WO2001075755A1 - Method and apparatus for a prebid and preserving commitment with buyer interactivity - Google Patents

Method and apparatus for a prebid and preserving commitment with buyer interactivity Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2001075755A1
WO2001075755A1 PCT/US2001/007085 US0107085W WO0175755A1 WO 2001075755 A1 WO2001075755 A1 WO 2001075755A1 US 0107085 W US0107085 W US 0107085W WO 0175755 A1 WO0175755 A1 WO 0175755A1
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Prior art keywords
vendors
vendor
buyer
buyers
plurality
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PCT/US2001/007085
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Anne De Gheest
Michael D. Bishop
Aaron Alton Liebling
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Medpool.Com, Inc.
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Priority to US19392400P priority Critical
Priority to US60/193,924 priority
Priority to US56182400A priority
Priority to US09/561,824 priority
Application filed by Medpool.Com, Inc. filed Critical Medpool.Com, Inc.
Publication of WO2001075755A1 publication Critical patent/WO2001075755A1/en

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    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q40/00Finance; Insurance; Tax strategies; Processing of corporate or income taxes
    • G06Q40/04Exchange, e.g. stocks, commodities, derivatives or currency exchange

Abstract

A method and system for preserving commitment with buyer interactivities. During a first time period, each of a set one or more buyers (14A) or (14B) is required to commit to purchase a future trade (310) a quantity of business if a price is met by a set of vendors chosen by that buyer form a list of vendors (16A) or (16B) through a networ (10). Then during a second time period when bids to supply can be submitted by the vendors, each buyer is allowed to increase but not decrease the quantity, the price, each buyer is matched to one of the vendors in their set of vendors that met their price if any. Any intermediary server (12) acts as a World Wide Web server and establishes sales terms.

Description

METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR A PREBID AND PRESERVING COMMITMENT

WITH BUYER INTERACTIVITY

This is a non-provisional continuation of a co-pending US Provisional Application number 60/193,924 entitled "Method and Apparatus for a Prebid and Preserving Commitment with Buyer Interactivity", filed on March 31, 2000.

This is related to US Non-provisional Patent Application number 09/560,638, entitled "Method and Apparatus for Implementing Pooling Of Buyers And Vendors Based On Lots", filed 4/28/2000; US Non-provisional Patent Application number 09/561,492, entitled "Method and Apparatus for Implementing Preferential Selection of Offers," filed 4/28/2000; US Non-provisional Patent Application number 09/410,490, entitled "Method And Apparatus For Aggregating Multiple Purchase Requests In An Open Market Network," filed 9/30/99; and US Non-provisional Patent Application number 09/409,836, entitled "Method And Apparatus For Aggregating Vendor Sales Bids In An Open Market Network," filed 9/30/99.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to electronic sales applications using electronic networks.

BACKGROUND

The advent of the Internet and electronic processing of orders has spawned many schemes for electronically linking buyers to vendors, creating electronically mediated auctions, bid-ask systems and other electronic business transactions.

The business models so far have been to optimize the bidding or auction between one vendor of a specific product and several potential buyers. In one business approach, a third party Internet company, like OnSale, offers, for sale by auction, surplus products from established manufacturers. EBay offers a similar approach to consumers trying to sell to other consumers' collectible or used products. In another business approach, manufacturing or distribution companies, like Ingram, use auction software on their own web sites to allow purchase of excess inventory to only a selected group of clients, thereby protecting their traditional channels of distribution.

Stephen J. Brown (US 5,794,219) describes a method of conducting an on-line auction with bid pooling in which registered bidders can aggregate their bids into a specific group to bid together for a specific auction item electronically and remotely through a series of computers hooked to an internet. Each bid contains a designation of the group to which the bid should be added. Bids that then aggregate to the highest amount for given auction items win the bid. The system is geared toward auctions of well-known art works and the likes in which bidding groups are widely used.

In another approach, a buyer posts a price at which he would buy a service and the vendors can accept or reject the offer. Jay Walker et al. (US 5,794,207) (later Priceline.com) describes a commercial network system designed to facilitate buyer- driven conditional purchases. In this system, a buyer makes a binding bid electronically, which is then transmitted to vendors who have the opportunity to accept or reject an offer. This is an electronic version of a virtually identical business model promoted by an earlier company on which several press reports were published. (Laura Del Rosso, "Marketel Says it Plans to Launch Air Fare 'Auction' in June" Travel Weekly, April 29, 1991 and Jeff Pelline, "Travelers Bidding on Airline Tickets: SF Firm Offers Chance for Cut-rate Fares", San Francisco Chronicle, Section A4, Aug. 19, 1991). This system clearly depends upon a bid on a product or service by a specific individual buyer, who then secures his order at his bid price by providing a credit card authorization. The bid is then broadcast electronically to multiple vendors who can choose to either accept or reject the bid. The patent goes on to teach algorithms, forms, data networks, financial authorization systems, encryption and internet configurations to accommodate this business model.

Finally Joseph Giovannoli (US 5,758,328) describes a computerized quotation system in which a network of buyers and a network of vendors is contained in a processing unit. Individual buyers submit requests for quotes with certain filters, such as time of delivery, quality, etc. Based on the filters and information contained about the vendors, the computer selects and broadcasts the request for quotes to appropriate vendors who then respond. Vendor responses that meet the quote filters are passed either directly to the buyer or into a database to which the buyer has access. The buyer then completes a chosen transaction.

In a completely different paradigm, driven by the need to compete against larger rivals, small business have banded together to form buyers' groups in which buyers aggregate their demand in order to achieve better pricing. Perhaps best known of these is the group of hospitals which band together demand in order to obtain hospital chain volume and pricing from medical products companies. Such Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs) combine buyers needs for an agreed series of products, present the request for quote to a limited number of approved providers in the group, and theoretically receive better prices for higher volume commitment than their individual members could obtain. However, the GPOs often lack the clout they need with the vendors because the buyers, who often prefer branded products or services from specific suppliers, are not obligated to buy from the GPOs selected vendor.

While all of the above systems greatly enhance the fluidity with which buyers and vendors can come together in various ways, agree on price, and conclude a transaction, they do not provide the opportunity for individual buyers to collaborate as a group to aggregate their demand and obtain lower prices. They furthermore generally depend upon the need for unbranded products on which several vendors can quote. Many products, for example medical instruments, are defined more by service quality, doctor preferences, and other complex product traits that are difficult to reflect in hard specifications.

SUMMARY

According to one embodiment of the invention, a method for preserving commitment with buyer interactivity is described. According to the method, during a first time period, each of a set of one or more buyers is required to commit to purchase a quantity of business if a price is met by a set of vendors chosen by that buyer from a list of vendors. Then, during a second time period when bids to supply can be submitted by the vendors, each of said set of buyers is allowed to increase but not decrease said quantity, said price, and the vendors in their said set of vendors up to said list of vendors irrespective of a relationship between the set of buyers. During a third time period, each buyer in said set of buyers is matched to one of the vendors in their set of vendors that met their price if any.

According to another embodiment of the invention, a method for providing a prebid is described. According to this method, a buyer is transmitted a list containing one or more products and a plurality of vendors. A request for quote is received from the buyer identifying a quantity of business and a first selection of vendors. From the first selection of vendors, a set of the plurality of vendors is determined. Bids are accepted from the set of vendors. The bids of the set of vendors are transmitted to that buyer. From the buyer an update is received indicating a second selection of vendors based on the bids. From the second selection of vendors, a subset of the set of vendors that are acceptable to the buyer to supply the quantity of business is determined. The update forms an updated request for quote. Over a first time period, different bids are accepted from the acceptable vendors and periodic attempts are made to match the updated request for quote to one of the acceptable vendors based on the current bids.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Figure 1 is a block diagram of one embodiment of an open market network;

Figure 2 is a block diagram of one embodiment of an intermediary server;

Figure 3 is a flow diagram of one embodiment of the operation of an open market sales transaction with a prebid cycle.

Figure 4A is a flow diagram of one embodiment of the request for trade process (block 310) when initiated by a buyer.

Figure 4B is a flow diagram of one embodiment of the prebid buyer pooling exclusion phase.

Figure 4C is a table illustrating one embodiment of buyer data with respect to the prebid process.

Figure 5A is a flow diagram of one embodiment of the prebid vendor pooling process.

Figure 5B is a table illustrating one embodiment of vendor data stored with reference to the prebid cycle. Figure 6A is a diagram illustrating preferred result criteria according to one embodiment of the invention.

Figure 6B is a diagram illustrating preferred result criteria according to another embodiment of the invention.

Figure 7 illustrates an exemplary data structure for buyer and vendor pooling based on lots according to one embodiment of the invention.

Figure 8 further illustrates a simple example of the data structure of Figure 7 according to one embodiment of the invention.

Figure 9 is a flow diagram of one embodiment of the operation of an open market sales transaction without a prebid.

Figure 10A is a flow diagram of one embodiment of a request for future trade process from Figure 9.

Figure 1 OB is a flow diagram of one embodiment of a buyer pooling process from Figure 9.

Figure 11 is a flow diagram of one embodiment of a vendor pooling process from Figure 9.

Figure 12 shows an exemplary technique for generating a combined request for quote according to one embodiment of the invention.

Figure 13A illustrates part of a flow diagram of an embodiment of bidding state generations.

Figure 13B illustrates another part of a flow diagram of an embodiment of bidding state generations.

Figure 13C illustrates another part of a flow diagram of an embodiment of bidding state generations.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

In the following description, numerous details are set forth. It will be apparent, however, to one skilled in the art, that the present invention may be practiced without these specific details. In other instances, well-known structures and devices are shown in block diagram form, rather than in detail, in order to avoid obscuring the present invention. Unless specifically stated otherwise as apparent from the following discussion, it is appreciated that throughout the description, discussions utilizing terms such as "processing" or "computing" or "calculating" or "determining" or "displaying" or the like, refer to the action and processes of a computer system, or similar electronic computing device, that manipulates and transforms data represented as physical (electronic) quantities within the computer system's registers and memories into other data similarly represented as physical quantities within the computer system memories or registers or other such information storage, transmission or display devices.

The present invention also relates to apparatus for performing the operations herein. This apparatus may be specially constructed for the required purposes, or it may comprise a general-purpose computer selectively activated or reconfigured by a computer program stored in the computer. Such a computer program may be stored and/or transmitted in a machine readable storage medium, such as, but is not limited to, any type of read only memory (ROM); random access memory (RAM); magnetic disk storage media; optical storage media; flash memory devices; electrical, optical, acoustical or other form of propagated signals (e.g., carrier waves, infrared signals, digital signals, etc.); etc.

The flow diagrams and displays presented herein are not inherently related to any particular computer or other apparatus. Various general-purpose systems may be used with programs in accordance with the teachings herein, or it may prove convenient to construct more specialized apparatus to perform the required methods. The required structure for a variety of these systems will appear from the description below. In addition, the present invention is not described with reference to any particular programming language. It will be appreciated that a variety of programming languages may be used to implement the teachings of the invention as described herein.

The instructions of the programming language(s) may be executed by one or more processing devices (e.g., processors, controllers, central processing units (CPUs), execution cores, etc.).

Overview

A detailed description for an open market network is provided in US Non- provisional Patent Application number 09/560,638 entitled "Method and Apparatus for Implementing Pooling Of Buyers And Vendors Based On Lots", filed 4/28/2000; US Non-provisional Patent Application number 09/561,492 entitled "Method and Apparatus for Implementing Preferential Selection of Offers," filed 4/28/2000; US Non-provisional Patent Application number 09/410,490, entitled "Method And Apparatus For Aggregating Multiple Purchase Requests In An Open Market Network," filed 9/30/99; US Non-provisional Patent Application number 09/409,836, entitled "Method And Apparatus For Aggregating Vendor Sales Bids In An Open Market Network," filed 9/30/99; and PCT Patent Application number US00/04814, entitled "Methods and Apparatuses for Electronic Bidding Systems", filed 2/24/2000, all incorporated herein by reference. Described therein are methods, systems, databases, electronic networks, and other hardware and software which allow electronic aggregation of multiple buyers needs, presentation of the aggregate buyers needs anonymously to one or more vendors to request quotes, and optimization of numerous selling terms to the maximum benefit of the buyers are provided. While a brief summary of what is described therein is provided below, a more detailed explanation is provided later herein.

According to one embodiment described therein, buyers' requests are aggregated in order to receive enhanced business terms. Such aggregation enables the group of buyers to accept an arrangement that is superior than they would otherwise receive if they were negotiating individually. In one embodiment, the identity of the group of buyers remains anonymous without compromising quality, service, preferred vendors or other value considerations.

An intermediary electronically aggregates and transmits binding multiple buyers' commitments in the form of quote requests to buy specified products (e.g., branded or commodity) or services to one or more vendors. A specific buyer may initiate a quote request that gets posted anonymously to allow other buyers to join in or the intermediary can post regular quote requests based on an optimization of the preferences of the buyers' community and the demand based on prior trades. In one embodiment, the intermediary is "trusted" (e.g., known to both the buyers and the sellers). Further, the intermediary may have entered into legally binding agreements with the buyers and/or the sellers requiring them to complete sales transactions entered into using the system.

In a further embodiment described therein, quotes are optimized to match all of an individual buyer's preferences in order to achieve a lowest price bid for the largest volume of purchased product. Further, communication between the intermediary and the buyer regarding the economics of changing certain preferences (e.g., quality levels, acceptable vendors, etc.), and between the intermediary and the vendor providing price bid versus volume committed information to the vendor can be provided. It should be understood that the term product as used herein is defined to include something that is sold; as such, the term product can include a physical item(s), a service(s), or both.

Any given trade on the open market system can involve a single type of product or a lot. Where a lot is defined as a union of lot items within a trade. A lot item is a specific product or a single product type (i.e., where a product type defines a class made up of specific products). For example, a lot item may be Energizer® A A batteries (a specific product) or AA batteries (a product type that defines a class made up of, for example, Energizer, Duracel®, EveryReady®, etc.). What specific products are included in the class defined by a lot item will typically be defined in terms understood within a particular industry by both buyers and sellers. With regard to lots, typically a lot will only include lot items having a common feature or theme (e.g., a common application). A natural lot would be batteries, having lot items including AA size batteries, AAA size batteries, C size batteries, etc. Another natural lot would be a flashlight and the batteries suitable for powering the flashlight, as the lot items (the flashlight and the batteries) are suitable for a common application, even though they may be manufactured by separate entities. However, lots need not have a common feature or them, but may include anything a buyer wishes to include, and may also be defined by what a vendor will include. The term "buyer purchase interest" is defined herein to refer to trades involving a single specific product/service, a single product/service type, and a lot (i.e., In a trade involving a single specific product, the buyer purchase interest is the single specific product; In a trade involving a single product type, the buyer purchase interest is the single product type; and in a trade involving a lot, the term buyer purchase interest would refer to the lot). However, the remainder of this detailed description uses the term product to simplify understanding of the invention.

One issue with the systems described therein is the lack of a mechanism to encourage competitive bidding by the vendors early in the real time bidding phase. For example, in certain trade scenarios, the vendors do not submit competitive bids until the very end of the real time bidding phase. In particular, in certain instances, the vendors enter an early bid that is relatively high, and wait until the very end of the real time bidding phase to submit a bid they believe will win the amount of business they desire. It is considered, at least in certain circumstances, that it would be advantageous to provide a mechanism which provides an incentive for the vendors to submit more competitive bids earlier in the real time bidding phase. While many of the embodiments described therein allow only the vendors to participate in the real time bidding phase (prior to the real time bidding phase, buyers have entered the quantity of products desired and a price at which they will be obligated to purchase that quantity of product - i.e., if an acceptable bid comes in below the entered price, the buyer is obligated to purchase the quantity of product at the bid price), one possible mechanism for providing incentive to vendors to submit competitive bids earlier would be to allow the buyers to participate in the real time bidding phase. Although allowing a buyer to participate in the real time bidding phase will often act to encourage vendors to submit more competitive bids earlier in the real time bidding phase, implementations in which a buyer is given full participation in the real time bidding phase (a buyer can withdraw from a trade) are not as appealing to vendors. Rather, vendors prefer implementations in which a buyer is committed to purchasing a specified quantity if a certain price is met.

Another issue with the systems described therein is the lack of a mechanism to focus buyer investigation(s) into competitive products. From the buyer's perspective, the buyer has typically been purchasing a specific product, and is therefore, familiar with that specific product. When a buyer is already familiar with a specific product and/or vendor, there is often an incentive on the behalf of the buyer to stick with that specific product and/or vendor. On the other hand, a potential for savings can be an incentive for a given buyer to investigate switching to a different product (such different product could be sold and/or manufactured by the same and/or different vendor) and/or vendor. Unfortunately, in certain situations, a given buyer does not have the time to regularly investigate all of the products on the market. In the embodiments described therein, there is no mechanism to help focus a given buyer's investigation to a smaller number of products on the market.

According to one embodiment of the invention described herein, a pre-cycle bid or a prebid phase is conducted as part of the open market system. By way of example, assume that each of the vendors sell a single product of a product type of interest to the buyers. Initially, buyers individually indicate a quantity (e.g., previously purchased, desired to be purchased) and a first selection of the vendors. Subsequently, the buyers' information is provided to the vendors that were selected. The vendors enter a bid price for which it will sell a particular quantity of its product. In response, each buyer receives the bids from the vendors. Each buyer then indicates a second selection of vendors. Then, the real time bidding phase is begun with the selected vendors.

In one embodiment, the first selection of the vendors for a given buyer divides the vendors into a set of acceptable vendors, a set of potential vendors, and a set of unacceptable vendors. While in one embodiment each buyer must designate one vendor to be in the set of acceptable vendors, alternative embodiments do not require and/or allow for this at this stage. In their first selection of vendors, each buyer is required to designate which vendors, if any, belong to the set of unacceptable vendors (referred to as exclusions). In one particular embodiment, each buyer is required to designate which of the vendors are to be in the set of unacceptable vendors by manually selecting them from a list of the vendors. Any vendor not designated as acceptable or unacceptable falls into the set of potential vendors. In addition, any vendor(s) not on the list presented to the buyer (e.g., that later join the trade) are considered to be in the set of potential vendors. The second selection of vendors causes each of the vendors in the set of potential vendors to be moved into one of the set of acceptable and unacceptable vendors. In one particular embodiment, each buyer is required to designate which of the set of potential vendors are to be in the set of acceptable vendors by manually selecting them from a list of the set of potential vendors (referred to as inclusions) (the unselected potential vendors are then designated as unacceptable) (this requires the opposite of the manual designation process with reference to the first selection of vendors).

The phrase "manually selecting" is used herein to refer some form of user action (e.g., clicking a radio box using an input device such as a mouse, providing some sort of voice command to a machine capable of voice recognition, calling the intermediary on the phone, sending a fax, etc.). Of course, techniques other than manually selecting from a list could be used for designating the unacceptable/acceptable vendors (e.g., a free form listing by the buyers, a select all vendors as acceptable feature, etc.).

It should be noted that in one embodiment of the invention that once a vendor is designated as acceptable by a given buyer, that designation cannot be changed by that buyer (i.e., the second selection of vendors cannot cause a vendor previously in the set of acceptable vendors to be removed from that set). It should also be noted that in one embodiment of the invention, each buyer must have at least one vendor in the set of acceptable vendors (and preferably more) following the second selection of vendors. Thus, in an embodiment where at least one vendor must be designated as acceptable in the first selection of vendors and that vendor cannot be redesignated, this will be the case. However, in one embodiment in which one vendor need not be designated as acceptable in the first selection of vendors, the second selection of vendors must designate at least one vendor as acceptable.

According to another embodiment of the invention, buyers are allowed interactivity in the real time bidding phase as long as commitment is preserved. This interactivity can be provided in a system with a prebid phase or in systems without a prebid phase. In addition, this buyer interactivity can be provided for only specified times in the real time bidding phase or at all times during the real time bidding phase. According to this interactivity, buyers are allowed to increase their commitment but not decrease it. For example, a given buyer could increase the committed quantity, the committed price, and/or the vendors indicated as acceptable. Furthermore, if a buyer includes an additional vendor as acceptable, that buyer can enter a preferred result criteria (e.g., a price differential) for that vendor (the concept of a preferred result criteria will be later described herein). It should be noted that in one embodiment of the invention, buyers cannot change the preferred result criteria for previously selected vendors during the real time bidding phase. However, in an alternative embodiment buyers can increase but not decrease any preferred result criteria associated with a given vendor. While in one embodiment buyers are allowed to increase both quantity and price as much as desired, other embodiments limit the amount of increase of one or both of quantity and price. For example, in one embodiment a given buyer cannot increase their quantity above a limit set relative to the initial quantity entered by the buyer (e.g., the given buyer cannot increase their quantity above 50% of the initial quantity entered by that buyer).

While embodiments of the invention will be described with reference to the open market system described above and later herein, it is understood that the invention is applicable to any bidding and/or auction type market system. In addition, in the example above it is assumed that each vendor sells one specific product of a product type. Thus, excluding or including a vendor is sufficient. However, it is understood that for different markets a vendor may sell more than one specific product of the same product type. In these situations, the including and excluding can be done by specific product (that may or may not be part of a lot) and, if chosen, by vendor. Thus, the including and excluding is a selection between purchasing options.

Further Description

Figure 1 is a block diagram of one embodiment of an open market network. The open market network includes a network 10, an intermediary server 12, buyer clients 14A and 14B, and vendor clients 16A and 16B. In one embodiment, network 10 comprises the Internet. However, in other embodiments, network 10 is not limited to the Internet. The teachings disclosed herein might be applied to various networks, data and document storage and archival facilities, or other types of client/server systems that have documents or other information available upon request.

According to one embodiment, intermediary server 12 is coupled to network 10 and is able to respond to requests from buyer clients 14 and vendor clients 16 via network 10. In one embodiment, the received requests are associated with the Internet (or World Wide Web (the WWW)). In such an embodiment, intermediary server 12 acts as a WWW server. That is, clients are directly coupled to a local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN) and "serve" data, such as images or other multi-media objects that they capture or create to intermediary server 12.

Further, intermediary server 12 establishes certain sales terms (e.g., price) and optionally executes the sales transactions between buyer clients 14 and vendor clients 16 as will be described in more detail below. In one embodiment, intermediary server 12 uses a hypertext transfer protocol ("HTTP") to communicate over network 10 with the clients; such clients also communicate with intermediary server 12 using the hypertext transfer protocol. Thus, intermediary server 12 and these clients act as an HTTP server and HTTP clients respectively.

Buyer clients 14 communicate with intermediary server 12 via network 10. According to one embodiment, buyer clients 14 include a program (e.g., a browser) that permits users to access documents over network 10 that are located on intermediary server 12. In one embodiment, users at buyer clients 14A and 14B transmit requests to intermediary server 12 that include requests to purchase various products and services. Vendor clients 16 also include a browser that permits users to access documents that are located on intermediary server 12 via network 10. Users at vendor clients 16A and 16B transmit requests to intermediary server 12 that include requests to supply the requests of users at buyer clients 14A and 14B.

The clients in the system will typically include a client processor and a memory and a computer readable medium, such as a magnetic or optical mass storage device, and the computer readable medium of the client contains computer program instructions for receiving data from intermediary server 12 and for storing the data at the client. One of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that additional buyer and vendor clients may be coupled to network 10.

Figure 2 is a block diagram of one embodiment of an intermediary server 12. Intermediary server 12 includes buyer database 101, vendor database 102, products database 103, an open trade database 104 and order database 105. Although databases 101 - 105 have been described as separate databases, one of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that databases 101 - 105 may be implemented as a single database. In addition, intermediary server 12 includes a buyer module 112 coupled to buyer database 101, a products selector module 113 coupled to products database 103, and a vendor module 114 coupled to vendor database 102 and products database 103. Further, a request module 115 is coupled to vendor database 102, products database 103 and open trade database 104; an trade module 116 is coupled to open trade database 104; and an order module 117 is coupled to order database 105.

Buyer module 112 qualifies and manages potential buyers based on a list of criteria stored in buyer database 101. According to one embodiment, buyer database 101 includes company information, and a list of users and related passwords for persons authorized to use intermediary server 12. In one embodiment, a qualified buyer at a buyer client 14 may enter the system via a buyer web portal that is customized for each buyer.

Product selector module 113 manages product database 103. According to one embodiment, product selector 113 lists products and/or services by one or more criteria, such as category, description, related vendor, interested buyers, etc. Users at buyer clients 14 may record their qualified list of vendors by products or services based on their own experience and/or available characteristics. In addition, buyer client 14 users may enter feedback to be shared with other buyers on their experiences with these vendors. In one embodiment, such feedback will create a vendor rating based on several criteria such as quality, time delivery, service, product effectiveness and safety. The acceptable list of vendors may also be created automatically by the system based on previous trade activities. The notification of future trades may be based on each buyer's selection of specific categories and products.

Vendor module 114 manages vendors' information stored in the vendor database 102. In addition, vendor module 114 may be configured to provide a list of products or services offered by the vendors as stored in product database 103. In one embodiment, a vendor at vendor client 16 may enter the system via a vendor web portal that is customized for each vendor.

According to one embodiment, request module 115 posts notifications of future trades on each buyer client 14 in order to request qualified buyers to submit their request for quote by a certain date. A future trade notification may describe a particular product or service, the list of all vendors, the timing of the delivery (e.g., by a certain date, over a period of time, etc.), and other related terms. In one embodiment of the invention a given organization can instantiate multiple buyers for the same trade. For example, a given organization could create multiple buyers that each submits a different request for quote. While in one embodiment of the invention a given organization can submit multiple request for quotes through multiplier buyers for the same trade, in alternative embodiments each organization is limited to creating one buyer for a given trade.

According to one embodiment, each buyer is requested to post a quantity of business and the first selection of vendors. The posted information is used by vendors to generate a pre-cycle bid. The pre-cycle bids are used by the buyers to select various vendors that are acceptable to participate in the current trade. A buyer is committed to purchase the initial requested volume for the traded product if any vendor designated as acceptable provides a bid below a maximum price set by the buyer. Of course, in alternative embodiments of the invention, the agreed upon terms may be used for other purposes (e.g., the agreed upon terms may form a memorandum of understanding according to which the parties agree to make their best efforts to agree on the necessary remaining terms to complete the transaction). The transaction price may be a unit purchase price. Alternatively, the transaction price may be a total purchase price that may include additional costs such as installation charge and service fee. The buyer request page allows a buyer to quickly update an acceptable vendor list by displaying the list of all vendors offering a particular product, previously selected vendors, the last bid price by these vendors, a buyers community rating hyperlink and previous comments entered by the buyer.

According to a further embodiment, request module 115 aggregates all of the volume of the buyers by group of acceptable and/or potential vendors into open trade database 104. In addition, request module 115 posts Request for Quote (RFQ) at each selected vendor client 16. In one embodiment, the RFQ indicates, for each product, the total quantity being requested, the quantity that the specific vendors have been selected for, the delivery timing and the anonymous profile of the group of buyers. The profile may include data on different terms requested (e.g., shipping and geographical location). The RFQ may also request additional information (e.g., different pricing breakdown between purchasing the products, installing the products, servicing the products, etc.). The RFQ will specify a time by which the vendors must respond.

Trade module 116 manages and posts the trade status on the applicable buyer clients 14 and vendor clients 16. According to one embodiment, the trade is implemented in a format that shows each vendor the potential order volume it will receive with the existing price quote as compared to the maximum volume from all the buyers to whom the vendor could be acceptable. In addition, the total volume of the trade may be displayed to the vendor.

Vendors may lower their bid price based on the received information during the trade period. The process may be based on a non-disclosed maximum price set by each buyer and their list of acceptable vendors. This type of trade may also be displayed to each buyer indicating the lowest quoted price from the group of acceptable vendors as well as the lowest price outside that group. According to one embodiment that allows for buyer interactivity with preserved commitment in the real time bidding phase, a buyer may decide during the open trade to add another vendor to their qualified list if that vendor has a lower quoted price, increase their quantity, increase their price, etc.

In addition, trade module 116 closes the trade at the expiration of an allotted period of time. In addition, trade module 116 may verify whether the quotes from vendors of acceptable products are below the maximum price requested by each buyer, and select an acceptable vendor with a product with the lowest price for each group of buyers. Further, trade module 1 16 may electronically notify the buyers and vendors of the outcome of the trade and post the results at respective buyer clients 14 and vendor clients 16.

Alternatively, other auction formats may be used. For instance, a progressive auction format may be used that awards the orders at different prices depending on the quantity level bid by each buyer. In a progressive auction, for example, the lowest bidder is awarded the aggregated volume at a final bid price after the auction is closed. In addition, higher quantity buyers may receive an additional discount from the final bid price while lower quantity buyers could be charged a compensating premium over the final bid price.

Order module 117 manages order database 105 and its contracts with the chosen vendors and successful buyers. According to one embodiment, an order status is posted at the respective buyer clients 14 and vendor clients 16. Although intermediary server 12 has been described with respect to a particular embodiment, one of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that intermediary server 12 may be configured using various other techniques.

Various database architectures (object oriented database(s), relational database(s), hybrid of object oriented/relational database(s), etc.), combined or separately, can be used to implement the invention. For example, one skilled in the art may choose to employ a multi-tier architecture design, by designing a system with a Web Server System, to be connected to an Application Server System, which in turn connects to a Database System. The system can be implemented using a variety of techniques, including well-known techniques. For example, the intermediary server 12 may include an automated network router, such as Cisco's™ Local Director, coupled to a set of application servers (such as IBM's™ WebSphere, Netscape™ Fastrack, or Apache), coupled to a database system (e.g., Oracle®) that may include a set of database servers coupled to a persistent data store (e.g., a set of disk arrays).

More particularly, according to one embodiment the application servers would include business logic and remote business objects. The business logic may be implemented in a variety of different languages (e.g., Java, C++, C application program interface (C API), etc.). The remote business objects may include vendor, buyer, item, bid, and trade objects. The remote business objects may be implemented using a variety of different techniques (e.g., as object/relational mapping, Enterprise JavaBeans, Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) objects, etc).

In addition, the database servers would include data access components and a distributed access manager. The data access components may be provided in a variety of different products (e.g., TopLink, Rogue Wave, Oracle JBOs, etc.) using a variety of different languages (e.g., Java, C++, C API, etc.). The distributed access manager may be provided in a variety of different products (e.g., Tuxedo, RMI, Visigenix, lona, BEA, etc.) and implemented using a variety of different techniques (e.g., as object/relational mapping, Enterprise JavaBeans, CORBA objects, etc).

The persistent data store may include vendor/buyer profiles, product catalogs, system registration and trades information. Further, the persistent data store may be implemented in a variety of different products (Oracle, Sybase, Informix, Gemstone, Centura, ODI ObjectStore, etc.) using a number of different structures (e.g., a database, flatfϊle, memory based system, file system, etc).

Of course, the above-described implementations are for exemplary purposes. As such, there are various other ways in which the described embodiments can be implemented that are all within the scope of the inventions disclosed herein.

Figure 3 is a flow diagram of one embodiment of the operation of an open market sales transaction with a prebid phase. It should be noted that Figures 3, 4A, 4B, and 5 A are similar to the figures 3, 4A, 4B, and 6 A from the documents incorporated by reference above. At process block 310, a request for a future trade is initiated. In one embodiment, a buyer client 14 and/or the intermediary server 12 may initiate trades (for example, the intermediary server may initiate a trade automatically at periodically scheduled periods, at the suggestion of one or more vendors, etc.). Trades initiated by intermediary server 12 may be initiated at predetermined intervals (e.g., weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.). In such an embodiment, intermediary server 12 automatically sets up the time period for pooling and trading based on product categories.

Figure 4A is a flow diagram of one embodiment of the request for trade process (block 310) when initiated by a buyer. Figure 4 A will be described with reference to Figure 4C. Figure 4C is a table illustrating one embodiment of exemplary buyer data with respect to the prebid process. Of course, other information is stored as described in the documents incorporated by reference.

In block 410 of Figure 4 A, a quantity is entered by a buyer. According to one embodiment, the information entered by the buyer includes the specific product and quantity supplied from a prior open market auction. In another embodiment, the information entered by each buyer may be based upon a specific product and/or a quantity purchased in the previous year, month, week, etc. In yet another alternative embodiment, this information may be a product type and a quantity desired to be purchased for the next year, month, week, etc. (e.g., if such purchase has not been made before). In certain embodiments where the quantity is based upon historical data, the buyer is provided an opportunity to adjust the quantity to reflect current/future needs at time or a later time (e.g., during the prebid buyer inclusion phase of block 345).

At process block 430, the general terms and conditions for the trade may be entered by the buyer. This information includes the maximum price the buyer is willing to pay for the product. However, in alternative embodiments of the invention, the quantity and/or maximum prices are entered during block 345.

In addition, the general terms and conditions may include "characteristics", for example, delivery period/timing (e.g., time start, time end, frequency of shipment), freight, a trade ID number generated by intermediary 12, and a request date (e.g., date generated by the system to allow buyers to enter their data), shipping terms (e.g., net 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, Ql, Q2, etc.), direct shipment or distributor, shipment locations, etc.

In block 435 of Figure 4 A, the intermediary server 12 selects the products of the selected product type that are provided by vendors for which the buyer is not automatically excluded. In particular, vendors may have previously entered criteria which buyers must satisfy in order to be eligible to select their products. For example, a vendor may have previously indicated that it will not ship to Texas.

In block 440 of Figure 4 A, the buyer is provided a list of the selected products/vendors and identifies the ones the buyer will consider for the trade. As previously described, the buyer provides a first selection of vendors.

Referring to Figure 4C, the acceptable vendors, the current quantities, any unacceptable vendors, and any potential vendors are shown for each buyer. For buyer 1 , for example, vendor 1 is selected as an acceptable vendor for a quantity of 100. In addition, buyer 1 designated vendor 3 as unacceptable. As a result, vendor 3 will be precluded from the pre-cycle bid to supply buyer 1. As later described herein, a buyer will exclude a specific product/vendor if that buyer knows they are not interested, but will likely leave specific products/vendors the buyer knows he will accept and/or is unsure of.

At block 445 of Figure 4A, a new trade is posted.

In the situation where the intermediary server generates the request for future trade, the blocks in Figure 4A differ. In particular, the blocks 430-440 need no be performed. Rather, the intermediary server selects the product type (block 410) based on some criteria (e.g., historical data, surpluses, etc.) and posts the trade (block 445).

Referring back to Figure 3, a prebid buyer pooling exclusion phase is commenced after the new trade is posted (block 320). Figure 4B is a flow diagram of one embodiment of the prebid buyer pooling exclusion phase. At process block 450, it is determined whether a buyer wishes to join the trade. If another buyer wishes to join the trade, the buyer enters their quantity. In addition, the buyer enters the buyer's general terms and conditions (460). In block 465, of Figure 4A, the intermediary server 12 selects the products of the selected product type that are provided by vendors for which the buyer is not automatically excluded.

In block 470 of Figure 4B, the buyer is provided a list of the selected products (and/or associated vendors) and identifies the ones the buyer finds unacceptable for the trade (similar to the above described block 440). Thus, the first selection of vendors is provided for that buyer.

At process block 480, the update to the trade is posted with the newly submitted request for quote.

At process block 490, it is determined whether the time allotted for buyer pooling has expired. As previously indicated, in one embodiment of the invention a given organization can instantiate multiple buyers for the same trade. For example, a given organization could create multiple buyers that each submits a different request for quote. While in one embodiment of the invention a given organization can submit multiple request for quotes through multiplier buyers for the same trade, in alternative embodiments each organization is limited to instantiating one buyer. Referring back to Figure 3, a combined request for prebid is generated after the closing of the prebid buyer pooling exclusion phase (process block 335). The process block 335 operates in a similar manner to the generation of the combined request for quote (block 330) previously described in the materials incorporated by reference and later elaborated on herein with reference to Figure 12. In sum, the buyers quantities are combined according to the input information (quantities, prebid buyer exclusions, vendor exclusions, etc.) and prebid vendor pools are form (the amount of the total pool quantity that a given vendor is currently eligible to supply is identified as the prebid vendor's pool). Thus, if a buyer excluded a vendor, then that vendor's prebid pool will not include that buyer's quantity.

Referring back to Figure 3, a prebid vendor pooling phase is commenced after generating the combined request for prebid (process block 340). Figure 5A is a flow diagram of one embodiment of the prebid vendor pooling process. At process block 502, each vendor's prebid pool is provided to the vendors.

Figure 5B is a table illustrating one embodiment of vendor data stored with reference to the prebid cycle. Of course, additional information may be stored as described in the documents incorporated by reference above. Referring to Figure 5B, the information provided to each vendor includes the amount of business received the last time, if available, and the prebid vendor pool. In particular, in one embodiment of the invention the current vendor for each buyer is determined, if possible (e.g., based on past trades, from buyer input). By way of example, assume that the current vendor for buyers 1, 2 and 3 are respectively vendors 1, 2, and 1. The received information is the basis for bids to be submitted by each vendor. Vendor 1 , for example, had sales last time to buyers 1 and 3 corresponding to a function (f) of 250 units wherein the function (f) represents some function that puts a price to the quantities. The price may be the price a buyer paid last time, a buyer's maximum price in the current auction, the vendor's list price, etc.). In addition, vendor 1 may potentially provide the quantities needed by all of the buyers. Thus, vendor 1 has potential sales corresponding to a function (f) of 350 units wherein the function (f ) represents some function that puts a price to the quantities (note: f may be equal to f ). As a result, vendor 1 has an incentive to keep its existing customers (e.g., buyers 1 and 3) by bidding low in order to prevent buyers it supplied last time from purchasing from vendors 2 or 3. In addition, vendor 1 has an incentive to enter a low bid in order to entice buyer 2 to purchase from vendor 1 rather than vendor 2. In should be noted that in one embodiment of the invention, each vendor's prebid operates as ceiling above which he cannot raise his bid during the real time bidding phase.

Referring again to Figure 5A, at process block 505 it is determined whether any vendor wishes to submit a prebid. If so, control passes to block 510. Otherwise, control passes to block 540.

At process block 510, one or more manual trade exclusions may be entered by a vendor at a vendor client 16. A manual trade exclusion operates the same as an automatic trade exclusion, with the exception that automatic trade exclusion are for somewhat permanent preferences of a vendor that were previously stored.

At process block 520, tier pricing may be entered by a vendor. At process block 530, a maximum quantity is entered.

Referring back to Figure 3, a prebid buyer inclusion phase (345) is commenced after the prebid vendor pooling phase. During the prebid buyer inclusion phase each buyer receives the bids from its non-excluded vendors (vendors that are not currently designated as unacceptable). The vendor bids, if sufficiently low, gives the buyers an incentive to investigate a particular product/vendor in order to determine whether the vendor is acceptable. Each buyer is again given the opportunity to select the vendor's products it finds acceptable for the current trade based upon the pre-cycle bid (the second selection of vendors previously described). For example, a buyer may find that the lower price of a competing good is not sufficient to make up for the superiority in quality of the goods purchased in the last trade. Therefore, the buyer may find the vendor's product unacceptable for the current trade. In such an instance, the buyer will not include the vendor.

With reference to Figure 4C, for example, buyer 1 had previously excluded vendor 3. Now that buyer 1 has seen the bid (if any) from vendor 2 and/or investigated vendor 2's product, buyer 1 can determine if they will accept products from vendor 2. If so, buyer 1 designates vendor 2 as acceptable. As another example, buyer 3 previously did not exclude any vendors. However, after seeing the bids from vendors 1 -3 and/or investigated their products, buyer 3 can decide whether he will accept products from either of vendors 1 or 3. Thus, buyer 3 may have received a prebid from vendor 2 and decided that the bid was not low enough to justify an investigation (i.e., the saving did not warrant the resources needed to investigate). Alternatively, buyer 3 may have investigated vendor 2's product and determined it would not meet his needs.

Thus, the system provides a mechanism to both encourage more competitive bids by the vendors early in the process while also providing a mechanism to narrow the focus for buyer investigations into competing products. In particular, a buyer typically does not have the resources to investigate all competing products on the market. A buyer during the prebid buyer pooling phase will exclude those vendors in which they know they are not interested, but will leave those vendors for which they know they will accept and/or those vendors they are unsure of (i.e., those they need to investigate before committing to purchase). A vendor is aware during the prebid vendor pooling phase that each buyer must include that vendor in the subsequent prebid buyer inclusion phase for that vendor to capture their business. However, if a buyer has not investigated a product, that buyer is unlikely to include that product during the prebid buyer inclusion phase because the buyer is unaware of whether that buyer's needs will be met by the product. Since this is the case, a vendor is incentivized to provide a reason to the buyer to investigate their product (so that vendor will be selected to participate for the business). A vendor provides this incentive to the buyer by submitting a prebid that is sufficient to lure and/or keep a buyer. Thus, during the prebid buyer inclusion phase, the buyers can decide which products/vendors to investigate based on the potential for savings evidenced by the prebids. It should be noted that the pre-cycle bidding approach works on any system with multiple vendors (e.g., Priceline.com). In fact, it can be used where the trade includes only a single buyer.

From process block 345, control passes to process block 330 where an updated a combined request for quote is generated. Block 330 can be performed by simply reevaluating all of the request for quotes from buyers (see Figure 12), or only processing those request for quotes that were updated and proliferating the update as necessary. From process block 330, control passes to process block 350. Blocks 350 through 370 are described in detail in the documents incorporated by reference and later herein. To provide a brief summary, at process block 350 a current bidding state is generated and control passes to block 360. At process block 360, the current bidding state is distributed to the buyers and vendors. The first pass through process blocks 350 and 360 may be referred to as generating an initial bidding state.

At process block 370, it is determined whether a new bid and/or a new buyer update is received before an allotted time for the real time bidding phase has expired. A buyer update is used to refer input provided by a buyer as part of the buyer interactivity with preserved commitment previously described. If a new bid and/or new buyer update is received, control is returned to process block 350 where another bidding state is generated. It is understood that in those situations where a given buyer adds a vendor to those that buyer previously indicated as acceptable, there is a change in the vendor pool for the added vendor. Thus, the updated vendor pool for that vendor must be transmitted to that vendor. In addition, it is understood that, in embodiments that limit the amount of increase of the quantity and/or price of a given buyer, any buyer update received will be checked to verify it does not violate that buyer's limit.

In addition to or in lieu of generating new bid states responsive to each bid and/or a new buyer update, alternative embodiments can be implemented to generate new bid states responsive to other criteria (e.g., new bids are collected during regular time intervals after which a new bidding state is generated and posted to participating vendors and buyers; buyers can submit buyer updates at only specified times; etc.). In one particular embodiment, the real time bidding phase is broken into multiple time periods including a vendor bid phase, followed by a buyer interactivity with preserved commitment phase; followed by another vendor bid phase; etc.

If no new bid and/or new buyer update has been received, it is determined whether the allotted time has expired (process block 380). According to one embodiment, one week is allotted for bidding by vendors. However, other periods of time (e.g., one day, one month, etc.) may be allotted for the bidding. If the time has not expired, control is returned to process block 370. If the allotted time has expired, the trade is closed at process block 390. Successive passes from process blocks 350 through 380 may be referred to as the real time bidding phase.

Any number of different techniques can be used to process the real time bidding for a trade. These techniques will attempt to match vendors to buyers according to the criteria entered by the buyers and vendors, as well as according to the criteria chosen for the technique. For example, the criteria chosen for the technique could be to maximize the savings of the buyers (e.g., the overall lowest, the most buyers' lowest, etc.). In addition, even assuming these criteria, any number of different ways of processing based on these criteria are possible.

The concept of preferred result criterias will now be discussed. Most of the techniques for matching buyers and sellers have a method of entering prices or other criteria. For example, in reverse auction systems it is not uncommon to have a buyer indicate a desired product and a maximum price the buyer will pay for the desired product. Likewise, many methods exist for receiving bids or offers to purchase or sell a product. In particular, bids may be made after a request for bids is received or otherwise entered or communicated. Standing bids may be entered prior to or subsequent to receiving requests for bids, and those bids may be used either for a limited time, until a limited quantity of products are matched to the bid, or in an unlimited manner.

In many instances, a buyer may be seeking a low price for any product in a transaction, but be willing to pay a slightly higher price for a preferred result of a transaction, such as the purchase of one product in preference to another (such products may be sold by the same vendor or different vendors), the purchase of a product from one vendor in preference to another, the purchase of a product with a preferred feature (e.g. a direct flight over a non-direct flight for an airline ticket), etc. In one embodiment, the criteria include what percentage above the lowest bid from an acceptable vendor the buyer is willing to pay for a specified result. However, the criteria (referred to as a price differential) may take many forms, including but not limited to a percentage premium or discount, or a difference specified in monetary units from the low result, etc.

With attention to Figure 6A, a more detailed explanation of one embodiment of the invention may be presented. In Figure 6A, a buyer has indicated a desire to purchase a product. The buyer has also indicated a willingness to pay a first extra percentage for a product from T, a second extra percentage for a product from S, and a third extra percentage for a product from W. Bids for sale of the product to the buyer have been received from five vendors, S, T, U, W, and X, wherein the bid from X is the lowest and the bid from W is the highest. The bracket labeled T illustrates how far above the bid from X an acceptable price from T may be based on the first extra percentage. Likewise, the bracket labeled S illustrates how far above the bid from X an acceptable price from S may be based on the second extra percentage, and the bracket labeled W illustrates how far above the bid from X an acceptable price from W may be based on the second extra percentage.

In this example, both the bid from T and the bid from S satisfy the criteria for a preferred result of the transaction. In one embodiment, the bid from S is presented as the winning bid. In an alternative embodiment, the bid from S and the bid from X are presented as the best results. In yet another alternative embodiment, the bids from X, S, and T are all presented to the buyer, and finally, in another alternative embodiment, all five bids are presented to the buyer.

As will be appreciated, a percentage as criteria for a preferred result may also be used in relation to the price of bids submitted by preferred vendors, as illustrated in Figure 6B. In Figure 6B, the same bids used in Figure 6 A are plotted, but the percentages are based on the bid price of the preferred vendor; so a first percentage of vendor T's price is used, a second percentage of vendor S's price is used, and a third percentage of vendor W's price is used. The brackets of Figure 6B illustrate both a percentage above and a percentage below the appropriate price, and the criteria for a preferred result will be satisfied if the lowest price of the bids falls within those brackets. As will be appreciated, when the buyer is receiving bids for a product to be bought, the lower end of the bracket is most suitable for determining fulfillment of the criteria for a preferred result. However, if some form of auction by a seller were occurring, the top half of the bracket may indicate that the seller would choose to sell to S for a lower bid price than that received from W, since W is at the end of the bracket for S. Such a choice may indicate a long-standing relationship with S or some sort of right-of-first-refusal held by S.

As previously described, a percentage is not the only means of indicating a tolerance for a different price from a preferred vendor or buyer. An offset, either a discount or a premium, may be used, in which case a buyer or seller would enter a number specifying how much more or less in actual currency the bid may be to meet the criteria of a preferred result. Additionally, in some embodiments, a tie-breaking method of awarding a sale to the first vendor to submit a winning bid is used, and specifying a willingness to pay 0% more for a product from a first vendor may ensure that if the first vendor offers to sell the product at the low price that it will be chosen even though another vendor offered the same low price first. It will be further appreciated that other criteria besides price may be used to indicate a preferred result. For example, features deemed desirable but not necessary in otherwise similar products may be used, either in conjunction with or instead of a preferred price. If the buyer is purchasing tickets for air travel, the buyer may specify non-stop flights, or flights through a desired stopover point as preferred results, without allowing for a higher price. Likewise, the buyer may specify any flight from San Francisco to New York for $300, but allow an extra 15% for a flight on a particular airline.

While embodiments have been described in which preferred result criteria have been used, it should be appreciated that the invention includes the use of unpreferred result criteria. For example, for an unpreferred vendor, buyer could enter a differential with which they would prefer a different vendor, such as allowing for an extra 15% for a flight which was not on a particular airline. It should be apparent that this result criteria concept also works for selecting slightly lower bids in a traditional (non-reverse) auction (e.g., a Dutch auction, a English auction, etc.) Thus, the invention works in any bidding system and the preferred result criteria for buyers, sellers, and/or both.

With reference to the prebid cycle system of Figure 3, preferred result criterias can be input as part of blocks 410, 435, 455 and 465, as well as part of buyer interactivity with preserved commitment during the real time bidding phase.

As previously described, pooling can also be done for lots. Buyer(s) may choose to buy multiple products and vendor(s) may choose to sell multiple products, such that a transaction involving a number of products, one or more buyers and one or more vendors occurs. In one embodiment, each buyer must be supplied from a single source (e.g., a manufacturer, a distributor, etc.), but each buyer is free to designate which manufacturer(s) are acceptable on a per product basis and/or to designate which vendors are acceptable. In another embodiment, a given buyer may have the same ability to designate, but may be supplied from multiple sources. In either instance, pooling the buyer's purchases with purchases of other buyers may create what is referred to as horizontal price pressure, where the quantity of a particular product purchased increases and thereby drives down the price per unit for that particular product. Likewise, when purchasing all products from the same vendor, vertical price pressure may be created in which case the amount of business the vendor gets from the buyer causes the vendor to discount all or portions of that business.

To describe embodiments of a system for trading by lots, the type of data and data structures used by certain exemplary embodiments are first described, followed by a description of how that data is collected and operated on.

Turning to Figure 7, one representation of an exemplary data structure for buyer and vendor pooling based on lots according to one embodiment of the invention is illustrated. This data structure stores a set of Buyers 1410. Associated with each of the buyers is a group of items (referred to as a lot) they are interested in purchasing. A lot is made up of different lot items. A lot item is a type of product (where one or more products may make up the class defined by a given lot item) or a specific product. Thus, each of the Buyers 1410 has associated with it a group of Lot Items 1420 that make up that Buyer's lot. (It should be understood that different buyers might express interests in different lot items).

Each item or Lot item is associated with a quantity interested by the buyer. As mentioned earlier, an item or Lot item can be a product type or a specific product.

The storage of a lot item for a given buyer can indicate that that buyer is interested in purchasing that lot item. Each Lot Item 1420 has associated with it one or more vendor product interest, each of which records information regarding that buyer's interest in purchasing a specific product that falls within the class defined by that lot item.

A vendor (e.g., a manufacturer, a distributor, etc) such as Vendor 1460 is offering a set of vendor products (Vendor Products 1470). The vendor enters bids for its products that qualify for a trade by bid brackets (Bid Brackets 1440). Each bid bracket is a separate grouping of bid values collected according to certain criteria as described below (e.g., amount of sale, quantity of goods, combination of specific products, etc.). Thus, a bid bracket stores bids (e.g., Lot Item Bids 1450) entered by the vendor for the different vendor products involved in the trade. It should be noted that a vendor need not bid on every product in the pool formed by the one or more buyers participating or bid on every item in the lot of each buyer. Rather, a vendor bids on what that vendor wishes to supply. However, in a system where each buyer must be supplied from a single source, if a vendor does not bid on all the items of a buyer's lot, that vendor will not be selected by the system as qualified to supply that buyer's lot. It should also be noted that in one embodiment of the system, although each buyer must be supplied by a single source, not every buyer must be supplied by the same single source

As will be further described later herein, to manage the products offered by the different Vendors, a product hierarchy can be used. In such a hierarchy, different product categories are defined to group specific products according to some relationship. In one embodiment of such a hierarchy, each Vendor Product 1470 may correspond to multiple Product Categories 1480, and each Product Category 1480 may include multiple Vendor Products 1470 (including products from different vendors).

While Figure 7 shows one exemplary data structure, it is understood that many different structures can be used to implement the invention. Furthermore, the structures described (e.g., the exemplary one in Figure 7) can be implemented using any type of programming environment (e.g., relational database, object-oriented database, Btree, flat file, etc.).

While simple definitions have been supplied above for items in Figure 7, further definitions are provided as follows. A buyer is a potential purchaser of one or more products in a trade or transaction.

A vendor is a potential seller in such a trade or transaction. A vendor may be a manufacturer or a distributor for example, and may sell products from multiple manufacturers or sources. However, all purchases by a buyer from a vendor in a transaction would preferably result in a single invoice. A distributor can provide a cost plus, a resell, and/or a value-added service.

A category is a set of products, typically with some sort of unifying feature or aspect, such as all AA size alkaline batteries or all batteries offered by a particular vendor.

A vendor product is a specific product manufactured by a specific source, supplied by a specific vendor, etc.

A vendor product interest stores the maximum price a buyer will pay for a specific product. Note that vendors may offer multiple products, and a vendor product interest will typically refer only to one such product. Note also that a vendor product interest may not be vendor specific so much as it may be product specific, referring to a particular product which may be supplied by more than one vendor. A lot item is associated with a set of vendor product interests with a quantity of the lot item desired. The lot item may also aggregate a set of vendor product interests in the same way a category does, so a lot item may be AA size alkaline batteries or AA size batteries for example. However, a lot item may be more flexibly defined, and typically will be defined in terms understood within a particular industry by both buyers and sellers. In one embodiment, a single vendor must supply the quantity of the lot item sought by the buyer - i.e., lot items are not broken up.

A lot is a union of lot items within a trade, and typically a lot will only include lot items having a common feature or theme such as a common application. However, depending on the implementation, lots are not so limited, and may include anything a buyer wishes to include, and may also be defined by what a vendor will include. A natural lot would be batteries, having lot items including AA size batteries, AAA size batteries, C size batteries, D size batteries, and 9V batteries. Another natural lot would be a flashlight and the batteries suitable for powering the flashlight, as the lot items (the flashlight and the batteries) are suitable for a common application, even though they may be manufactured by separate entities.

A bid bracket is associated with a set of lot item bids entered as a collection by a single vendor. A lot item bid is a per unit price for that product. A bid bracket includes a current gross sales value. For a given current bidding state as described below, the current gross sales is calculated by: 1) for each buyer assigned the bid bracket, for each vendor product interest of that assignment, multiply the buyer's maximum price by the buyer's quantity; and 2) sum the results. A bid bracket also includes a maximum and minimum gross sales values. These are values that define a target sales range. When the current gross sales is within the target sales range, the bid bracket is determined to be satisfied (e.g., there is sufficient business assigned to the bid bracket to meet the minimum requirements). Finally, the bid bracket includes a current sales value which is the actual amount of sales made by the vendor based on the buyer(s) currently assigned to the bid bracket. For a given current bidding state as described below, the current sales is calculated by: 1) for each buyer assigned the bid bracket, for each vendor product interest of that assignment, multiply the vendor's bid price by the buyer's quantity; and 2) sum the results. Figure 8 further illustrates a simple example of the data structure of Figure 7 according to one embodiment of the invention. The example of Figure 8 shows one buyer - Buyer 1510. Buyer 1510 has indicated an interest in Lot Item A and Lot Item B. Furthermore, Buyer 1510 has indicated that Vendor Product 1 and Vendor Product 2 would be suitable for Lot Item B, while Vendor Product 5 would not be suitable. Likewise, Buyer 1510 has indicated that Vendor Product 3 and Vendor Product 4 would be suitable for Lot Item A.

Figure 8 also shows three Vendors - Vendors 1 - 3. Vendor 1 is offering Vendor Product 1. Vendor 2 is offering Vendor Product 2, Vendor Product 3, and Vendor Product 4. Vendor 3 is offering Vendor Product 5. Since Vendor 3 is not selling a product acceptable to Buyer 1510, Vendor 3 will not participate.

As illustrated in the example of Figure 8, Vendor 2 is offering at least one product that falls into the classes defined by Lot Item A and Lot Item B. In contrast, Vendor 1 is offering a product that falls into the class defined by Lot Item B, but not one that falls into the class defined by Lot Item A. As such, in a system where a given buyer's lot must be satisfied from a single source, only Vendor 2 could satisfy Buyer 1510. However, in an implementation where a given buyer's lot can be satisfied from multiple sources, Vendor 1 may be involved.

It should be noted that Figure 8 illustrates a situation where none of the vendors is selling the same specific product (e.g., a product with the same SKU); This situation is common, but not limited to, when purchasing from manufacturers as opposed to distributors. However, the system is not limited to this situation. For example, different vendors (e.g., two distributors; a manufacturer and a distributor; etc.) may sell the same specific product. Embodiments of the invention can be implemented to handle this situation in any number of different ways. For example, one vendor product interest entry may be generated for a given buyer that identifies the specific product irrespective of vendor, while each vendor that offers that specific product can have a separate vendor product entry for that specific product. As another example, for the given buyer, multiple vendor product interest entries for the same specific product may be generated, one for each vendor.

Figure 8 also shows that Vendor 2 has entered two different bid brackets (Bid Bracket A and Bid Bracket B), while Vendor 1 has entered just Bid Bracket C. Bid Bracket A for Vendor 2 includes Vendor 2's bids for Vendor Product 4 and for Vendor Product 2, while Bid Bracket B includes Vendor 2's bids for Vendor Product 3 and Vendor Product 2. Thus, the example of Figure 8 shows that the criteria used in defining the different bid brackets includes different combinations of products. However, as described above, the criteria can be any number of things. For example, the criteria may additionally or separately be different prices based on the dollar value of the whole sale; as such, two different bid brackets may be made up of the same combination of products, but have different bid values for one or more of the products in the combination.

While Figure 8 shows a single buyer, it is understood that at least certain embodiments of the invention support the pooling of buyers. In these implementations, there would be multiple buyer structures and the same bid brackets would be applied to those structures. For example, assume that there is a second buyer who is interested in Lot Item B, but not Lot Item A. In addition, that buyer will accept either vendor products 1 or 2. As such, Vendors 1 or 2 using Bid Brackets A, B, or C could satisfy this buyer.

It should be understood from the above that any combination of lot items can form a lot. To provide some examples, Lot Item A and Lot Item B could be respectively AA and AAA batteries. As such, the vendor product interest for Lot Item A would be specific AA batteries. As a second example, Lot Item A and Lot Item B could be respectively tongue depressors and AAA batteries. In this second example, Lot Item A is somewhat unrelated to Lot Item B. It should be noted that there is a give and take depending on the relationship of the lot items in a lot - the more unrelated the lot items in a lot are allowed to be, the greater the number of lot items that can be part of the lot, and thus, the greater the leverage due to the larger potential sale vs. the more related the lot items in a lot are required to be, the less the number of lot items that can be part of the lot, but the more vendors who will likely be competing because more vendors will qualify as single source suppliers for a buyer's lot.

Another example of a possible combination of lot items provided below and related to the concept of disposables above is also illustrative; assume that the a buyer is interested in a particular quantity of flashlights and batteries for those flashlights. The buyer may get involved in a single product type pool for the flashlights and enter the batteries as a disposable (see above). In this case, the batteries are a condition on the bid, but the buyer is not agreeing to purchase the batteries. Instead, the vendor is agreeing that if and when (with whatever restrictions the parties agree to) the buyer comes to the vendor for batteries, the price is established (again, according to whatever agreement the parties agreed to). In contrast to treating the batteries as a disposable to a single product type trade of the flashlights, the buyer could join a lot trade where the lot includes the flashlights (e.g., Lot Item A) and the batteries for the flashlights (e.g., Lot Item B). In this situation, the buyer is agreeing to purchase the specified number of batteries.

Having described exemplary data and data structures used by exemplary embodiments of the invention, a description of how certain exemplary embodiments collect and operate on that data is now provided. The information that would be stored in the above-described data structure for a lot trade can be collected using any number of techniques. For example, the information could be collected using a mechanism similar to that described earlier with reference to Figure 3 for buyer/vendor pooling or using a mechanism without a prebid cycle (e.g., see Figures 9, 10A, 10B and 11 of this document which are Figures 3, 4A, 4B and 6A from the material incorporated by reference; with the exception that block 970 has been modified to make it similar to block 370 from Figure 3 of this document so as to illustrate the incorporation of buyer interactivity with preserved commitment).

For a single product type trade, block 310 is expanded on in Figure 4A. With reference to Figure 4A, certain changes would be made to support a lot trade. For example, in block 410 the information on a lot item would be entered. In addition, with respect to block 435, products of the lot item type would be selected rather than products of the product type. Also, a decision block would be added between block 440 and 445. In this decision block, control would pass back up to block 410 in those situations where additional lot items were to be added to the current buyer lot. As described with reference to Figure 3, the intermediary server 12 could perform block 310.

Different embodiments can support any number of different techniques for defining and controlling the lots. For example, a lot could be limited to the lot items selected during the request for trade (block 310). Alternatively, different buyers joining the trade could be allowed to add whatever lot items they choose or according to criteria. For example, such criteria could be that only items can be added that are supplied by the same vendors that supply the existing lot items in the lot. As another example, such criteria could be that only items can be added that are at or below a certain level or node of the product hierarchy.

With reference to Figure 4B, the blocks would be changed in a manner similar to Figure 4A. However, Figure 4B would be modified to allow the new buyer to cycle through the existing lot items in the lot, and if supported, add new lot items.

Referring to blocks 335 and 330 of Figure 3, the combined request for quotes are generated. For a single product type trade, Figure 12 shows an exemplary technique for generating a combined request for quote according to one embodiment of the invention. In Figure 12, basically the different buyer requests are combined into a single "virtual buyer." Based on the criteria of the buyer(s) and seller(s), each vendor's pool quantity is determined (that portion of the combined request for proposal that a given seller is qualified to bid on). In addition, subpool profiles are generated for each seller based on characteristics.

Comparing a single product type trade to a lot trade, the different buyer lots are combined into a single "virtual buyer." Based on criteria of the buyer(s) and seller(s), each vendor's lot is determined (the portion of the combined request for proposal that the seller is qualified to bid on; thus, this can be composed of one or more of the buyer's lots). For example, assuming a system where each buyer must be supplied by a single source, a check is made for each vendor for "vendor compatibility" (that a given vendor can supply all the lot items selected by the buyer and that there is product compatibility - Product compatibility is the determination that the vendor's products are acceptable to the buyer based on the vendor product interest information previously entered by the buyer.) For vendors that are determined to be compatible to a given buyer, certain embodiments generate subpool profiles in a similar manner described above; with certain embodiments handling the characteristics in different ways. For example, the timing characteristic could be on a per lot item basis, or on an entire buyer lot basis.

It should be noted that the above check (as well as the auto exclusion checks) is considered to be a static check in the sense that it occurs before the real time bidding. This is in contrast to a dynamic check for vendor compatibility that is performed during the real time bidding. Such a dynamic check is performed in embodiments that allow a given vendor to discontinue a bid on a given vendor product. Referring to block 340 of Figure 3, the prebid vendor pooling phase is performed. For a single product type trade, block 340 is expanded on in Figure 5A. Again Figure 5A would be modified to support a lot trade. Particularly, each vendor could cycle through the lot items in their vendor lot and create different bid brackets as pricing tiers. For example, the vendor could enter the bid for each vendor product for a given bid bracket to populate the Lot Item Bids 1450, as well as enter the min and max gross sales for the bid bracket (see Bid Bracket 1440). As another example, a vendor could have entered a base price for different vendor products. This vendor could indicate that it wanted multiple tiers, designating successive min/max gross sales values for the tiers (i.e., a first tier is from $0-$X, a second tier is from $X-$Y, etc.). The vendor could also adjust the base prices for the different tiers. For example, assuming an embodiment in which the base prices are the default lot item bids, a vendor could be allowed to adjust a given bid bracket by adjusting the total bid on the whole vendor pool (e.g., by entering a percentage discount off the base prices - this is effected by discounting each lot item bid by the percentage); adjust the bid on a line item basis (e.g., by entering a percentage discount for each lot item); adjust the bid for a group of line items (e.g., by entering a percentage discount off the base prices) and individually for others (e.g., by entering a percentage discount for each lot item, entering a new line item bid value, etc.); etc.

In addition, block 345 would be modified to allow buyers to specifically include for the lot trade. Any number of different techniques can be used to process the real time bidding for a lot trade. These techniques will attempt to match vendors to buyers according to the criteria entered by the buyers and vendors, as well as according to the criteria chosen for the technique. For example, the criteria chosen for the technique could be to maximize the savings of the buyers (e.g., the overall lowest, the most buyers' lowest, etc.). In addition, even assuming these criteria, any number of different ways of processing based on these criteria are possible. While there are a number of different techniques within the scope of the invention, several exemplary techniques are described below for purposes of illustration.

Figures 13A-C are flow diagrams illustrating an exemplary technique for performing block 350 of Figure 3. While the flow diagrams of Figures 20A-C are for performing a lot trade, it is understood that the same flow will work for a single specific product type trade. However, flows can be used (e.g., see documents incorporated by reference). At any given time, each buyer has a status of "unassigned", "assigned", "satisfied", or "unsatisfied." At the completion of each bidding state, each buyer has a status of either "satisfied" or "unsatisfied". However, during the bidding state, each buyer may also have a status of "assigned" or "unassigned", where "assigned" means the buyer is temporarily assigned to one of the preferred bid brackets associated with that buyer.

Initially, the buyers are given the status of "unassigned" ~ they are not assigned to any bid brackets from the vendors. (It should be understood the buyer's status of "unassigned" may be changed during the bidding state to "assigned", "satisfied" or "unsatisfied"). In one embodiment, based on each buyer's lot, the qualifying bid brackets are associated with that buyer. For example, all vendors that supply all of the lot items for a buyer and have not been specifically excluded by them are qualified, and their respective bid brackets are associated to that buyer.

Referring to Figure 13A, at block 2002, the current bidding state is initialized. The buyers are given the initial status of "unassigned". (The "unassigned" buyers are those that are not yet "assigned", "satisfied" or "unsatisfied"). The buyers in the transaction are sorted, in one embodiment, in the order that the buyer enters the transaction. Furthermore, the preferred bid brackets for each buyer are determined. First, a determination of which bid brackets are available is made by eliminating those bid brackets corresponding to vendors not compatible with the buyer (vendor compatibility), and then by eliminating those bid brackets based on "bid bracket compatibility" (a bid bracket is bid bracket compatible when one or more of its lot item bids match a buyer's designated vendor product interest; and in implementations that require each buyer be supplied by a single source, the bid bracket must include a lot item bid that matches a buyer's designated vendor product interest for each lot item). The surviving bid brackets are ordered according to some criteria and marked as "untried".

In one embodiment the criteria for ordering this surviving bid brackets is the bid bracket with the lowest price for the entire lot. Note that the bid brackets are viewed from each buyer's prospective. Thus, where the preferred brackets are sorted by the lowest price first, a lowest price bid bracket for Buyer 1 may not be the same as a lowest price bid bracket for Buyer 2. In certain of the implementations in which the criteria for ordering the bid bracket is the lowest price for the overall lot, any preferred result criteria are factored in prior to determining the prices for the lots based on the bid brackets. In particular, in one embodiment, each buyer can enter as a preferred result criteria a price differential for each vendor. This price differential indicates the buyer's willingness to pay more for the lot if it is supplied by a given vendor. In particular, assume a give buyer has entered a 5% price differential for a given vendor. The price of the buyer's lot would be calculated based upon a bid bracket of that vendor. Then, this price for the overall lot calculated for that buyer would be discounted by the percentage. It would be this discounted price that is used when sorting the surviving bid brackets. As other examples, the criteria to sort the surviving bid brackets could include the lowest price for the Lot Item the buyer has selected, an order of preference, a volume basis (e.g., order based on highest volume vendor from past trades), etc. An order of preference would exist in embodiments where a buyer can put some type of order of preference to the vendor product interests 1430, the Vendors 1460, etc. For example, where the vendor product interests are rated, application of a given bid bracket would include generating a rating for the bid bracket from the individual vendor product interest ratings (e.g., a weighted average based on price, a weighted average based on quantity, etc.). A form of order of preference could be preferred result criteria. Of course any number of different tie breaking mechanisms could be used.

At block 2003, a next unassigned buyer is selected according to the sorted order for the buyers. At block 2009, a determination is made as to whether any untried preferred bid brackets are available. If there is not any untried preferred bid brackets available, the buyer is given the status "unsatisfied" per block 2024 which leads to block 2021. An "unsatisfied" buyer is a buyer whose lot can not yet be satisfied by any of the bid brackets in the current bidding state. For example, in one embodiment, a buyer does not have a compatible bid bracket when none of the bidding vendors alone can satisfy all of the lot items requested by the buyer. In another example, a buyer does not have a compatible bid bracket when the buyer only wants to deal with either vendor 1 or vendor 2 alone, but neither vendor 1 nor vendor 2 can alone supply all the lot items requested by the buyer, even though there is a vendor 3 that can. Still in another example, a buyer does not have a compatible bid bracket when the maximum price the buyer is willing to pay for the lot can not be satisfied by any vendors. In one embodiment, the unsatisfied buyer is not considered again until the next bidding state.

Referring to block 2009, if one or more untried preferred brackets are available, the next available untried preferred bid bracket is selected at block 2012. The preferred bid brackets are sorted according to order of lowest bid bracket price first, as previously discussed. The selected bid bracket is marked as tried. At block 2015, a determination is made to see if the bid bracket can satisfy the buyer's demand. For example, the quantity demanded by the buyer may be more than the quantity that can be provided by the vendor associated with that particular bid bracket. When the buyer's demand can not be satisfied, the bid bracket fails and the process loops back to block 2009 to try the next untried preferred bid bracket for this buyer. In one embodiment, when a bid bracket fails to satisfy this buyer's demand, that bid bracket may not be considered again for this buyer.

Referring to block 2015, when the buyer's demand can be satisfied by the bid bracket, the buyer is assigned to that bid bracket, as shown in block 2018. The buyer's status is accordingly changed from "unassigned" to "assigned". In block 2021, a determination is made to see if there are any "unassigned" buyers that have at least one untried bid bracket. If there are more "unassigned" buyers who have at least one untried bid bracket, control passes back to block 2003 and the next "unassigned" buyer in the order is selected. Otherwise, the process flows to block 2027, which leads to block 2033 of Figure 13B. At the completion of the process flow of Figure 13 A, the status of each buyer in the current loop iteration is either "assigned" or "unsatisfied".

Having optimistically assigned the buyers, the system checks if the assignment satisfy the buyers and the vendors, and attempts to reassign buyers as necessary, as shown in Figure 13B. In one embodiment, when the buyer is in a bid bracket that can satisfy the buyer's demand quantity, the buyer remains in that bid bracket during the current bidding state. Furthermore, if the buyers assigned to the bid bracket have enough supporting quantity to satisfy the bid bracket (e.g., the sales is in range), the buyers are considered satisfied. Accordingly, the status of the buyers is changed from "assigned" to "satisfied". In one embodiment, the buyer or buyers assigned to a bid bracket that is already satisfied are not pulled out of that satisfied bid bracket for the rest of the bidding process. When the buyers assigned to the bid bracket do not have enough supporting quantity to satisfy the bid bracket (e.g., sales is not in range), the system will try to find other buyers to help increase the supporting quantity to bring the volume in range. In one embodiment, the system finds other buyers currently assigned to bid brackets that do not have sufficient supporting demand and attempt to reassign them. In this embodiment, the reassignment is done by considering each buyer in the reverse order (e.g. latest) of the buyer joining the transaction, as shown in Figure 13B. In another embodiment, the reassignment can be done from the earliest buyer joining the transaction. Other embodiments of reassignment of buyers may also be implemented.

By way of example, the process flow of Figure 13B evaluates for each "assigned" buyer the bid bracket the buyer is assigned to. Initially, at block 2036, an "assigned" buyer is selected as Buyer 1 according to the order criteria. Furthermore, all "assigned" and "unsatisfied" buyers are marked as unchecked. At block 2039, a determination is made to see if the bid bracket assigned to Buyer 1 is a satisfied bid bracket (e.g. sales of bid bracket is in range). If Buyer l 's bid bracket is a satisfied bid bracket, the process flows to block 2063 where the next "assigned" Buyer 1 is selected. If Buyerl's bid bracket is not satisfied, the process flows to block 2040.

At block 2040, a determination is made to see if there are any unchecked (assigned and unsatisfied) buyers remaining. If so, the process continues with the next unchecked buyers at block 2042. However, if there are no more unchecked buyers, the process flows from block 2040 to block 2060. The reassignment at this point is unable to produce a satisfied bid bracket, and all the buyers reassigned in block 2048 in this iteration are moved back to the bid brackets from which it was reassigned, as shown at block 2060.

Referring to block 2042, starting from the last buyer in the order criteria (i.e., in reverse order), the next unchecked buyer (e.g. Buyer 2) is selected for examination. These buyers are considered "unchecked" because they have not been examined for reassignment into the bid bracket currently being considered (i.e., Buyer 1 's bid bracket). This same Buyer 2 could be considered for reassignment later to a different bid bracket if this reassignment fails. As discussed previously, since the buyers are currently "assigned", they are not "satisfied", "unsatisfied", or "unassigned". At block 2045, if Buyer 2 is already in the same bid bracket as Buyer 1 , Buyer 2 is not removed from the bid bracket currently assigned to Buyer 2. If Buyer 2 is currently in a satisfied bid bracket, then Buyer 2 is not removed from that satisfied bid bracket, as shown at block 1846. If Buyer l 's bid bracket can not accommodate Buyer 2's demand, Buyer 2 is also not removed from Buyer 2's currently assigned bid bracket, as shown at block 2047 (in other words, if Buyer l 's bid bracket is one of the next untried preferred bid brackets for Buyer 2 in the bid bracket order (see block 2006 of Figure 13A), but Buyer 1 's bid bracket can not support Buyer 2's demand, in addition to the demand of the other buyers already assigned to Buyer l's bid bracket, then Buyer 2 is not moved from its currently assigned bid bracket).

If, after the execution of blocks 2045, 2046, and 2047, Buyer 2 is to be removed from Buyer 2's currently assigned bid bracket, then Buyer 2 is reassigned to Buyer 1 's bid bracket, as shown at block 2048. Whether Buyer 2 remains in the same bid bracket or gets reassigned to Buyer 1 's bid bracket, Buyer 2 is considered checked, as shown at block 2051. From block 2051 , the process flows to block 2039 where a determination is made to see if the Buyer l's bid bracket is satisfied (sales in range). As discussed previously, if Buyer l 's bid bracket is satisfied, the process flows to block 2063 to select another "assigned" Buyer 1, if any. If Buyer 1 's bid bracket is not satisfied, then the process flows to block 2040.

At block 2063, it is determined whether there are any assigned buyers remaining that have not been processed. If so, the process moves to block 2036 where the next assigned buyer according to the order criteria is selected and where all remaining assigned buyers are marked as unchecked. The process of Figure 13B continues until all the assigned buyers in the order criteria are processed. When there are no more assigned buyer in the order, as determined at block 2063, the process flows to block 2066, which leads to block 2069 of Figure 13C.

After the process of reassigning the buyers, some buyers may still be in bid brackets that are not satisfied, but these buyers could be satisfied by other of their preferred bid brackets, if any. These buyers are unassigned from their currently assigned bid brackets. In one embodiment, the bid bracket that the buyer is unassigned from is no longer considered as a preferred bid bracket for the buyer during the current bidding state. When the process flows to block 2069 of Figure 13C, if there are no buyers with the "assigned" status, the process flows to block 360 of Figure 3 with the buyers having the status of either "satisfied" or "unsatisfied". However, if there are "assigned" buyers as determined at block 2069, then the next "assigned" buyer is selected according to the order criteria. At block 2072, a determination is made to see if the sales of the bid racket that the selected buyer is currently assigned to is in range. If the sales for the bid bracket is in range, then the status of the buyer is changed from "assigned" to "satisfied", as shown in block 2090. In one embodiment, the "satisfied" buyer is removed from the bidding process. At block 2093, the status of the selected buyer is changed from "assigned" to "unassigned". This allows the buyer to be assigned to the buyer's next preferred bid bracket, if any. In one embodiment, the bid bracket is removed from the selected buyer's preferred bid brackets.

At block 2096, it is determined if there are more "assigned" buyers. If there are more "assigned" buyers, the process flows to block 2069. Otherwise, the process flows to block 2097 where a determination is made to see if there are more "unassigned" buyers. If there are "unassigned" buyers, the process proceeds to block 2098 which leads back to block 2003 of Figure 13 A where each "unassigned" buyer is assigned to the "unassigned" buyer's next available preferred bid bracket, if any. Otherwise, the current bidding state is done. The process flow exits Figure 13C and proceeds to block 360 of Figure 3. At this point, a final value for the current sales of the different bid brackets can be calculated for the current bidding state.

While the above is described with several exemplary techniques for determining the current bidding state, another example takes a simpler approach. With respect to Figure 8, this approach includes comparing the prices in Vendor Product Interest 4 to Product Bid 4, Vendor Product Interest 3 to Product Bid 3, Vendor Product Interest 2 to Product Bid 2, and if appropriate Vendor Product Interest 1 to Product Bid 1 to determine which bids are the lowest. In one embodiment, the lowest bid for each individual product is the winning bid, and assignments to Bid Brackets are made based on which bracket contains all of the winning bids. In an alternative embodiment, assignments to Bid Brackets are made based on the lowest total for the Lot, rather than the lowest individual bids, such that a Bid Bracket may result-in a higher price for a lot item but a lower price for the lot as a whole, and thereby be assigned as the winning bid. At this point, referring to Figure 3, block 350 is completed and blocks 360 and 370 are reached. In block 370, it is contemplated that new bids and/or buyer updates can be entered. In a lot trade, embodiments can allow a vendor to enter new bids and/or modify old bids in any number of ways. Of particular interest to a vendor is likely to be the current sales values for their bid brackets. For example, a vendor could be allowed to adjust a given bid bracket by adjusting the total bid on the whole vendor pool (e.g., by entering a percentage discount off the last bids/the current sales - this is affected by discounting each lot item bid by the percentage); adjust the bid on a line item basis (e.g., by entering a percentage discount for each lot item, entering a new line item bid value, etc.); adjust the bid for a group of line items (e.g., by entering a percentage discount off the last bids) and individually for others (e.g., by entering a percentage discount for each lot item, entering a new line item bid value, etc.); etc. Furthermore, when using multiple bid brackets that are distinguished in part based on volume of sales, a vendor can adjust the different bid brackets accordingly to provide different discounts for the different volumes of sales (e.g., if a first and second bid brackets are used in which the min and max gross sales are respectively $0-$X and $X-$Y, a vendor can provide a higher discount for the larger volume sales required by the second bid bracket as compared to the discount on the lower volume sales of the first bid bracket.).

Of course, the various alternative embodiments described with reference to Figure 3 can equally apply to the lot trading system. While the lot trading is described with reference to a system that employs a prebid cycle and buyer interactivity with preserved commitment, it is understood that lot trading can be employed on systems that provide either or (see Figures 9-11). In addition, while the lot trading system is described with several exemplary embodiments, it would be apparent to one skilled in the art that the lot trading system can also be applied to various trading schemes or auction schemes such as, for example, the traditional auction trading scheme as implemented by Ebay and the reverse auction trading scheme as implemented by Priceline.com.

Thus, there are numerous inventions disclosed some of which can be implemented independent of each other. Whereas many alterations and modifications of the present inventions will no doubt become apparent to a person of ordinary skill in the art after having read the foregoing description, it is to be understood that any particular embodiment shown and described by way of illustration is in no way intended to be considered limiting. Therefore, references to details of various embodiments are not intended to limit the scope of the claims which in themselves recite only those features regarded as essential to the inventions.

Claims

CLAIMSWhat is claimed is:
1. A computer implemented method comprising: during a first time period requiring each of a set of one or more buyers to commit to purchase a quantity of business if a price is met by a set of vendors chosen by that buyer from a plurality of vendors; during a second time period when bids to supply can be submitted by the vendors, allowing each of said set of buyers to increase but not decrease said quantity, said price, and the vendors in their said set of vendors up to said plurality of vendors irrespective of a relationship between the set of buyers; and during a third time period, matching each buyer in said set of buyers to one of the vendors in their said set of vendors that met said price if any.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein said business sought by a first of said set of buyers is a plurality of lot items forming a lot.
3. The method of claim 2, wherein bids for the business of the first buyer must be to supply the entire lot.
4. The method of claim 1 , wherein the business sought by each of said set of buyers is the same single specific product.
5. The method of claim 1 , wherein the business of the set of buyers represents a type of product, wherein each of the plurality of vendors offers for sale a product of that product type.
6. The method of claim 1, wherein the set of vendors is different for different ones of the set of buyers.
7. The method of claim 6, wherein a first and second of the set of buyers have one vendor in their set of vendors that is the same.
8. The method of claim 1 , wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said quantity beyond a limit determined relative to said quantity initially committed.
9. The method of claim 1 , wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said price beyond a limit determined relative to said price initially committed.
10. A computer implemented method comprising: during a first time period receiving from each of a set of one or more buyers an indication of acceptable vendors, a price, and a buyer purchase interest indicating a commitment to purchase a quantity of business if said price is met by one or more of the acceptable vendors; during a second time period when different bids to supply can be submitted by the acceptable vendors performing the following, periodically matching each of said buyers to one of their acceptable vendors whose current bid meets the price for that buyer, periodically transmitting to each of said vendors how much business that vendor is currently winning, periodically transmitting to each buyer status information; accepting from one or more of said buyers input indicating one of an increase but not a decrease in their said quantity, an increase but not a decrease in their said price, and an additional acceptable vendor with a price differential for that vendor; and during a third time period matching each of said buyers to one of their acceptable vendors that met said price if any.
11. The method of claim 10, wherein said business sought by a first of said set of buyers is a plurality of lot items forming a lot.
12. The method of claim 11, wherein bids for the business of the first buyer must be to supply the entire lot.
13. The method of claim 10, wherein the business sought by each of said set of buyers is the same single specific product.
14. The method of claim 10, wherein the business of the set of buyers represents a type of product, wherein each of the plurality of vendors offers for sale a product of that product type.
15. The method of claim 10, wherein the set of vendors is different for different ones of the set of buyers.
16. The method of claim 10, wherein each of said buyers cannot increase their said quantity beyond a limit determined relative to said quantity initially committed.
17. The method of claim 10, wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said price beyond a limit determined relative to said price initially committed.
18. A computer implemented method comprising: providing a plurality of buyers with a list containing one or more products and a plurality of vendors; receiving a request for quote from each of said plurality of buyers, wherein different ones of said request for quotes identify different ones of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable to supply that buyer, wherein each request for quote commits that buyer to purchase a quantity of business if a price is met by one of the plurality of vendors identified by that request for quote; for each of the plurality of vendors identified in the request for quotes, performing the following: aggregating the one or more request for quotes that identify that vendor as being acceptable, the aggregated request for quote forming a vendor pool representing the potential business for that vendor, and transmitting the vendor pool to that vendor; and during a first time period, during which the vendors can submit bids for their vendor pool, performing the following, accepting from one or more of said buyers input, each said input indicating one of an increase but not a decrease in their said quantity, an increase but not a decrease in their said price, and an additional acceptable vendor with a price differential for that vendor; and updating the vendor pools accordingly, and transmitting any updates to the vendor pools to their respective vendors.
19. The method of claim 18, wherein the vendor pools do not indicate the identity of the plurality of buyers.
20. The method of claim 18, wherein the vendors submit said bids without knowing the buyers in their vendor pool or their updated vendor pool.
21. The method of claim 20, wherein during said first time period also: matching said request for quotes with said bids irrespective of a relationship between said plurality of buyers.
22. The method of claim 18, wherein the buyers operate irrespective of a relationship between them.
23. The method of claim 18, wherein the vendors provide the bids without knowing the price specified by each buyer in the vendor pool.
24. The method of claim 23, wherein the vendor pools received by the vendors indicate a range within which the prices fall.
25. The method of claim 18, further comprising; receiving a bid from a first vendor, wherein the vendor pool for the first vendor and the vendor pool of a second vendor both include a first and second of said request for quotes; associating the first and second of said request for quotes with the first vendor based on the bid received from the first vendor; subsequently receiving a bid from the second vendor; and re-associating the first request for quote but not the second request for quote from the first vendor to the second vendor based on said bid received from said second vendor.
26. The method of claim 18, wherein during said first time period also: periodically attempting to match each of the request for quotes to one of the vendors based on the current bids.
27. The method of claim 26, wherein said first time period is divided into predetermined separate time periods during which the bids can be submitted by the vendors, and wherein said attempts to match are performed in-between said separate time periods.
28. The method of claim 18, wherein different ones of said request for quotes identify different ones of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable to supply that buyer, and wherein at least one of said plurality of vendors is identified by more than one of said request for quotes.
29. The method of claim 18, wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said quantity beyond a limit determined relative to said quantity initially committed.
30. The method of claim 18, wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said price beyond a limit determined relative to said price initially committed.
31. A computer implemented method comprising: providing a buyer with a list containing one or more products and a plurality of vendors; receiving from said buyer a request for quote identifying a quantity of business and a first selection of vendors; determining from said first selection of vendors a set of said plurality of vendors; accepting bids from the set of vendors; transmitting the bids of the set of vendors to that buyer; receiving from said buyer an update indicating a second selection of vendors based on the bids; determining from said second selection of vendors that said buyer finds a subset of the set of vendors are acceptable to supply said quantity of business, said update forming an updated request for quote; and accepting over a first time period different bids from the acceptable vendors; and periodically attempting during said first time period to match the updated request for quote to one of the acceptable vendors based on the current bids.
32. The method of claim 31, wherein said first selection of vendors identifies a first of said plurality of vendors as acceptable, wherein said second selection of vendors cannot prevent said first vendor from being included in said subset.
33. The method of claim 31 , wherein said first selection of vendors respectively identifies a first and second of said plurality of vendors as acceptable and potential, wherein said buyer is obligated to keep said first vendor but not said second vendor in said subset.
34. The method of claim 31, wherein the first selection of vendors identifies which of said plurality of vendors that buyer did not manually designate as excluded, and wherein the second selection of vendors identifies which of said plurality of vendors that buyer manually designated as included.
35. The method of claim 34, wherein said first selection of vendors indicates that a first and second of said plurality of vendors were not manually designated as excluded; and wherein the second selection of vendors indicates that the first vendor was manually designated as included but not that the second vendor was manually designated as included.
36. The method of claim 31 , wherein the vendors submit said bids without knowing the identify of the buyer.
37. The method of claim 31 , wherein said request for quote includes a maximum price, wherein said buyer is obligated to purchase the quantity of business identified in the request for quote if the price in the request for quote is met by a bid from a vendor identified as acceptable.
38. The method of claim 37, wherein said first selection of vendors identifies a first of said plurality of vendors as acceptable, wherein said second selection of vendors cannot prevent said first vendor from being included in said subset.
39. The method of claim 37, wherein said first selection of vendors respectively identifies a first and second of said plurality of vendors as acceptable and potential, wherein said buyer is obligated to keep said first vendor but not said second vendor in said subset.
40. The method of claim 37, wherein the vendors provide the bids without knowing the maximum price specified by the buyer.
41. The method of claim 40, wherein the vendors receive a range within which the maximum price falls.
42. The method of claim 37, wherein during said first time period: allowing said buyer to increase but not decrease their commitment.
43. The method of claim 37, wherein during said first time period: allowing said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease the price.
44. The method of claim 37, wherein during said first time period: allowing said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease the quantity.
45. The method of claim 31 , wherein said first time period is divided into predetermined separate time periods during which the bids can be submitted by the vendors, and wherein said attempts to match are performed in-between said separate time periods.
46. The method of claim 31, wherein during said first time period : allowing said buyer to identity additional ones of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable.
47. The method of claim 46, wherein during said first time period: allowing said buyer to associate a price differential with any added ones of said plurality of vendors.
48. A computer implemented method comprising: providing a plurality of buyers with a list containing one or more products and a plurality of vendors; receiving a request for quote from each of said plurality of buyers, each of said request for quote identifying a first selection of vendors for that buyer; for each said request for quote, determining from said first selection of vendors a set of said plurality of vendors; for each of the plurality of vendors identified by one of said sets of vendors, performing the following: aggregating the one or more request for quotes whose set of vendors includes that vendor, the aggregated request for quote forming a vendor pool representing the potential business for that vendor, and transmitting the vendor pool to that vendor; receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective vendor pool; to each of said plurality of buyers, transmitting the applicable bids; receiving from each of the buyers an update indicating a second selection of vendors, each update forming an updated request for quote from that buyer; for each of said updated request for quote, determining from said second selection of vendors a subset of the set of vendors are acceptable to supply said quantity of business; updating the vendor pools according to the updated request for quote to form updated vendor pools; transmitting the updated vendor pools to their respective vendors; and receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool.
49. The method of claim 48, wherein each of said buyers must designate one of said plurality of vendors as acceptable in said request for quote and that vendor is automatically included in their said subset.
50. The method of claim 49, wherein each of said buyers can designate others of said plurality of vendors as potential in said request for quote and potential vendors are not automatically included in their said subset.
51. The method of claim 48, wherein each of the first selection of vendors identifies which of said plurality of vendors that buyer did not manually designate as excluded, and wherein each of the second selection of vendors identify which of said plurality of vendors that buyer manually designated as included.
52. The method of claim 51 , wherein a first of said first selection of vendors indicates that a first and second of said plurality of vendors were not manually designated as excluded; and wherein the corresponding second selection of vendors indicates that the first vendor was manually designated as included but not that the second vendor was manually designated as included.
53. The method of claim 48, wherein the vendors submit said bids without knowing the buyers in their vendor pool or their updated vendor pool.
54. The method of claim 48, further comprising: matching said updated request for quotes with said bids irrespective of a relationship between said plurality of buyers.
55. The method of claim 48, wherein each of said request for quote includes a quantity and a maximum price, wherein each of the plurality of buyers is obligated to purchase the quantity of business identified in their request for quote if the price in their request for quote is met by a bid from a vendor identified as acceptable.
56. The method of claim 55, wherein each of said buyers must designate one of said plurality of vendors as acceptable in said request for quote and that vendor is automatically included in their said subset.
57. The method of claim 56, wherein each of said buyers can designate others of said plurality of vendors as potential in said request for quote and potential vendors are not automatically included in their said subset.
58. The method of claim 56, wherein the vendors provide the bids without knowing the maximum price specified by each buyer in their vendor pool and updated vendor pool.
59. The method of claim 58, wherein the vendor pools received by the vendors indicate a range within which the maximum prices fall.
60. The method of claim 48, wherein the buyers operate irrespective of a relationship between them.
61. The method of claim 48, wherein said receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool further comprises: receiving over a first time period different bids from the vendors; and periodically attempting during said first time period to match each of the updated request for quotes to one of the vendors based on the current bids.
62. The method of claim 61 , wherein said first time period is divided into predetermined separate time periods during which the bids can be submitted by the vendors, and wherein said attempts to match are performed in-between said separate time periods.
63. The method of claim 61 , wherein each of said request for quote includes a quantity and a maximum price, wherein each of the plurality of buyers is committed to purchase the quantity of business identified in their request for quote if the price in their request for quote is met by a bid from a vendor identified as acceptable.
64. The method of claim 63, wherein during said first time period allowing said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease their commitment.
65. The method of claim 63, wherein said receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool further comprises: allowing, during said first time period, those of said plurality of buyers, who did not identify all of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable, to identity additional ones of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable.
66. The method of claim 65, wherein said allowing further includes: allowing each buyer who identified another of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable to enter a price differential for that vendor.
67. The method of claim 63, wherein said receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool further comprises: allowing, during said first time period, said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease the price in their updated request for quote.
68. The method of claim 63, wherein said receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool further comprises: allowing, during said first time period, said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease the quantity in their updated request for quote.
69. The method of claim 48, wherein different ones of said subsets include different ones of said plurality of vendors, and wherein at least one of said plurality of vendors is identified by more than one of said subsets.
70. An apparatus comprising a machine readable medium containing instructions which, when executed by a machine, cause the machine to perform operations comprising: during a first time period requiring each of a set of one or more buyers to commit to purchase a quantity of business if a price is met by a set of vendors chosen by that buyer from a plurality of vendors; during a second time period when bids to supply can be submitted by the vendors, allowing each of said set of buyers to increase but not decrease said quantity, said price, and the vendors in their said set of vendors up to said plurality of vendors irrespective of a relationship between the set of buyers; and during a third time period, matching each buyer in said set of buyers to one of the vendors in their said set of vendors that met said price if any.
71. The machine-readable medium of claim 70, wherein said business sought by a first of said set of buyers is a plurality of lot items forming a lot.
72. The machine-readable medium of claim 71 , wherein bids for the business of the first buyer must be to supply the entire lot.
73. The machine-readable medium of claim 70, wherein the business sought by each of said set of buyers is the same single specific product.
74. The machine-readable medium of claim 70, wherein the business of the set of buyers represents a type of product, wherein each of the plurality of vendors offers for sale a product of that product type.
75. The machine-readable medium of claim 70, wherein the set of vendors is different for different ones of the set of buyers.
76. The machine-readable medium of claim 75, wherein a first and second of the set of buyers have one vendor in their set of vendors that is the same.
77. The machine-readable medium of claim 70, wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said quantity beyond a limit determined relative to said quantity initially committed.
78. The machine-readable medium of claim 70, wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said price beyond a limit determined relative to said price initially committed.
79. An apparatus comprising a machine readable medium containing instructions which, when executed by a machine, cause the machine to perform operations comprising: during a first time period receiving from each of a set of one or more buyers an indication of acceptable vendors, a price, and a buyer purchase interest indicating a commitment to purchase a quantity of business if said price is met by one or more of the acceptable vendors; during a second time period when different bids to supply can be submitted by the acceptable vendors performing the following, periodically matching each of said buyers to one of their acceptable vendors whose current bid meets the price for that buyer, periodically transmitting to each of said vendors how much business that vendor is currently winning, periodically transmitting to each buyer status information; accepting from one or more of said buyers input indicating one of an increase but not a decrease in their said quantity, an increase but not a decrease in their said price, and an additional acceptable vendor with a price differential for that vendor; and during a third time period matching each of said buyers to one of their acceptable vendors that met said price if any.
80. The machine-readable medium of claim 79, wherein said business sought by a first of said set of buyers is a plurality of lot items forming a lot.
81. The machine-readable medium of claim 80, wherein bids for the business of the first buyer must be to supply the entire lot.
82. The machine-readable medium of claim 79, wherein the business sought by each of said set of buyers is the same single specific product.
83. The machine-readable medium of claim 79, wherein the business of the set of buyers represents a type of product, wherein each of the plurality of vendors offers for sale a product of that product type.
84. The machine-readable medium of claim 79, wherein the set of vendors is different for different ones of the set of buyers.
85. The machine-readable medium of claim 79, wherein each of said buyers cannot increase their said quantity beyond a limit determined relative to said quantity initially committed.
86. The machine-readable medium of claim 79, wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said price beyond a limit determined relative to said price initially committed.
87. An apparatus comprising a machine readable medium containing instructions which, when executed by a machine, cause the machine to perform operations comprising: providing a plurality of buyers with a list containing one or more products and a plurality of vendors; receiving a request for quote from each of said plurality of buyers, wherein different ones of said request for quotes identify different ones of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable to supply that buyer, wherein each request for quote commits that buyer to purchase a quantity of business if a price is met by one of the plurality of vendors identified by that request for quote; for each of the plurality of vendors identified in the request for quotes, performing the following: aggregating the one or more request for quotes that identify that vendor as being acceptable, the aggregated request for quote forming a vendor pool representing the potential business for that vendor, and transmitting the vendor pool to that vendor; and during a first time period, during which the vendors can submit bids for their vendor pool, performing the following, accepting from one or more of said buyers input, each said input indicating one of an increase but not a decrease in their said quantity, an increase but not a decrease in their said price, and an additional acceptable vendor with a price differential for that vendor; and updating the vendor pools accordingly, and transmitting any updates to the vendor pools to their respective vendors.
88. The machine-readable medium of claim 87, wherein the vendor pools do not indicate the identity of the plurality of buyers.
89. The machine-readable medium of claim 87, wherein the vendors submit said bids without knowing the buyers in their vendor pool or their updated vendor pool.
90. The machine-readable medium of claim 89, wherein during said first time period also: matching said request for quotes with said bids irrespective of a relationship between said plurality of buyers.
91. The machine-readable medium of claim 87, wherein the buyers operate irrespective of a relationship between them.
92. The machine-readable medium of claim 87, wherein the vendors provide the bids without knowing the price specified by each buyer in the vendor pool.
93. The machine-readable medium of claim 92, wherein the vendor pools received by the vendors indicate a range within which the prices fall.
94. The machine-readable medium of claim 87, the operations further comprising: receiving a bid from a first vendor, wherein the vendor pool for the first vendor and the vendor pool of a second vendor both include a first and second of said request for quotes; associating the first and second of said request for quotes with the first vendor based on the bid received from the first vendor; subsequently receiving a bid from the second vendor; and re-associating the first request for quote but not the second request for quote from the first vendor to the second vendor based on said bid received from said second vendor.
95. The machine-readable medium of claim 87, wherein during said first time period also: periodically attempting to match each of the request for quotes to one of the vendors based on the current bids.
96. The machine-readable medium of claim 95, wherein said first time period is divided into predetermined separate time periods during which the bids can be submitted by the vendors, and wherein said attempts to match are performed in-between said separate time periods.
97. The machine-readable medium of claim 87, wherein different ones of said request for quotes identify different ones of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable to supply that buyer, and wherein at least one of said plurality of vendors is identified by more than one of said request for quotes.
98. The machine-readable medium of claim 87, wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said quantity beyond a limit determined relative to said quantity initially committed.
99. The machine-readable medium of claim 87, wherein each of said set of buyers cannot increase their said price beyond a limit determined relative to said price initially committed.
100. An apparatus comprising a machine readable medium containing instructions which, when executed by a machine, cause the machine to perform operations comprising: providing a buyer with a list containing one or more products and a plurality of vendors; receiving from said buyer a request for quote identifying a quantity of business and a first selection of vendors; determining from said first selection of vendors a set of said plurality of vendors; accepting bids from the set of vendors; transmitting the bids of the set of vendors to that buyer; receiving from said buyer an update indicating a second selection of vendors based on the bids; determining from said second selection of vendors that said buyer finds a subset of the set of vendors are acceptable to supply said quantity of business, said update forming an updated request for quote; and accepting over a first time period different bids from the acceptable vendors; and periodically attempting during said first time period to match the updated request for quote to one of the acceptable vendors based on the current bids.
101. The machine-readable medium of claim 100, wherein said first selection of vendors identifies a first of said plurality of vendors as acceptable, wherein said second selection of vendors cannot prevent said first vendor from being included in said subset.
102. The machine-readable medium of claim 100, wherein said first selection of vendors respectively identifies a first and second of said plurality of vendors as acceptable and potential, wherein said buyer is obligated to keep said first vendor but not said second vendor in said subset.
103. The machine-readable medium of claim 100, wherein the first selection of vendors identifies which of said plurality of vendors that buyer did not manually designate as excluded, and wherein the second selection of vendors identifies which of said plurality of vendors that buyer manually designated as included.
104. The machine-readable medium of claim 103, wherein said first selection of vendors indicates that a first and second of said plurality of vendors were not manually designated as excluded; and wherein the second selection of vendors indicates that the first vendor was manually designated as included but not that the second vendor was manually designated as included.
105. The machine-readable medium of claim 100, wherein the vendors submit said bids without knowing the identify of the buyer.
106. The machine-readable medium of claim 100, wherein said request for quote includes a maximum price, wherein said buyer is obligated to purchase the quantity of business identified in the request for quote if the price in the request for quote is met by a bid from a vendor identified as acceptable.
107. The machine-readable medium of claim 106, wherein said first selection of vendors identifies a first of said plurality of vendors as acceptable, wherein said second selection of vendors cannot prevent said first vendor from being included in said subset.
108. The machine-readable medium of claim 106, wherein said first selection of vendors respectively identifies a first and second of said plurality of vendors as acceptable and potential, wherein said buyer is obligated to keep said first vendor but not said second vendor in said subset.
109. The machine-readable medium of claim 106, wherein the vendors provide the bids without knowing the maximum price specified by the buyer.
110. The machine-readable medium of claim 109, wherein the vendors receive a range within which the maximum price falls.
111. The machine-readable medium of claim 106, wherein during said first time period: allowing said buyer to increase but not decrease their commitment.
112. The machine-readable medium of claim 106, wherein during said first time period: allowing said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease the price.
113. The machine-readable medium of claim 106, wherein during said first time period: allowing said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease the quantity.
114. The machine-readable medium of claim 100, wherein said first time period is divided into predetermined separate time periods during which the bids can be submitted by the vendors, and wherein said attempts to match are performed in-between said separate time periods.
115. The machine-readable medium of claim 100, wherein during said first time period: allowing said buyer to identity additional ones of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable.
116. The machine-readable medium of claim 115, wherein during said first time period: allowing said buyer to associate a price differential with any added ones of said plurality of vendors.
117. An apparatus comprising a machine readable medium containing instructions which, when executed by a machine, cause the machine to perform operations comprising: providing a plurality of buyers with a list containing one or more products and a plurality of vendors; receiving a request for quote from each of said plurality of buyers, each of said request for quote identifying a first selection of vendors for that buyer; for each said request for quote, determining from said first selection of vendors a set of said plurality of vendors; for each of the plurality of vendors identified by one of said sets of vendors, performing the following: aggregating the one or more request for quotes whose set of vendors includes that vendor, the aggregated request for quote forming a vendor pool representing the potential business for that vendor, and transmitting the vendor pool to that vendor; receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective vendor pool; to each of said plurality of buyers, transmitting the applicable bids; receiving from each of the buyers an update indicating a second selection of vendors, each update forming an updated request for quote from that buyer; for each of said updated request for quote, determining from said second selection of vendors a subset of the set of vendors are acceptable to supply said quantity of business; updating the vendor pools according to the updated request for quote to form updated vendor pools; transmitting the updated vendor pools to their respective vendors; and receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool.
118. The machine-readable medium of claim 117, wherein each of said buyers must designate one of said plurality of vendors as acceptable in said request for quote and that vendor is automatically included in their said subset.
119. The machine-readable medium of claim 118, wherein each of said buyers can designate others of said plurality of vendors as potential in said request for quote and potential vendors are not automatically included in their said subset.
120. The machine-readable medium of claim 117, wherein each of the first selection of vendors identifies which of said plurality of vendors that buyer did not manually designate as excluded, and wherein each of the second selection of vendors identify which of said plurality of vendors that buyer manually designated as included.
121. The machine-readable medium of claim 120, wherein a first of said first selection of vendors indicates that a first and second of said plurality of vendors were not manually designated as excluded; and wherein the corresponding second selection of vendors indicates that the first vendor was manually designated as included but not that the second vendor was manually designated as included.
122. The machine-readable medium of claim 117, wherein the vendors submit said bids without knowing the buyers in their vendor pool or their updated vendor pool.
123. The machine-readable medium of claim 117, the operations further comprising: matching said updated request for quotes with said bids irrespective of a relationship between said plurality of buyers.
124. The machine-readable medium of claim 117, wherein each of said request for quote includes a quantity and a maximum price, wherein each of the plurality of buyers is obligated to purchase the quantity of business identified in their request for quote if the price in their request for quote is met by a bid from a vendor identified as acceptable.
125. The machine-readable medium of claim 124, wherein each of said buyers must designate one of said plurality of vendors as acceptable in said request for quote and that vendor is automatically included in their said subset.
126. The machine-readable medium of claim 125, wherein each of said buyers can designate others of said plurality of vendors as potential in said request for quote and potential vendors are not automatically included in their said subset.
127. The machine-readable medium of claim 125, wherein the vendors provide the bids without knowing the maximum price specified by each buyer in their vendor pool and updated vendor pool.
128. The machine-readable medium of claim 127, wherein the vendor pools received by the vendors indicate a range within which the maximum prices fall.
129. The machine-readable medium of claim 117, wherein the buyers operate irrespective of a relationship between them.
130. The machine-readable medium of claim 117, wherein said receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool further comprises: receiving over a first time period different bids from the vendors; and periodically attempting during said first time period to match each of the updated request for quotes to one of the vendors based on the current bids.
131. The machine-readable medium of claim 130, wherein said first time period is divided into predetermined separate time periods during which the bids can be submitted by the vendors, and wherein said attempts to match are performed in-between said separate time periods.
132. The machine-readable medium of claim 130, wherein each of said request for quote includes a quantity and a maximum price, wherein each of the plurality of buyers is committed to purchase the quantity of business identified in their request for quote if the price in their request for quote is met by a bid from a vendor identified as acceptable.
133. The machine-readable medium of claim 132, wherein during said first time period allowing said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease their commitment.
134. The machine-readable medium of claim 132, wherein said receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool further comprises: allowing, during said first time period, those of said plurality of buyers, who did not identify all of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable, to identity additional ones of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable.
135. The machine-readable medium of claim 134, wherein said allowing further includes: allowing each buyer who identified another of said plurality of vendors as being acceptable to enter a price differential for that vendor.
136. The machine-readable medium of claim 132, wherein said receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool further comprises: allowing, during said first time period, said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease the price in their updated request for quote.
137. The machine-readable medium of claim 132, wherein said receiving bids from said vendors to supply their respective updated vendor pool further comprises: allowing, during said first time period, said plurality of buyers to increase but not decrease the quantity in their updated request for quote.
138. The method of claim 117, wherein different ones of said subsets include different ones of said plurality of vendors, and wherein at least one of said plurality of vendors is identified by more than one of said subsets.
PCT/US2001/007085 2000-03-31 2001-03-05 Method and apparatus for a prebid and preserving commitment with buyer interactivity WO2001075755A1 (en)

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