer and group prerequisites, such as described above with respect to group offers database 435, may be used to analyze the received consumer information. For example, five consumers may apply for a credit card, in accordance with an offer, and identify themselves as being associated as a group, “The Stone Dragons.” However, in addition to requiring that the consumers be signed up for the credit card, the presented offer may require that the group have at least seven members signed up. Accordingly, the merchant will not accept “The Stone Dragons” as a peer group for the purposes of the offer. Of course, the membership in “The Stone Dragons” may eventually increase and meet the requirement; the merchant will continue to analyze consumer information received as described at step 1215.

[0166] If it is determined that a group of consumers has met any all prerequisites corresponding to the offer, the controller stores the peer group information. For example, the controller may create or update a record in group database 427 (FIG. 6) with a group identifier, group name, and/or group leader, if any. The merchant may also store information about the group members, such as in consumer database 425 (FIG. 5) and may store an association of the consumers with the group (e.g., in the group members field 1108 of group database 427).

[0167] In step 1230 the peer group and the merchant settle on the terms of the offer. For example, the initial offer may have defined a benefit, an obligation, and a penalty, but the merchant may be willing to negotiate with the peer group to find agreeable terms. Alternatively, the merchant may have allowed the peer group to indicate a preference for an offer term, for example, by selecting a sub-set of obligations from a set provided in the offer, or by indicating a new obligation. Once the terms are established, the merchant may store an indication of them, for example, by creating or updating a record in group offers database 435 (FIGS. 8A-8B) and/or in accepted offer tracking database 450 (FIG. 9). Any obligations specific to members of the group may be indicated in consumer database 425 (FIG. 5), for example.

[0168] Steps 1240 and 1245 comprise a routine in which the merchant receives transaction data corresponding to the peer group. Information about consumers' behavior may be received from other merchants (such as one or more of the secondary controllers 270 and 280) and/or consumer devices (such as one or more of consumer devices 220, 27 and 285). Transactions may comprise various types of consumer activity, including, but not limited to: wagering at a slot machine, filing an insurance claim, taking a medical examination, and/or making a purchase. A controller may receive detailed transaction data, or may receive only an indication that, for example, a group has satisfied or failed to met an obligation. A merchant may store and track the data associated with the various members of a peer group and aggregate data to determine group data in any of various ways well known to those having ordinary skill in the art. For example, consumer database 425 and/or group database 427 may be configured to track such information.

[0169] If it is determined in step 1245 that any individual and/or aggregate obligations of the group have been satisfied, in step 1250 the recipients of the benefit earned by the peer group are determined. As described variously herein, benefits may be provided to the group as a whole, to some or all of the individual members, to a beneficiary associated with the group, or a combination thereof. A beneficiary may be associated with an accepted offer, for example, in accepted offer tracking database 450 (FIG. 9). Once the recipient(s) is determined the benefit according to the terms of the offer is provided (e.g., a donation is made to a beneficiary, or a monetary amount is given to the group and/or group members) in step 1255.

[0170] Some alternative embodiments of the present invention provide for the formation of sub-groups within a larger group of consumers. A member of a sub-group may accept an additional obligation beyond an obligation assumed already for the benefit of the main group. For example, in a group of credit card holders, a particularly wealthy sub-set of card holders may form their own sub-group with more burdensome card usage requirements than those of the main group; however, the corresponding benefit may also be larger than that available to the main group.

[0171] Other alternative embodiments of the present invention provide that group members may sign a document to indicate agreement with the terms and conditions for forming and operating the group. For example, a group member may sign a special line on an account statement (e.g., a credit card statement) that is then returned to the merchant (e.g., a credit card issuing bank). The group member may sign a separate form received in the mail, via email, over the Internet, or from another group member or a beneficiary. A group member may also employ a digital signature and communicate such a signature via email or over the Internet.

[0172] According to some embodiments, under certain conditions, a group member may voluntarily depart from the group. For example, a group member may voluntarily depart by informing one or more of: the controller, other group members, or the beneficiary. A fee may be required for a member's departure, to be paid by either the departing member or the group.

[0173] In some embodiments, a member may be terminated by the will of other group members, a beneficiary, or a merchant. When a group member leaves the group, he may lose any benefits, such as lower interest rates, associated with participating in the group. In addition, his credit card usage may no longer contribute to the rewards given to the group or to the beneficiary on behalf of the group. In some embodiments, the obligations of the group may be modified to compensate for member's departure. For example, if a ten-member group needed $10,000 in aggregate new charges, the obligation may be adjusted to only $9,000 in aggregate new charges after a group member leaves.

[0174] Members of a group may agree joint and several liability for any individual and group obligations. Thus, one or more group members may be financially responsible, for example, for unpaid credit card debts of one or more other group members.

[0175] It has been mentioned that a credit card issuing bank, a casino, or a health insurance company might serve as a controller. However, a controller need not represent a particular business or even a particular industry. A controller might facilitate the formation of groups whose behavior benefits widely differing merchants. For example, a controller might facilitate the formation of a gambling group whose goal would be to make $100,000 in aggregate wagers at the Sunflower Casino in the next year. The controller might facilitate the formation of a second group whose goal would be to make an aggregate of $10,000 in purchases at the Mayflower Supermarket in the next year. As facilitator, the controller would receive request from merchants for the formation of groups. The merchant would provide criteria for groups and group members. The controller would then advertise the group, receive information from potential group members, designate eligible candidates as group members, track the performance of the group, determine whether the group has met goals, and otherwise perform the steps of the present invention. If a group has met goals, then the controller could provide the group's reward to the designated beneficiary, and receive reimbursement from the merchant. If a group has not met goals, then the controller would receive from the merchant alternate options for the group to still receive its reward. The controller might take a fee from the merchant for facilitating the group's formation and existence.

[0176] As described variously herein, goals may not be identical for all group members. For example, one member of a medical group might need to receive twice-annual blood pressure checks, whereas another group member might need to receive monthly blood-sugar checks.

[0177] A controller can send promotions to a group in exchange for a group reward. In some embodiments, a group member, such as the group leader, might receive a promotion from the controller and be instructed to show it to the rest of the group. Since the promotion is being presented to the group by the group leader, other group members may be more likely to look at it and accept it.

[0178] One advantage of some embodiments of the present invention is that groups may center on activities with high behavioral costs. For example, a car insurance company's expenses are significantly dependent on an insured person's driving behavior. If the person does not wear seat belts, drives over the speed limit, does not signal, weaves through traffic, drives while intoxicated, or does not properly maintain his car, then the insurance company's expenses for that person may be significantly higher. Accordingly, a car insurance company may benefit from acting as a controller for a group of drivers, or by having another entity act as a controller for a group of drivers on the insurance company's behalf. The goal of the group may be to have, for example, an aggregate number of driving tickets below a certain threshold over the period of a year. If the goal is met, each driver might receive a benefit (e.g., a cash payment or lower insurance premiums).

[0179] Medical care may also have a high behavioral component. Health insurance and life insurance companies may save on expenses if insured people got more exercise, had better diets, refrained from smoking, refrained from excessive drinking, followed their prescription regimens, got screenings and got regular physical check ups. Accordingly, health care providers and insurers have an incentive to motivate consumers to form groups in which they can encourage one another to healthier behavior.

[0180] In some embodiments, a casino may act as a controller and give rewards to groups for gambling, in aggregate, more than a threshold amount, or for gambling, in aggregate, more than a certain minimum amount of time. Rewards may include better odds either during or after play.

[0181] While the best mode for carrying out the invention has been described in detail, those familiar with the art to which the invention relates will recognize various alternative designs and embodiments for practicing the invention. These alternative embodiments are within the scope of the present invention. Accordingly, the scope of the present invention embodies the scope of the claims appended hereto.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification463/20
International ClassificationG07F17/32
Cooperative ClassificationG07F17/3244, G07F17/32
European ClassificationG07F17/32K, G07F17/32
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Mar 4, 2003ASAssignment
Owner name: WALKER DIGITAL, LLC, CONNECTICUT
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Oct 15, 2002ASAssignment
Owner name: WALKER DIGITAL, LLC, CONNECTICUT
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:WALKER, JAY S.;TEDESCO, DANIEL;JORASCH, JAMES;AND OTHERS;REEL/FRAME:013395/0486;SIGNING DATES FROM 20020621 TO 20020910