News Column

Researchers Submit Patent Application, "Systems and Methods for Providing a Vending Network", for Approval

June 17, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Information Technology Newsweekly -- From Washington, D.C., VerticalNews journalists report that a patent application by the inventors Antao, Leonard (Smyma, GA); Insolia, Gerald E. (Atlanta, GA); Merwarth, Stephen (Cumming, GA); Kolls, H. Brock (Alpharetta, GA), filed on February 3, 2014, was made available online on June 5, 2014.

The patent's assignee is The Coca-cola Company.

News editors obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "In the vending industry, coins and bills have been one manner used to pay for vended goods and services. In this regard, when a vending account is to be settled, coins and bills can be collected from vending equipment, and the coins and bills can be reconciled with the physical inventory to determine what was sold and how much money was collected.

"In recent years, cashless payments, for example credit cards, have become an option for payments. In this regard, a user of vending equipment may now be able to use cashless payments, in addition to coin and bill payments, for vended goods and services. In the case of cashless payments, a cashless payment can typically be processed by a third party server. Subsequently, an electronic funds transfer (EFT) can remit the cashless payment received, less any transaction processing fees and/or other fees, to an operator of the vending equipment. Even so, in some instances, the EFT may not reconcile an actual vend event with an associated actual cashless transaction. To further complicate matters, the vend sale amount may not match the EFT amount since fees may be deducted from the cashless funds, and oftentimes, the EFT transactions may represent an aggregated batch or bundling of multiple transactions, thus obscuring each individual vend transaction.

"The processing of cashless transactions can cause numerous problems for processors handling cashless transactions, vendors offering goods and/or services by way of a vending machine accepting cashless transactions, and others involved in the cashless transaction process. For example, in one settlement process, coins, bills, and cashless transactions may not be timely reconciled with inventory since many cashless transactions may still be stored in a vending machine or other associated data storage device. In other instances, cashless transactions may still be en route to a third party server, not settled yet and/or aggregated with little or no transaction level detail. Oftentimes, only after vend settlement is initiated, may an associated EFT transaction occur, which can further frustrate the settlement process because of the aggregated nature of EFTs.

"In addition, the routing of cashless transactions to one or more third party servers can also create an accountability problem. In some instances, multiple items can be vended from a vending machine, and one or more customers may attempt to pay with a cashless implement, such as a credit or debit card. However, in such instances, there is no guarantee that a vending equipment operator will ever see funds for vends paid for by cashless transactions, and no further guarantee that a customer was correctly charged for the vended goods and/or services. As such, there may be little or no accountability as to when vends occurred or what was charged to the customer. Moreover, there may be little or no accountability as to whether a customer was timely and accurately charged, and little or no assurance that a vending equipment operator timely received the correct funds for vends paid for by cashless transactions.

"Furthermore, a problem exists in auditing third party servers to verify accuracy and/or correctness of cashless transactions. In this regard, cashless transaction vending can lack oversight, accountability, auditing controls, and the ability to control how a device in the vending equipment operates and how data is communicated with or between various servers or other data processing devices.

"Another problem occurs when route personnel attempt to reconcile transaction amounts and inventory at a vending equipment location. In some instances, the amount of bills, coins, cashless vends, and inventory must be known at the same point in time. As related to cashless transactions, this means knowing what the value of each transaction is without any fees removed, knowing which of the cashless transactions have been settled, and also knowing which of the settled cashless transactions have a corresponding EFT record indicating that an operator of the vending equipment has been paid for the cashless transactions. Without this level of detail, it may be unlikely that an accurate or timely vending equipment settlement can be performed without error across multiple vending equipment locations. For vending equipment in global locations, the settlement process may not be performed efficiently.

"Therefore, a need exists for systems and methods for providing a vending network."

As a supplement to the background information on this patent application, VerticalNews correspondents also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent application: "Some or all of the above needs can be addressed by various embodiments of the invention. Embodiments of the invention can provide systems and methods for providing a vending network.

"In one embodiment, a system for providing a vending network can be implemented. The system can include at least one transaction-type device associated with a vending machine, wherein the at least one transaction-type device is operable to facilitate cash transactions and/or cashless transactions associated with one or more products or services offered by the vending machine. The system can also include at least one server operable to communicate with the at least one transaction-type device, wherein the at least one server is operable to receive data associated with the transactions. Furthermore, the system can include at least one vend settlement server operable to communicate with the at least one server, wherein the at least one vend settlement server can settle some or all of the transactions.

"In another embodiment, a method for providing a vending network can be implemented. The method can include receiving inputs for cash transactions and/or cashless transactions from a plurality of transaction-type devices associated with respective vending machines. In addition, the method can include transmitting transaction data associated with some or all of the transactions to at least one server. Moreover, the method can include settling some or all of the transactions via at least one vend settlement server.

"In yet another embodiment, a system for providing a vending network can be implemented. The system can include at least one transaction-type device associated with a vending machine, wherein the at least one transaction-type device is operable to facilitate cash transactions and/or cashless transactions associated with one or more products or services offered by the vending machine. In addition, the system can include at least one server operable to communicate with the at least one transaction-type device, wherein the at least one server is operable to receive data associated with the transactions and is further operable to associate a unique identifier with each of the transactions. Moreover, the system can include at least one vend settlement server operable to communicate with the at least one server, wherein the at least one vend settlement server can settle some or all of the transactions.

"In an additional embodiment, a method for providing a vending network can be implemented. The method can include receiving inputs for cash transactions and/or cashless transactions from a plurality of transaction-type devices associated with respective vending machines. The method can also include transmitting transaction data associated with some or all of the transactions to at least one server. Further, the method can include associating a respective unique identifier with some or all of the transactions. Moreover, the method can include settling some or all of the transactions via at least one vend settlement server.

"In yet another embodiment, a vending network can be provided. The vending network can include at least one server operable to receive inputs for cash transactions and/or cashless transactions from a plurality of transaction-type devices associated with respective vending machines. Furthermore, the vending network can include at least one vend settlement server operable to communicate with the at least one server, wherein the at least one vend settlement server can settle some or all of the transactions. In addition, the vending network can include an operator server operable to communicate with the at least one vend settlement server to facilitate management of at least one operational function comprising the following: vending machine fill-to-fill management, route management, and vend transaction management.

"Other embodiments and aspects of the invention are described in detail herein and are considered a part of the claimed invention. For a better understanding of embodiments of the invention with features and aspects, refer to the description and to the drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

"The foregoing and other features, and aspects of the invention are apparent from the following detailed description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings in which:

"FIG. 1 illustrates an example system for providing a vending network in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

"FIG. 2 illustrates an example of a system that uses a reconciliation token during communications between a server switch and a third party server and/or a settlement engine in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

"FIG. 3 illustrates an example of a system that utilizes a settlement engine to provide operational and financial data processing for an operator server in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

"FIG. 4 illustrates an example of a system that utilizes a server switch to interface to devices, vend settlement servers, third party servers, financial institutions, and other data services in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

"FIG. 5 illustrates an example of a system that uses a plurality of server switches, and provides for flexible financial transaction handling and device network connectivity via the plurality of server switches and/or the settlement engine in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

"FIG. 6 illustrates an example of the server switch interfacing to a property management system (PMS) in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

"FIG. 7 illustrates an example method for providing a vending network in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

"FIG. 8 illustrates another example method for providing a vending network in accordance with an embodiment of the invention."

For additional information on this patent application, see: Antao, Leonard; Insolia, Gerald E.; Merwarth, Stephen; Kolls, H. Brock. Systems and Methods for Providing a Vending Network. Filed February 3, 2014 and posted June 5, 2014. Patent URL: http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.html&r=887&p=18&f=G&l=50&d=PG01&S1=20140529.PD.&OS=PD/20140529&RS=PD/20140529

Keywords for this news article include: The Coca-cola Company, Information Technology, Information and Data Processing.

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Source: Information Technology Newsweekly