For those looking for a ride, whether it be heading home after a night on the town or going to the airport to catch a flight, Uber has become the go-to service to get you where you need to be. The service's appeal is based upon its ease of use and relative affordability compared to a traditional cab. With its continued expansion (Uber is now in 50 countries) and lurking competitors, protecting their intellectual property (IP) is a natural step for the company. But one filing has customers and onlookers alike in an uproar.
Uber has filed to patent its now controversial "surge pricing, which has come under fire from social critics and multi-millionaire athletes alike. The feature, which is described more innocuously as "dynamically adjusting prices for service," adjusts fares based upon demand, in this case upward. The patent is just one of thirteen filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but surge pricing is the only one to evoke such ire. The practice has come under considerable fire recently as prices in Sydney, Australia increased as people attempted to flee from the area of the deadly hostage situation. In a blog post on the situation, Uber stated that "surge pricing is used to encourage more drivers to come online and pick up passengers in the area." The company went on to offer free rides to Sydney residents to get out of the area, and promised to refund riders charged during that time. Uber was also heavily criticized for similar incidents in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which prompted the company to adopt a policy limiting pricing during emergencies.
The filings represent an attempt by Uber to set itself apart from competitors as well as gain competitive advantage. Rival Lyft has a similar version of surge pricing entitled "Prime Time," and should Uber be granted that patent, Lyft would be forced to abandon the practice or pay a licensing fee to its biggest rival. The move could also be viewed as an attempt by Uber to beef up its IP portfolio ahead of an IPO.
Whatever your venture, you want to make sure you own the rights to your innovation. Taking the time to file protection on all your copyrights, patents, and trademarks should be at the top of your to-do list.