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MLB.TV granted landmark U.S. patent

MLB.TV granted landmark patent

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Some of the finest elements of a Major League Baseball game are those which typically go unnoticed by the general public.

Fielder positioning. Umpiring. Groundskeeping. Managers' and coaches' signs. Scoreboard operations. Ball stitching and bat manufacturing.

Online Geolocation Technology.

It is something you know ever so well if you are among the millions of fans who have subscribed to MLB.TV, and MLB President Bob DuPuy announced on Thursday that that Major League Baseball Advanced Media has been granted a United States Patent for its revolutionary system and method for verifying access based on a determined geographic location of a subscriber of a service provided via a computer network.

"It is an honor for MLB Advanced Media to receive the special recognition that constitutes a United States Patent," DuPuy said on behalf of the MLBAM Board of Directors. "The patent issuance is also representative of the innovation the MLBAM technology team demonstrates by remaining at the forefront of interactive and advance technologies. This entire team is to be congratulated and commended for its achievement."

MLBAM believes it marks the first patent directly issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to the baseball industry in the modern era.

Major League Baseball was the first professional sports league to broadcast its full schedule live over the Internet, and that U.S. Pat. No. 7,486,943 allowed it to happen within the well-established guidelines for a sport that is delivered over multiple platforms. All clubs have local TV broadcast rightsholders, and their contracts specify that fans inside a defined geographical radius who can view their broadcasts shall be blacked out from live online viewing. Everyone outside of that radius can see that club's games live with MLB.TV.

Masses of fans do not live in the same area where their favorite teams play, and that remains one of the biggest reasons for MLB.TV subscriptions, which in 2009 have far exceeded the total of any previous year. To make it happen, there first had to be a way to detect whether that user was inside or outside of that defined geographical radius.

"Our system of geolocating baseball fans for live MLB.TV games has been successful for much of this decade, and we are honored to receive this patent recognizing our technology," said Joe Choti, chief technology officer for MLB Advanced Media. "It was a game-changer as far as being able to distribute live sports broadcasting in a new way over the Internet. We have a responsibility to our broadcast rightsholders and to our fans, and by being able to detect end-user locations instantaneously we are able to protect those contractual broadcast rights while also presenting defined zones that fans know and understand today.

"This is something the average baseball fan takes for granted these days, and indeed the best technology is something so seemless that you take it for granted as you use it."

The full text and images of the patent can be viewed here, and this is the Abstract description for the invention:

"A system and method relates to limiting the presentation of rules based events based on the geographic location of computer users attempting to view the rules based event via a network. The method includes receiving over a network a request to view a rules based event at a computer, obtaining a first estimate of geographic location of the computer where the first estimate of geographic location includes a first confidence determination, and obtaining a second estimate of geographic location of the computer if the first confidence determination is less than an established confidence level. The first and second estimates of geographic location define a composite estimated geographic location of the computer. The method further includes retrieving information on a geographic location of the rules based event, comparing the retrieved information on the geographic location of the rules based event, with the composite estimated geographic location of the computer, and providing access to the rules based event based on access rules and the comparison of the retrieved information on the geographic location of the rules based event and the estimated geographic location of the computer. The system and method can also apply to promotions, sweepstakes, contests, fantasy games, sale of goods and/or services, and targeted advertising."

As Ryan Zimmerman was trying unsuccessfully to keep his hitting streak alive Wednesday, baseball fans were able to see live look-ins for each of his at-bats. For all other at-bats during that Nationals-Giants game, it was business as usual, as fans in the Washington area could view it locally on cable and fans elsewhere could see it live over the Internet with MLB.TV.

It was behind the scenes, as are so many of the proper elements of an MLB game throughout a long baseball season. If you are like many other fans, this patented technology directly affects a common element of your daily experience with the sport.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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