Virgin America is generally considered to be the first airline amongst its peers to offer buy-on-board (BOB) functionality via its Red inflight entertainment system. Passengers simply swipe a card on the system to order food, beverages, premium content and retail goods.
This inflight on-demand process has been mimicked by myriad other airlines around the world. One can make a sound argument that on-demand BOB via IFE has had a significant impact on the passenger experience, freeing up aisle space on board, allowing airlines to better monetize their systems, and so on.
Virgin America’s IFE system represents a joint collaboration between Panasonic Avionics (hardware) and CoKinetic (software), but Virgin America played a steering role in what functionality would be offered to passengers, and so the carrier wants to patent the on-demand process.
“We’re excited about the new IFE technology we’ve pioneered with Red. Features such as food on-demand have been very well-received by guests and our crews alike in terms of offering a more customer-focused and streamlined experience onboard. We’ve just scratched the surface in terms of what we can do, and we do have a number of pending patent applications, including applications covering Red,” says a Virgin America spokesman. “We’re continuing to work with the US Patent and Trademark Office to get those applications allowed.”
Virgin has, in fact, been working to secure various patents for some time, “but the biggest thing that the US Patent and Trademark Office has been cutting back on is those type of business process patent requests because they have been getting a lot of feedback about the patent troll type operations out there, [funded by the likes of] Apple, Google and Samsung”, notes IFEC consultant Michael Planey.
“While I don’t suggest that’s what Virgin is doing, that type of business process patent just isn’t as easy to get as it would have been five to seven years ago. I don’t necessarily think they have a strong case to get that patent through. They may be able to find a little piece of the process unique to them and that might get approved. That’s really the stone in the shoe, as far as the IFE market is concerned.”
Even so, we’ll keep an eye on this one, as any true headway by Virgin America would obviously impact the airline and the wider industry.