US 6539429 Method and apparatus for transmitting and displaying information between a remote network and a local computer

ABSTRACT – Methods and apparatus are provided for selecting advertisements and other information from a computer network database based on user defined preferences and transmitting the selected advertisement in background mode over a communications link between the computer network and a local computer with minimal interference with other processes communicating over the communications link. This method includes monitoring the communications link and transmitting portions of the advertisement when the communications link line utilization is below a preestablished threshold. Methods and apparatus are also provided for displaying or otherwise presenting the selected advertisements on the user’s computer. Additional methods and apparatus are provided for selecting and presenting information stored on a local storage media based on user defined preferences.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates generally to advertisement computer display systems and more particularly to a method and system for displaying advertisements and other information on a computer based on general user selected criteria and transmitting such information from a remote network to the local computer.

BACKGROUND OF THE PRESENT INVENTION

There are two major forms of advertising which are currently being employed on the Internet and commercial on-line services. One form is the use of a small advertisement on WEB pages which are commonly accessed. For example, a portion of the screen display for WEB pages used to access Internet searches may include a corporate logo or other advertisement material. Typical of this style of advertising is the Netscape™ Internet Browser software available from Netscape Communications Corporation of Mountain View Calif., which presents a box containing logos for various corporations on the computer display when the user performs a search. This form of advertising, however, is not very sophisticated and does not encourage user interaction.

Another form of advertising on the Internet is the creation of WEB “pages” or sites by advertisers. One variant of the use of a WEB page displays advertisements in a portion of the viewing area. A second variant, often used by corporate or other advertisers, is the use of WEB sites which employ attractive graphics in the hope of having the user interact with various advertising schemes. In addition, product ordering is usually available from these WEB sites. In most cases, users access these WEB sites by one of the following methods: knowing the Internet address; keyword searching; linking from a different WEB site; through an electronic shopping mall type site; through other advertisements on the Internet; or through the use of programs known as search browsers.

Current advertisers have attempted to improve the attractiveness of these WEB pages by including the use of sound, animated or rotating logos or pictures, and scrolling information. One system, Hot Java, available from Starwave Corp of Bellevue, Wash., supports the execution of small applications programs written in a specific programming language executing within the browser on the local computer. This allows the WEB pages to provide richer content, such as animation or scrolling sports scores across a user’s computer display, and better interaction with users. These effects, however, are only available while the user is viewing the specific WEB page incorporating the Hot Java technology.

Despite the fast and furious growth in this advertising sector, WEB sites are still regarded as “passive” advertising used predominantly for a corporate image rather than for selling products. Specifically the following drawbacks describe the current state of advertising on the Internet: transmitting the advertising information consumes a large amount of the bandwidth of the communications link between the user’s computer and the network; access is initiated by the user rather than the advertiser; the user rather than the advertiser pays for access; accessing a site is a time consuming “hit or miss” process; and the process may improve the corporate image but creates little product demand.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,105,184 to Pirani et al. (“Pirani”) discloses a system integrating commercial advertisements with computer software. The system discloses integrating commercial advertisements with different types of screens. Pirani, however, does not provide for any user input at the local computer as to the types of advertisements which are to be displayed. Thus, users would be forced to view numerous advertisements of which they are likely to have no interest. This will attenuate the users attention to the advertisements and decrease their effectiveness.

As noted above, a significant problem with current methods for advertising on computer networks is the consumption of significant portions of the bandwidth of the communications link between the user’s computer and the computer network. Prior systems have attempted to utilize essentially unused time in telephone networks to deliver advertising or other information. U.S. Pat. No. 5,321,740 to Gregorek, et al. (“Gregorek”) discloses a marketing system over an existing telephone network which modifies a portion of the call processing system to play an informational announcement in place of the usual ringback or busy signals. Gregorek differs from the present invention in a number of ways, including the fact that it does not provide any means for interacting with computers over a computer network. Also, Gregorek delivers the informational announcement only during a short splice of time when the user is waiting for callback information.

Current file transfer protocols, such as the File Transfer Protocol (“FTP”) and the Trivial File Transfer Protocol (“TFTP”), for transferring files from a remote network, such as the Internet, via a communications link to a local computer are designed to transfer files as quickly as possible. Each computer process executing such a protocol attempts to make maximum use of the available communication resources. This leads to interference and an inevitable slowing down of other computer processes attempting to communicate over the communications link. There exists a need, therefore, for a file transfer process which is designed to behave as a background task and have a minimal impact on foreground communications.

There also exists a need to utilize the computer to display locally stored advertisements. Several software products provide “yellow pages” on CD-ROMs or other media such as floppy disks. The user may use these yellow pages to search for products or advertisers by name or description. This system of advertising is limited, however, in that it requires the user to actively search for advertisers or products and therefore do not spontaneously display products to the user.

Microsoft Windows interface provides a rudimentary form of spontaneous advertising by incorporating a Microsoft Windows logo as an option in its screen saver utility. This system, however, offers only a single advertisement in response to a user’s response and therefore does not offer a variety of periodically changed advertisement content based on a user’s interests.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The object of the present invention is to provide a process for transmitting an information file between a local computer and a remote computer network over a communications link with minimal interference to other processes executing on the computer which are also transmitting over the communications link.

It is a further object of the present invention to provide a method and system of presenting individualized advertisements and other informational messages on a computer by allowing a user to select from a variety of advertisement or informational categories.

It is a further object of the present invention to provide a method and system of downloading and presenting individualized advertisements and other informational messages from a network to a local computer from a remote network to a local computer based on a user’s selection of advertisement or informational categories.

It is a further object of the present invention to provide such a method and system of downloading and presenting individualized advertisements and other informational messages from a network to a local computer with minimal interference with other data being transmitted between the network and the local computer.

In one variant of the present invention, all advertisements or other informational messages originate on a network server which is accessed via the Internet or alternate on-line method. Select advertisements are transparently downloaded from the network server and stored locally on the user’s local computer using a novel type of software referred to herein as a “Polite Agent.” In a second variation, the entire advertisement database is locally stored on the local computer or a removable media such as CD-ROM. Manipulation and display of the advertising message is performed by software residing on the user’s PC in accordance with preconfigured user preference information.

The advertisement is preferably displayed during idle time as a screen saver utility when the computer is not receiving keyboard input or updating the user’s display. Other techniques for displaying the advertisement, such as periodic audio-only messages, screen background wallpaper, cursor modifications, and display in a window on the user’s computer display are also available.

Users may enter their preferences by directly choosing categories of advertising or other informational content which most interest them or through interactive games and quizzes. Users may directly respond to advertising messages by participating in contests, requesting further product information, or ordering the advertised product. The advertisements are made attractive to the user by employing a variety of video, animation, sound or any other multimedia effects. Content may be based on an interactive theme such as a contest or special discount offers for on-line customers.

The system monitors the user’s interaction with the advertisements and produces raw data on how many times a particular advertisement was accessed as well as the user’s response to advertisements. All pertinent information is stored and sent back to a network server where it is made available to the advertisers. User requests for additional information may be directed to the advertiser itself or to the advertiser’s WEB site on the network.

The system further comprises the use of a background software process, the Polite Agent, for transferring information between the network and the local computer. The Polite Agent monitors the communications link between the network and the local computer and transfers small portions of the information when the communications link utilization rate is low. In this manner the Polite Agent avoids significant interference with other communications applications transmitting over the communications link. The Polite Agent may also be utilized to transmit other types of information content, such as news, weather, stock quotes, sports scores, software updates or trip reservation information.

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