Patent Application for INTERNET VENDING SYSTEM FIELD OF THE INVENTION The present invention relates to the field of retailing products over the Internet or another computer network The invention allows a single entity to dynamically offer products from one or more different vendors, and for that single entity to maintain control over the entire vending experience BACKGROUND Since the popular development of the Internet and in particular the World Wide Web (WWW) began, Internet commerce has increased exponentially Currently, many individuals complete purchases of a wide range of consumer goods and services over the Internet. More than half of North American households are expected have Internet access in the near future, and many consumers are comfortable shopping on-line The Internet is gaining increased acceptance throughout the world, and the number of users and value of products sold over the Internet is constantly increasing. Internet vending is currently practiced by numerous vendors, and much effort has been expended to design and implement Internet vending systems See for example Building CyberStores by Martin Nemzow (McGraw-Hill, 1997), How the Internet Works, Millennium Edition by P Gralleπ (Que Corp; 1999) (both incorporated by reference). However, the current Internet vending model is not ideal In the prior art Internet system, a consumer purchases items from a multitude of separate vendors. As shown in FIG 1 , a consumer C who wishes to transact with a number of different Internet
vendors (designated V1 , V2 to Vn) must establish a separate transaction with each vendor. For example, the consumer C may wish to buy a book from a book seller vendor V1 which will be delivered by conventional means, to use banking services from vendor V2, to download software from vendor Vn, and so on. While this system is operative and is currently employed with some success, it has drawbacks. The customer must establish a separate relationship with each of the vendors. This is inconvenient, as it requires multiple, repetitive input of ordering information. It also forces the consumer to become familiar with a number of user interfaces, which can be confusing. It also raises security issues, because the consumer must repeatedly transmit sensitive information over the Internet and also must be satisfied that each vendor is trustworthy An Internet structure that is in some ways related to certain embodiments of he present invention is what is sometimes referred to as an "Internet mall." This does not have a precise definition, but generally refers to some form of cooperative advertising or pooling of resources of a number of different vendors. However, a customer would still have to transact separately with a number of different vendors. Alternatively, an Internet mall could describe one vendor which offers for sale the products of a number • of different manufacturers or service providers. However, this does not truly allow a consumer to deal with more than one vendor having an Internet presence; instead it only allows the consumer to deal with a single vendor who offers products having multiple origins. Heretofore, there has been no solution which allows a consumer to purchase from a number of different vendors who have on-line sites, but wherein the consumer has only to transact with a single entity.
Further, Internet commerce between even a single vendor and a consumer in its current fern is not always ideal from either the viewpoint of the vendor or the consumer There are cases when a third party could add value to a transaction between the vendor and the consumer by acting as an intermediary For instance the third party may have access to locating consumers, and a certain class of consumers may be more inclined to transact directly with the third party than with the vendor, either because of a pre- existing relationship, security concerns, or for other reasons The vendor may desire to have the third party directly interact with the consumer, so as to reduce the tasks that the vendor must perform in order to complete the transaction An improved system of commerce between consumers and one or more vendors that allows a third party to complete the transaction can be expected to gain favorable commercial acceptance and represents a significant advance in the art. SUMMARY The present invention includes a system for computer network vending between a consumer who has a client computer and a vendor who has a website using an intermediary, which is termed the primary website The primary website is in electronic communication with the client and the vendor website The primary website delivers the content of the vendor website to the consumer and may also add its own content on the fly to the vendor website content. The consumer may take action based upon received content, and make either a commerce request (such as to purchase an item or inquire into the status of order) or a non-commerce request. The pnman/ website handles all commerce requests, and the primary website passes all non-commerce requests to the
vendor website Thus, the consumer may in effect interact with the vendor website even though the client is always within the primary website Based upon the foregoing it can De appreciated that the primary website controls all aspects of the consumer's shopping experience, and controls all items related to the consumer's "shopping basket " The content related to the products offered for sale is controlled by the vendor websιte(s) BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS All figures herein are illustrative only of certain embodiments of the invention and should not be construed to limit the invention as claimed it being understood that various modifications will be obvious to those skilled in the art which may still fall within the scope of the invention FIG 1 is a schematic representation of a prior art Internet vending model FIG 2 is a flow chart of an Internet vending system according to an aspect of the present invention DETAILED DESCRIPTION The present invention has particular utility with the Internet and the World Wide Web, although it may be used with other computer networks For convenience of discussion, the following description assumes utility with the Internet, and employs that terminology The present invention allows one entity (which will be termed the "primary entity" herein) to offer the products of one or more otner entities (referred to as "vendors" herein) through the first eπtitv's website (which will be termed the "primary website" herein) The consumer of the products need only access the primary website to
purchase a multitude of goods and services originating from one or more vendors. The consumer can browse and complete transactions (i.e., shop) the "native" site of each of the vendors (hereinafter termed the "vendor website"). By this, it is meant that the vendor has a website which could be accessed directly, instead of through the primary website While the present invention is not limited by specific embodiments of the vendor website, such a site typically has information available relating to goods or services (generally termed "products") for sale (which includes leasing or any other form of commercial transaction), and enables a user to find more information about the products such as by reading a review of a book, or downloading a portion of music in order to evaluate a potential purchase of a musical selection Further, the site has means allowing the purchase of the products, generally offered through a user interface known as a shopping basket (also known as a shopping cart). Well known examples of such sites are found at the Internet domain names "amazon.com", "buy.com ', and "800.com." The present invention is advantageous for many reasons, as further elaborated In a particular embodiment, the consumer need only deal with one entity to purchase many different products, which is more convenient and safer for the customer For example, the consumer need only provide ordering information once, to the primary entity, instead of many times to the various vendors. The consumer shops the vendor websιte(s) (although the consumer accesses the vendor website through the primary website), while having a common shopping basket, customer service and order management system provided by the primary website.
The inrormation from tne vendor website (which in general is a vendor's oπ-une catalog) includes product descriptions, graphical assets and pricing information All of the catalog information originates from the vendor's site, not the primary website. Thus, the vendor's catalog information need not be (and in general is not) stored on the primary website A consumer uses a client computer to access the primary website via the Internet, such as by entering an appropriate URL into a browser program The pπmary website is controlled by the pπmary entity The primary website irciudes an appropriate data exchange to each vendor website The consumer nas access to the information of the vendor website through the primary website The consumer's client computer is always within the primary website That is, the client transmits data to and receives data from the primary website The client computer may in effect provide data to and receive data from the vendor website However, all such data exchanged between the client and the vendor is filtered by the primary website, as further discussed below In one embodiment, the primary website filters all information transmitted into a) commerce transactions (requests) and b) non-commerce information Commerce transactions include all iπforr-ation necessary (or helpful) for the customer to complete a transaction with a vendor ~ne pπmary entity performs an appropriate action responsive to all commerce transactions The primary entity passes all non-commerce information to the vendor wecsite which may take appropriate actions The non- commerce information is nav gational in nature For example, actions such as a request for product detail information would be passed to the partners site For purposes of
elaboration, particular commerce requests (also referred to as service requests) are described, it being understood that the invention pertains to all commerce requests. Commerce requests include all transactions related to the consumers "shopping basket", an understood term of art that refers to items selected for purchase by a consumer. Commerce requests include customer service inquiries, secured credit card transactions, order status information, and a single checkout process. A typical commerce request would be to add an item to the consumer's shopping basket. This is commonly done by browsing an on-line catalog and clicking an appropriate icon to add the item to the shopping basket A related request would be remove an item from a shopping basket. *vhιch again is generally performed by clicKing a labeled icon. After a consumer has added a desired number of products to his/her shopping basket, the user can "checkout", which generally includes having the consumer supply billing and shipping information. Again, ecommerce and the use of shopping baskets is well understood and the descriptions herein are for purposes of illustration only. Other commerce transaction include customer service inquires and status inquiries For example, a consumer may query whether a particular order has been shipped or billed to the consumer As described, the primary website takes the appropriate action for each commerce request. For example, if the client requests a commerce transaction of adding or removing an item from the shopping basket, the primary website updates the shopping basket to reflect such a request
In order to process many commerce requests, the primary weDSite preferably interacts with the vendor website through EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) requests In a particular and preferred embodiment of the invention, the EDI information is ISO (International Standards Organization) compliant EDI information, and in particular ISO EDI information, is well understood and the ISO EDI standards currently existing are incorporated by reference in their entirety For example, if and when the client checks out, the primary website takes the appropriate steps to order the selected products from the veπdor(s) using EDI exchanges Non-commerce requests include all requests that do not involve ordering a product or an inquiry related to the order of a product As an example a consumer may be browsing an on-line catalog of a vendor, made available through the primary website Such an on-line catalog will typically have information about products offered for sale The consumer can typically obtain more information about a specific product by clicking (selecting) an icon displaying the product. For example, the vendor may be an on-line book store, and selecting a certain book may provide access to reviews of the book A consumer can select the certain book and obtain access to the review In this example, it is important to note that the client is always within the pπmary website, and not the vendor's website The primary website processes the client request for the book review, determines that it is not a commerce request, and passes the request to the vendor website The primary website then transmits the response to the request (i e the website content that is the book review) to the client It can be appreciated that the invention dynamically shares information between the vendor website and the client That is, a non-commerce request from the client is
passed through from the client to the vendor website in real time, and the response from the vendor is passed througn in real time By "real time", it is simply meant that the 'nformation is transmitted by normal Internet transmission means, so that a consumer can retrieve information suostantially as quickly through the primary website as the consumer could from the vendor website directly, except perhaps for a small delay since there is another transmission step More generally, information is dynamically shared between each of the vendor website, primary website, and client. It is an advantage of the invention that both the consumer and the vendors only deal with the primary entity Tnis is advantageous to the consumer because he or she only has to supply credit card information (or other purchasing related financial information), ordeπng information, and the like to one entity (the pπmary entity), yet has access to numerous vendors This is advantageous to the vendors because they only have to transact with one entity (the pπmary entity), yet can sell product to numerous individual consumers This is also advantageous because the consumer may prefer to transact with the primary entity instead of with the vendor, such as because of a special relationship A description of a process according to an embodiment of the invention is now provided in connection with FIG 2 In step 10 the proxy filter logic is enabled As a part of this step, an Internet communication link (standard web connection) is established between the primary site and the vendor site The returned content is filtered as described above formatted (optional step) and displayed to the client. The "format" step includes adding or modifying the content obtained from the vendor site, such as adding trade branding elements to the page or reformatting the page if the
originating display format conflicts with a display format of the pπmary site Thus, the content of the vendor site ca,1 be modified as desired when it is passed to the client. In step 20, the vendor website is displayed on the client computer As discussed above, the web page is delivered to the client. In a preferred embodiment, the web page delivered to the client wnl have additional content such as na igation icons specific to the pπmary site (such as a main co-branded header offering service related items such as for example basket icon, he'p, email and customer service) Stated another way, the vendor's site is merged on the fly with content supplied by the primary website That is, as described above the consumer views the contents (or a selected portion) of the vendor website, although the client is communicating directly with the primary website and only indirectly with the client website From the consumer's perspective, the vendor website is mirrored on the primary website Of course, the vendor website is not simply mirrored, because commerce transactions are filtered. In decision step 30, the primary website determines whether the consumer requests a commerce transaction In order to perform this step, the vendor site is technically mapped related to all commerce related actions This is achieved by examining the vendors HTML (or equivalent) source, identifying all internal commerce functions and mapping the actions to the primary website's commerce processes The vendor website can be viewed such as by the view source option within any browser The relationship with the vendor is generally not arbitrary in nature The pπmary website and the vendor websιte(s) will in general negotiate profit margins on sales, EDI exchange procedures defined, accepted shipping methods, file transfer specifications (FTP or modem) and process frequencies (when\where to get and put order files).
Returning to FIG 2, step 30, if a process step is detected the primary website processes the commerce request at step 40 If not, the consumer continues shopping at step 50 The continue shopping step can include taking any non-commerce action, such as browsing a vendor's website or moving from one vendor's website to another A continue shopping request following a ccmmerce action will put the consumer in a 'home ' position, meaning back to a main page at the primary website In a preferred embodiment, this should apply to all scenarios, although the consumer can use the back button on the browser to go back to a previous page The continue shopping step 50 is followed by the display step 20 as a vendor website is again displayed to the consumer depending uoon the selection of the consumer It should be apparent that the steps of FIG 2 are equally applicable if there is one vendor, or if there is more than one vendor