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IBM Patents Congestion Pricing
New IBM patent covers variable pricing on toll roads.

Motorists driving on toll roads that use congestion pricing methods may soon pay an extra fee to IBM. The computing giant on January 22 secured a patent covering "variable rate toll systems" that charge more or less depending upon factors such as the speed of traffic.

"The present invention relates... to a system and methodology for enabling automatic adjusting of a toll amount in response to detected vehicle traffic," US Patent Number 7,320,430 states.

Essentially, the system described monitors the average speed of every vehicle traveling the length of a tolled segment of the road. When that speed falls below a predetermined level, say 50 MPH, a computerized system increases the toll until the rate is so high that fewer motorists feel it is worth taking the pay lanes, reducing congestion in the toll lanes and increasing it in the untolled lanes. Only when the pay lane average travel speed rises above the predetermined level are tolls reduced to encourage more drivers to use the pay lanes. The system would also take into account speed on non-tolled lanes.

Armed with this patent, the computing giant has legal standing to force existing and future toll roads to either make royalty payments, or mount an expensive courtroom battle. IBM has made no announcement of any intention to enforce its legal right under the new patent.

TollRoadsNews editor Peter Samuel, who first reported on the issue, pointed out that variable pricing had been used on toll roads long before IBM applied for this patent in 2006. The first variable rate toll system went online in 1998 on Interstate 15 in San Diego, and the concept of variable pricing itself goes back to the 1959 work of Nobel Prize winning economist William Vickrey.

"It may be a new market for IBM, but it's not new for America or for a bunch of companies who pioneered its implementation from the mid-1990s," Samuel wrote. "This sweepingly worded patent makes IBM look like a big mouth, bullying Johnny-Come-Lately."

View a full copy of the tolling patent in a 590k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Patent Number 7,320,430 (US Patent and Trademark Office, 4/7/2008)

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