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eBay Helps the Shoe Fit with New Inflatable-Sock Patent

On the heels of Nike’s announcement on June 19th that eBay’s CEO John Donahoe was joining the Nike Board of directors, we learn that eBay has invented a “pneumatically-powered inflatable sock.” On June 26th, the United States Patent and Trademark Office published eBay’s patent application 20140180866, “Methods And Systems To Re-create An Internal Shape Of A Shoe.” eBay filed for the application back on December 21, 2012.

The fluid pressure based technology that can use “gas or liquid” was invented by Sergio Pinzon Gonzales, Director of Innovation Programs at eBay Research Labs (ERL). According to eBay’s website, “The (ERL) program remains one of our most prolific engines for intellectual property creation and patents… Inspire. Incite. Innovate.”

The background of the patent application explains the need for a pneumatically-powered inflatable sock as part of an ecommerce solution:

“Shoe shopping may involve a person trying on shoes to determine if particular shoes fit that person. Today, many businesses engaging in electronic commerce (“e-commerce sites”) allow users to buy shoes online, try on the shoes at home, and return them to the e-commerce site or a brick-and-mortar store if they do not fit. It is not uncommon for the online shoe buyers to return or exchange the shoes online because the shoes did not fit properly. Some shoppers buy the selected shoes in several sizes to have the option to choose between different pairs in order to avoid wasting time returning, re-ordering, or exchanging shoes. Accordingly, the problems of increased expense and expended time may lead to frustrated shoe shoppers who may choose to avoid online shoe shopping altogether.”

The technology does not replace existing shoe wear, but rather, it is used by consumer and/or retailer for sizing prior to ordering. As explained by the patent Details:

“(The Sock will) Determine if a selected shoe is likely to fit the user without having the actual shoe in his or her possession. The system may comprise a pneumatically-powered inflatable sock (also “sock”) that may be inflated to mimic the internal shape of a selected shoe based on data describing the internal shape of the selected shoe…”

The sock has “fillable chambers” that are engaged by a “filling station” that adjusts the fluid pressure as appropriate.

eBay also leaves open the possibility of integrating augmented reality into this shoe sizing solution: “The marketplace applications may allow a user to virtually view (e.g., using an augmented reality application on a mobile phone) an external look of a selected shoe (e.g., as virtually worn by the user) without having the selected shoe in his or her possession.”

This should come to no surprise as eBay acquired PhiSix to build virtual fitting rooms).

eBay’s shoe technology immediately brought to mind the Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope(ca. 1930-1940) which employed potentially hazardous x-rays and a cabinet that one would stick their foot into to determine proper shoe sizing.

The Shoe Repairer and Dealer trade zine from Boston published an article (via Google Books) on inventor Dr. Lowe’s “Foot-O-Scope” on May15th, 1921. The device was displayed at a convention of shoe retailers in Milwaukee and stated that “75 per cent of the people of the United States are wearing poorly fitted shoes” (and don’t miss the photos in the article!). The fluoroscope was used in commerce through the 1970s.

Back in 2011, Nike created a replica of the sneakers dubbed the “Nike MAG” from the movie “Back to The Future Part II” and partnered with The Michael J. Fox Foundation to pursue a Future without Parkinson’s Disease, and the original film creators and auctioned off 1,500 pairs of the shoes for 4.7 Million Dollars. “The shoe was an exact replica of the originals he wore as Marty McFly in Back to the Future II, down to the contours of the upper, the glowing LED panel and the electroluminescent “NIKE” in the strap.”

case study from eBay (PDF format) called its partnership with the Foundation a game changer and the “largest auction in eBay history.” A commercial for the Nike Mag can be found on YouTube. A clip from the movie can also be found on YouTube.

Back to the Future II was released in 1989 and takes place in the year 2015. Earlier this year it was confirmed by sneakerhead website Sole Collector that Tinker Hatfield, the designer of the self-tying sneakers, will likely resurrect the self-powering laced shoes sometime next year. Might we see eBay’s technology launched concurrent to this anniversary event?

Perhaps in the future, sneakerheads and consumers alike will have their very own “pneumatically-powered inflatable sock” and 3D-print their shoes at home.

And eBay thought they could sneak(er) this patent application past me…

Brian Cohen
Brian Cohen
Brian Cohen has been an active member of the eBay community since May 1998. He currently trades under the member name Bidofthis.com. His first AuctionBytes article was published in May 2002. Brian can be contacted through his website at Bidofthis.com where he always has a "little Bid of This and little Bid of That."