Lyft, Uber’s biggest competitor in the United States (“US”), recently obtained a patent for a “driver jukebox system” that allows a rider to be the DJ when using a ride-hailing service.

On 9 July 2019, the company was granted US Patent No. 10,346,471 for a system that enables a rider to select the music to be played in the driver’s vehicle while on a trip. In the patent specification, it is explained that the music played during a ride is traditionally controlled by the driver and anyone else in the vehicle experiences the same music environment regardless of their own music preferences. The driver jukebox system described in the patent specification aims to provide an alternative.

The system enables the rider to set up a playlist to be played during the ride. The driver’s device automatically plays the playlist when the ride begins. To enable this, the rider’s phone and the driver’s phone can both be connected to a third-party streaming service (such as Spotify). The rider selects songs that are available on the streaming service and the driver’s phone is instructed to play the selected songs during the trip. The driver’s phone would typically be coupled to the vehicle’s sound system, ensuring that the selected songs are played audibly in the vehicle.

Uber launched a similar service about three years ago. The service connects with Spotify and Pandora, allowing riders to stream music through the Uber vehicle’s sound system directly from the Uber mobile application. Although Lyft has obtained patent protection for its driver jukebox system, it appears that it has not yet added the feature to its mobile application.

Lyft does not currently operate in African countries, but has a share of about 30% of the ride-hailing market in the US. Uber does not, however, have a monopoly in African countries – it has to compete with other ride-hailing services such as Bolt (formerly known as Taxify) and inDriver.

The US patent described above is a so-called “continuation” of an earlier patent application filed by Lyft, which is now also a granted patent (US Patent No. 9,384,271, granted on 5 July 2016). This essentially means that Lyft filed two patent applications with the same subject matter, but the scope of protection afforded by each patent is different. This strategy is usually adopted in an attempt to change, and preferably improve upon, the scope of protection obtained in an earlier patent.

The fact that the United States Patent and Trademark Office allowed patents for this invention again shows that software-related or computer-implemented inventions that have a real-world, technical effect can, in many cases, be patented.