Apple iBeacon Trademark Shows Future of Mobile Payments

The trademark application for iBeacon by Apple won’t help clarify what we’re supposed to call, well, ‘beacons’, but it does hint at how their deployment of Bluetooth LE technology could underpin mobile payments, e-wallets, loyalty programs and (yes) trade shows.

In their trademark application, the filing under International Class 036 specifically covers “Financial services; bill payment services; debit and credit card services; electronic payment services”.

In addition, the iBeacon trademark covers communication and GPS systems, network apparatus, audio apparatus and a long list of transmitters and interfaces.

On the services side, the iBeacon trademark covers this grab bag:

Patent Image Via Patently Apple
Patent Image Via Patently Apple

“Business management; data processing services; advertising agency services; advertising, marketing, and promotion services; advertising and marketing consultation; sales promotion services; promoting the goods and services of others; conducting market research; analysis of advertising response and market research; design, creation, preparation, production, and dissemination of advertisements and advertising material for others; media planning services; administration of consumer loyalty programs; arranging and conducting incentive rewards programs to promote the sale of goods and services; providing business, consumer, and commercial information over computer networks and global communication networks; business services, namely, providing computer databases regarding the purchase and sale of a wide variety of products and services of others; retail store services; online retail store services provided via the Internet and other electronic and communications networks; arranging and conducting of commercial, trade, and business conferences, shows, and exhibitions; information, advisory and consultancy services relating to all the aforesaid.”

None of this implies that Apple will actually enter any of these markets. In the narrowest sense, the list of ‘stuff’ simply covers all of the possibilities that can be built on top of the current iBeacon API and Bluetooth LE capabilities of Apple’s devices and operating system. Trademark filings are usually much broader than intent.

Right now, the iBeacon name specifically represents the capacity of Apple devices to connect to Bluetooth LE devices, to act as Bluetooth LE beacons/devices themselves, and the code that makes it all happen. It’s the development community that can use this seemingly simple set of technologies to make the long list of consumer products and services noted above.

But there’s a longer game for Apple. With its Passbook (a bit of a dud in its current incarnation) and the fact that it already has its users credit card numbers and ability to easily collect payments, it has set the stage for a larger possibility: that Apple has the deep capacity to turn your phone into a mobile wallet and to become a payment and transaction system for the physical as well as online world.

This Is Getting Confusing
The trademark application won’t make our current use of words and language any easier.

It’s already confusing enough: a beacon is a transmitter that uses Bluetooth LE, but not all beacons will always be ONLY Bluetooth LE devices. PayPal has Beacon. And Apple has iBeacon, which isn’t JUST the transmitter, it’s also the code and API that makes the use of Bluetooth LE protocols possible.

To top it off, Bluetooth would prefer we called it Bluetooth Smart instead of Low Energy (LE)….which is a ridiculous notion, because the only thing that’s truly smart about LE is that it’s smart on energy. The whole point of Bluetooth LE is that it’s a relatively ‘dumb’ technology.

Regardless, the trademark filing is a reminder that while it might be seemingly simple tech that’s powering a world of beacons, it’s capacity to transform entire industries goes well beyond a simple word.

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