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METHODS, APPARATUS, AND COMPUTER
READABLE MEDIUM FOR PROCESSING
BIDS IN AN AUCTION
The present patent application is a non-provisional appli- 5 cation of International Application No. PCT/GB02/04353, filed Sep. 27, 2002, which claims priority from GB 0126127.0 filed Oct. 31 , 2001 and PCT/GB01/04367 filed Oct. 1, 2001, which are herein incorporated by reference.
The invention is generally, but not exclusively, related to 10 the area of interactive auctions, particularly interactive Internet-based auctions that may be simultaneously televised and where bidders may input bids over channels other than the Internet.
One problem associated with applying prior art auction 15 systems to interactive auctions is that large numbers of bids must be processed in a short space of time for the auction output to be broadcast in real time. Many prior art Internetbased auctions take place over a long period of time, for example over several hours or several days, and the bid fre- 20 quency is very low, so the problems are no so critical. However, for an interactive auction that takes place in a short space of time, for example an auction that is simultaneously being televised, there may be a high bid frequency and, in addition, the information output by the auction system, such as the 25 current highest bid and the minimum bid required, must be updated as quickly as possible. Only a fast update of the status of the auction will allow viewers (for example, on the Internet or television) to interact with the process in real time.
A further problem associated with prior art auction systems 30 is that a large number of bids are entered into the auction by each bidder during the course of the auction. This problem may be exacerbated by the use of proxy bidders or automatic bidding agents. Proxy bids have been used in conventional auctions and an automatic bidding agent is a known feature of 35 prior art automated auction systems, particularly of Internetbased auction systems which take place over a long period of time when the bidder is unlikely to be online. Bidders may deploy an automatic bidding agent to monitor the status of the auction and to make bids, increasing the bid value as neces- 40 sary up to a pre-defined maximum amount. This allows the bidder to be offline during the auction itself. However, each automatic bidding agent may enter many bids on behalf of a bidder in order to ensure that the auction item is obtained for the lowest possible price and so this system contributes to 45 generating a large number of bids per bidder, most of which will be losing bids. Both the generation of bids by running of the bid agents and the processing of bids contributes to load on the system.
The need to process large numbers of bids quickly enough 50 to provide real time feedback to bidders and update the list of current winners and the increased load on the system due to automatic bidding agents inputting a large number of bids per bidder mean that it is problematic to implement a large real time automated auction using prior art auction systems. 55
The present invention aims to provide a data processing system to process received bids as quickly as possible in order to facilitate real time interactive auctions and, in a further preferred embodiment, aims to reduce the load imposed by proxy bids on the infrastructure of the bidding system. 60
Aspects of the invention are set out in the claims below and preferred features are set out in the dependent claims to which reference should be made. Preferred features of each aspect may be applied to other aspects unless otherwise expressly stated. 65
According to a first aspect, the invention provides a method of data processing for processing bids in an auction, the
auction having a live phase during which bids are accepted and an auction close following which bids are no longer accepted, the method comprising:
receiving at least one bid for an item in an auction;
assigning a time stamp to the or each bid received;
storing data comprising a bidder identity, the time stamp and the bid amount;
preprocessing the or each bid to obtain auction status information during the live phase of the auction;
subsequently processing the stored data to determine at least one winning bid.
Preferably, at least a portion of the subsequent processing is carried out after the auction close. Processing each received bid in two stages may allow the bid information to enter the auction output more quickly which is advantageous in, for example, a live televised and/or Internet-based auction, where auction status information needs to be updated quickly so that bidders can participate in the auction in real time. The time stamp assigned to each bid may allow the order of receipt of a plurality of bids to be identified during later processing of the bids. This may provide a particular advantage when bids for the auction are received over more than one channel, for example, when some bids are received over the Internet and other bids are received over a telephone network.
Preferably, the auction status information includes at least one of:
a minimum required bid amount;
a current maximum bid amount;
a value or values for the or each winning bid.
In a preferred implementation, the method may include identifying a plurality of winning bids, for example, if there are multiple similar items to be auctioned. The auction status information produced is useful to the auction system in determining whether new incoming bids are winning bids. The information may also be provided to bidders, as described in more detail below, so that they may interact with the auction and follow its progress.
Preferably, the auction status information is used in the pre-processing of at least one received bid, which preferably comprises:
receiving a bid;
determining whether the value of the received bid makes it a winning bid preferably based on a minimum required bid amount;
the method may include updating the auction status information in dependence on the determination.
Such a pre-processing stage may extract information necessary for the bid to enter into the auction output as quickly as possible.
Preferably, data for the or each bid is output to a persistent store or database (e.g. on a hard disk, tape or flash memory, or other non-volatile, typically lower speed, medium) that holds information relating to all the bids for a particular auction.
Preferably, at least part of the outputting is performed in the subsequent processing stage; this may reduce demand during the live phase as live information may be retained in faster volatile memory, e.g. DRAM. The persistent store of data may provide all of the bidding information for the auction and allows the "live" auction to be recreated at any time.
Preferably, at least one of the bids received is designated a maximum value bid wherein a maximum purchase price is specified and a bid value is determined in response to other bids. This may allow the or each bidder to enter only one bid into the auction rather than entering a series of bids as the auction price rises which may reduce the load on the auction input system enabling a bidder to "participate" without being present.
Preferably, for maximum value bids, the maximum bid value is stored, but simulated proxy bids generated for the maximum value bid are not all stored. More preferably, only the maximum bid value is stored. This may allow fewer entries to be stored or written to the persistent store during the 5 auction which may release the resources of the auction system to process incoming bids more quickly and to run the auction output.
More preferably, for at least one maximum value bid, the pre-processing step is performed without determining the bid 10 value. At the pre-processing stage, preferably it is determined whether the maximum value of an incoming maximum value bid is greater than or equal to the minimum required bid amount without assigning a bid value. Again, this may speed up the process of entering the bid into the auction and updat- 15 ing the auction status information.
More preferably, the subsequent processing step comprises assigning bid values to all winning maximum value bids, optionally to all maximum value bids. This enables the winning bids to be determined. 20
Preferably, the maximum value bids are processed in accordance with a predetermined algorithm.
Preferably, the predetermined algorithm includes at least one rule for distinguishing between equal value bids based on at least one objective criterion. 25
Preferably, fixed value bids are processed at a higher priority than maximum value bids. This ensures that live bidders are given preferential treatment to "invisible" bids generated by the system.
Preferably, maximum value bids received earlier are pro- 30 cessed preferentially compared to maximum value bids received later.
A further highly preferable feature is that, for an auction having a first plurality (n) of sale items and a second plurality (m) of valid maximum value bids with maximum values 35 greater than a current minimum acceptable bid, a required bid value for an incoming bid is determined based on the number of sale items remaining (n-m) after disregarding a number of items (m) corresponding to said second plurality of valid maximum value bids. Hence items may effectively be taken 40 out of the auction process and assigned temporarily to the current winners who hold maximum value bids. This may again increase the running speed of the auction system, as the minimum acceptable bid price may be determined by examining the current winning bid prices of fewer items. 45
Preferably, if the number (1) of received maximum value bids is greater than the number (n) of sale items, pre-processing includes setting a minimum valid bid value and rejecting excess maximum value bids to leave a number (m*) of valid maximum value bids at most equal to the number (n) of sale 50 items. This may allow the minimum acceptable bidprice to be increased in order to disregard the number (1-n) of losing maximum value bids.
A further preferable feature is that the auction status information is incorporated into an auction output. As discussed 55 above, this is advantageous since it allows greater interactivity between the bidders and the auction itself. Bidders can monitor the progress of the auction and input further bids when necessary if their original bids are not winning bids.
Preferably, at least one bid is received over the Internet. 60 This may be implemented for example, by e-mail or in a live "chat room", and may allow close interaction between the bidders and the auction as well as faster submission of bids to the auction system. More preferably, the bidder identifier used for bids received over the Internet is a predefined Per- 65 sonal Identification number (PIN) entered by the bidder upon submitting the bid.
A further preferable feature is that at least one bid is received over the telephone network. Bids may be submitted, for example, using an SMS message or a voice call. This may provide an alternative bid submission method which may be used by those without Internet access or for whom using a telephone network may be more convenient.
More preferably the bidder identifier used for bids received over the telephone network is the Caller Line Identifier (CLI). This may be collected automatically by the auction system, which again increases the speed of the process to enter a bid into the auction.
Preferably, at least one bid is received over a first input channel and at least one bid is received over a second input channel. Preferably, one of those channels is the Internet. Preferably, one of the channels is a telephone network. This may allow bidders a choice of input channel, which may allow more bidders to participate in the auction.
More preferably, the time stamps for the or each bid received over the first channel and the time stamps for the or each bid received over the second channel are correlated. Since the time stamps are assigned to each bid upon receipt, this may allow full integration of bids received from different sources, even if, for example, full processing of a telephone bid takes longer than full processing of an Internet bid.
A second aspect provides a method of providing a persistent store of data for an interactive auction comprising:
receiving at least one bid for one of the at least one items in an auction;
storing an identifier corresponding to the or each bidder;
storing a bid corresponding to the or each bidder identifier, wherein the value of at least one of the bids stored is a maximum purchase price;
storing a time stamp for the or each bid to identify the time at which the or each bid was received.
Preferably, the at least one bid is received from a device that processes bids according to the first aspect or any of its preferable features. Hence the bid is received by the persistent store with an identifier of the time at which the bid entered the auction and a bidder identifier. Storing the bid data in a persistent store may also allow the at least one auction winner to be determined directly from this data at any time during or after the auction.
Preferably, the second aspect further provides a method of providing data stored in the persistent store to a system for incorporation in a simulated live auction. This may allow a more interactive auction process, with bidders able to observe how the bidding effectively progresses throughout the auction.
A preferable feature of both the first and second aspects of the invention is that the bidders are pre-registered users. This may allow faster processing of each bid so that it enters the auction more quickly and also provides easy identification of the bidder submitting the bid. Each bidder may use a predetermined personal identification number (PIN) as a bidder identifier, which may be input by the bidder when the bid is submitted. The PIN number may be defined by the bidder during the registration process.
Preferably, the pre-processing of bids further comprises simulating a bid value for at least one maximum value bid. Hence maximum value bids may not be entered into the auction at their full values, but at reduced values, which may be set just above the value necessary to enter a winning position.
A third aspect of the invention provides a method of simulating bidding in an auction of at least one item wherein bid data, including a bid value and a time stamp, is stored for each of a plurality of bids, the bid data including at least one
maximum value bid specifying a maximum bid amount, the method comprising estimating a bid value for said at least one maximum value bid based on bid data for other bids and a predetermined algorithm. This may allow simulation or recreation of bidding in a auction without the auction system 5 having to process large numbers of bids from each bidder. In particular, storing maximum value bids for at least one bidder and determining what would have been bid based on the bid data may avoid an auction system having to process large numbers of proxy bids generated during a live auction on 10 behalf of that bidder.
Preferably, the method of simulating bidding further comprises providing as live auction output at least one simulated proxy bid for at least one bidder having a designated maximum value bid at a value lower than the stored maximum 15 value of the bidder's bid. This may make the auction appear more interactive, with the simulator providing effective bids for the proxy bidder without the auction processor having to deal with those proxy bids.
As for the first aspect, preferably, for maximum value bids, 20 the maximum bid value is stored in a database of bids for use in determining a winner, but simulated proxy bids generated for the maximum value bid are not all stored in the database.
More preferably, only the maximum bid value is stored in the database. This may allow fewer entries to be stored or 25 written to the persistent store during the auction which may release the resources of the auction system to process incoming bids more quickly and to run the auction output.
Preferably, the bid data is obtained from a persistent store that stores data according to the second aspect of the invention 30 or any of its preferable features.
A further preferable feature is that the auction output includes auction status information which comprises at least one of:
the maximum bid amount; 35
the minimum acceptable bid;
the value of the at least one winning bid.
In one embodiment, the initial minimum acceptable bid amount may be set to the reserve price of the auction item. 4Q This may ensure that the at least one auction item is not sold for a purchase price lower than the reserve price of the item. Alternatively, the method may include inserting proxy bids until the reserve price is reached.
A further preferable feature of the third aspect is that, in an 45 auction of a given number (n) of items, the value of the at least one current winning bid is determined by examining the database for the given number (n) of earliest highest bid(s). In this way, the current winning bid(s) may be determined at any time during the auction, or after its close. 50
More preferably, any of the given number (n) of earliest highest bid(s) that are maximum value bids are displayed as the current winning bid(s) at the value of one auction increment above the current minimum acceptable bid. This may encourage more bidders to take part in the auction by display- 55 ing the lowest value that the maximum value bids require to win.
Preferably, the method further comprises setting a minimum acceptable bid price for the or each item, as the auction progresses, to one bid increment above the value of the cur- 60 rent lowest winning bid. This enables incoming bids to be rapidly processed to determine acceptability and if (preferably) the auction is output, may allow auction viewers and bidders to see at a glance the minimum required bid amount at any time during the auction. 65
Preferably, the simulated bidding is broadcast over at least one medium, such as television or the Internet.
More preferably, the simulated bidding is broadcast over two media with mutually different input/output interfaces. This may allow a large number of bidders and potential bidders to observe the progress of the simulated "live" auction in real time with different criteria or detail available depending on the medium.
Preferably, the method further comprises updating the value of the or each current winning bid and updating the minimum acceptable bid price according to further data received during the auction.
More preferably, the method further comprises updating the value of the or each current winning bid and updating the minimum acceptable bid price according to data stored in a persistent store. Hence bidders may be able to follow the auction in real time as it progresses. Both new bidders and existing bidders may be able to obtain the most up to date information regarding the status of the auction before submitting bids.
In a fourth aspect, the invention provides a data processing method for determining the purchase price of at least one item in an auction, the method comprising determining the price of at least one item purchased in the auction, following the close of the auction, using stored bid data.
A fifth independent aspect provides a data processing method for identifying at least one winner of an auction, the method comprising identifying at least one winning bidder, following the close of an auction, based on stored bid data.
Determining the at least one winning bidder in an auction and the purchase price of the at least one item from stored bid data may be advantageous, since it is not necessary to store data regarding the auction winners and the purchase price during the auction. In a prior art auction system, it would be necessary to store data regarding the current auction winner and the current purchase price each time a new bid is entered into the auction. This may reduce the speed at which the auction output can be generated.
Preferably, for the methods of either or both of the fourth and the fifth aspects, the bid data is obtained from a persistent store that stores data according to the second aspect of the invention or of its preferable features. The at least one auction winner and the purchase price of the at least one item may be determined from the stored data at any time during the auction or at the end of the auction.
Preferably, the process of determining the final winner may act independently of the process providing the auction output. This may permit the auction output process to operate more quickly, since it does not need to recalculate and store the identity of the winning bidder and a new purchase price for the item each time it receives a new bid.
Preferably, the value of at least one bid stored is set at the maximum purchase price acceptable to the bidder. More preferably, the purchase price of the at least one item is determined without first determining the values of intermediate proxy bids entered on behalf of bidders who submit bids with values corresponding to the maximum acceptable purchase price. This reduces the amount of processing required to determine the at least one auction winner. It also allows the identity of the at least one winner to be determined from the stored data, independently of the process simulating proxy bids for the bidder.
Preferably, the stored bid value and time stamp data for the or each bid is used to identify the at least one earliest highest bid and hence determine the at least one winner of the auction. This information is stored in the database of the persistent store and is therefore easily obtainable by the process which determines the at least one winner.