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 This application is based on and claims filing priority of co-pending U.S. Provisional Application Serial No. 60/152,473, filed on Sep. 3, 1999, entitled, INTERNET-BASED MULTIPLE AUCTION COORDINATION SYSTEM, which is incorporated by reference herein.
 The present invention relates to auction systems where a user specifies parameters of an item for sale in the auction system and where bidders submit offers for the items for auction.
 The terms used below are provided to facilitate the understanding of the concepts that are used throughout the claims and specification. It is not meant to in any way limit or constrain the scope but is instead intended to provide representative examples and definitions to assist the readers in their understanding of the present invention. Other examples may additionally be defined in the body of the specification or may be known equivalents in the art for each of these terms.
 auction—Any dynamic pricing system for sale and purchase of goods and services, where the ultimate price paid by a buyer is not set in advance by the seller, but rather a function of demand and supply as determined during the selling process. An auction may involve buyers competitively bidding for goods and services, sellers competitively offering goods and services, or buyers and sellers converging on a mutually agreeable price and quantity of goods and services to be exchanged.
 closing events—any or all of a set of events which may cause an auction to close. These events may include, but are not limited to, some or all of the following: fixed time expiration; period of bidding inactivity; secret or published “sudden death” price hit, where the “sudden death” price may be established prior to the auction or change as a function of auction bidding activity; cancellation of the auction either by the Seller, the remote auction service, or the multi auction service.
 item—Any marketable product, service or commodity that can be adequately described and that has a negotiable value discoverable through an auction process. The item may be described and characterized by parameters including quantitative and qualitative values such as a measure of size, shape, weight, quantity, condition, age, uniqueness, etc.
 bidder—An entity supplying a bid, either directly or through an agent or network or agents. An agent may be another entity or computer agent. A bidder may be entering bids in real time either directly or through his agent, or may have pre-specified a set of rules so that his agent can bid automatically for him.
 seller—An entity which may be an individual, company, agent or any third party that may have in their possession or represent the interests of an owner of an item that may be offered for sale at auction, either directly or through an agent.
 replicated bid—a bid or bids detected by the multi-auction service for an item at one or more remote auction auction services, which is subsequently transmitted to one or more other remote auction services that did not receive the bid. In substance, the bid replication process allows the optimal bid to appear in all auctions for the item being auctioned as if the original bidder had himself entered identical bids in all auctions for the item. The replicated bid may nominally be identified as coming from the original bidder, coming from the multi-auction service or coming from any other third party.
 currency—Any unit of exchange and measure of value, including hard currencies and barter items. Bids in different currencies are compared by using tables managed by the remote auction service. Exchange values may be supplied by the seller, or by a third party and may reflect either real time conversions using guaranteed exchange rates, or alternatively an estimated exchange rate may be employed that is used only for calculation purposes where the real exchange rate is subject to change until the actual closure of the transaction.
 memory—The memory means may comprise any type of storage media that may support the recording of the interactions of the service. This may comprise paper records, hard disk storage, random access memory, or any removable or non-removable media that is accessible either directly or remotely by the service. The content of memory would typically comprise, but not be limited to, any or all of the following: information on current and prior bid activity; item selling parameters; seller, bidder or remote auction service profile information, interface protocols and contact information; relative value and auction offering rules specified by the seller, bidder, Multi-Auction Service or remote auction services; transaction data; and marketing data. The memory is accessed by the multi-auction service to record transactions and to provide data which may be analyzed to determine the optimum selling or bidding parameters for an item or item type where the optimized data may be stored in addition to the raw bid information collected.
 multi-auction service—System of people, computers and communications systems that coordinate the auction listing, bid replication and auction management process. Additionally maintains history of item bids and offers, and identifies categories for auction items. Provides means for bidders and sellers to specify parameters of the bidding and selling process such that the multi-auction service acts as an agent for either the bidder or seller to achieve an optimal bid price and set of transactions from the client's perspective.
 optimal bidder—The optimal bid will usually be the entity that submits the nominally highest bid to the seller and lowest offer for the buyer, but may be adjusted under certain circumstances. For example, if the highest bidder has a questionable credit rating or closing history, or the highest bidder is using a credit card so that his bid needs to be adjusted downward by the processing fees, the nominally highest bid may not be the optimal bid. A database of bidder performance statistics (closing rates, timeliness, seller feedback, etc.) can be factored into the “optimal bid” selection process in order to determine an adjusted bid. When a buyer is using the multi-auction service to achieve an optimal price that is the lowest price, the item offered with the lowest bid may have excessive shipping charges or other ancillary fees that may additionally need to be factored into the bid price as an adjustment. In the case where multiple items are auctioned using a Dutch auction format, the term Optimal Bidder will be used to describe the set of Optimal Bids submitted by bidders.
 remote auction service—an entity hosting an auction or facilitating the sale of items in an auction style format where the price is a function of demand and supply. May be electronic (eBay, Yahoo, Amazon) or physical (Sotheby's, Christies). May be domestic or international, general or niche specific. The remote auction service need not be a registered auctioneer. It may operate in a manual mode or in a highly computerized mode of operation with respect to the management of an auction. For purposes of this set of specification and claims, if an item appears at a single remote auction service in multiple independent auctions, each instance of the item at a remote auction service is considered a separate and independent remote auction service.
 reserve price—a minimum price that a Seller will accept for an item, or a minimum amount a Seller will accept for a batch of similar or dissimilar items.
 selling parameters—any or all of a set of parameters describing an Item and how it is to be offered in an auction including, but not limited to, some or all of the following: item description which may comprise in addition to text in various languages, graphic and audio representation such as image file, photograph, audio file, video clip or other content that provides a representation of the item; quantity of items offered or desired; starting date and time; applicable closing events; reserve price; starting bid; expected bid range; auction format (e.g. standard, Dutch, etc); physical item location and shipping arrangements; optimal bid adjustment procedures and currency conversion tables; selling restrictions (e.g. no international, etc.). These parameters may be defined by the seller with assistance by the multi-auction service or may be generated exclusively by the multi-auction service or seller alone.
 In the case of “reverse” auctions where a buyer provides parameters for an item to be purchased and sellers offer competitively at successively lower prices to proves the item, the term “selling parameters” should be understood to be those parameters provided by the prospective buyer which describe the item to be purchased and the auction process in which sellers will compete to provide the good or service in question.
 Prior art auction methods require a seller to contact an auction service in order to place an item for sale through an auction process. The item is typically transferred to an auction location prior to the auction date. Bidders assemble on the auction date and bid on items of interest. Electronic enhancements have been made to the auction process to allow remote bidders and sellers to engage in auctions for items. These enhancements have typically involved facilitating the auction process while keeping the same general foundation where a user offers a product for auction through an intermediary (auctioneer) that executes the auction and receives bids for the item. At the end of a specified period of time or when no further bids are received, the intermediary closes the auction to further bidding and the highest bidder pays for and receives the item. While the seller and bidder may be represented by other parties, the ultimate control of the auction is performed in a centralized manner where the auctioneer runs the process.
 Prior art electronic auction systems on the World Wide Web have implemented a similar methodology to allow more widespread visibility of items to be auctioned to allow sellers to submit items for auction on-line where user's bids from around the world may be received and recorded as the auction progresses. The seller contacts an auction service to indicate that an item is available for sale. The seller identifies the item and specifies the parameters of the auction. The actual auction process is executed by the auction service in accordance with the seller or auctioneer specified rules for the auction of that item. The item does not have to be located where the auction is run, but in order to guarantee the integrity of the auction so that the winning bidder is able to purchase the item, the auction service must have the exclusive right to offer the item. When the auction is over, the highest bidder is contacted and the goods are shipped from the seller to the highest bidder. The terms for the sale are specified in the auction, but the coordination of the shipping is usually arranged between the buyer and seller although some sites provide shipping as an extra service.
 In order for a seller to use the auction site, the seller must register and provide an item description. The auction sites may require that sellers provide some means of authentication that the items represented are of the quality described. Different auction sites may have different forms of verification or may require that the item be submitted or shipped to the auction site prior to auction. For those sites that do not require shipping the product prior to auction, the shipping of the product may be arranged between the seller and the buyer or facilitated by the auction service.
 While these auction sites provide a means for sellers to offer goods for sale, the seller has to determine the single best auction site for the product to be sold. The seller may receive substantially more or less than expected depending on the number of bidders and what they are willing to pay. The seller can not list an item on more than one site because the winning bidder in each auction rightfully expects to be able to buy the item, of which the seller has only one. Unless a seller is willing to “default”, the seller is currently limited to choosing a single auction site for any particular item. It is therefore to the benefit of the seller to choose the best auction site for that type of product. The best site may be the Bite that has the most user traffic, or it may be a specialized site that offers items for sale in limited classes of products. For example, a coin collector could offer a highly desirable coin for sale at a general auction site such as Ebay, or alternatively the coin collector may choose to place the coin at an auction site that caters to knowledgeable coin buyers. Other services may be provided to show the seller the price of similar products. This may require the seller to investigate different web sites to determine which auction site has the most traffic or has sold similar items at the highest price.
 The final sale price is ultimately dependent on the number of bidders for a product at that site and the visibility of that item among all the items being offered at that site. A seller hoping to receive the highest price is therefore limited to the users accessing that web site that are bidding on that product. Auction services have provided users with different means to increase the visibility of the item to be sold by establishing classification methods that allow the user's item to be more frequently retrieved by the search engine. The user typically pays an added amount for preferred placement of their item on the web pages generated. These aspects of placement, while providing better visibility on that web site do not offer the visibility beyond that auction server.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,835,896, METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR PROCESSING AND TRANSMITTING ELECTRONIC AUCTION INFORMATION, assigned to OnSale Inc., discloses an automated system used for auctions on the Internet where the buyer submits bids to the system which validates the bids and ultimately notifies the successful bidder(s) when the auction is over. During the auction process, the server updates the page image stored on the server so new users requesting the page see the most recent bid information. Recently outbid users are notified via email of higher bids. Users may also be represented by automated processes that bid incrementally in an automated fashion up to a predefined user specified value. Different auction types are supported such as Standard Auction, Dutch Auction, and Progressive Auction. A bid closing process called “Floating Closing Time” is additionally disclosed whereby inactivity for a period of time will end the auction of the item prior to the fixed closing time specified in the auction.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,890,138 COMPUTER AUCTION SYSTEM, assigned to Bid.Com International Inc., discloses another Internet based auction system where users access a central database of products to purchase items from a quantity of similar items. The timeframe of the offer is strictly controlled and a number of items are offered where the price decreases until all of the items are sold or until the timeframe of the sale expires. The system updates the displayed availability information at periodic intervals where the period is shortened as the sale comes to an end.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,905,975, COMPUTER IMPLEMENTED METHODS AND APPARATUS FOR AUCTIONS, discloses an auction system where users may define bidding rules that are subsequently enforced throughout the bidding process for an item, thus allowing users to control the amount of time that they are required to devote to the bidding process. The user's system and the auctioneers system communicate automatically to determine how the bidding is incremented according to the rules defined. Complex rules may be implemented where the user may specify quantities of an item to be purchased at various prices.
 What is desired therefore is a methodology of placing an item for auction that has access to and is visible through more than one auction service at the same time where the bids received by any of the auction services affect and are coordinated with each other, such that each service receives and reflects the highest price for that item received by any of the participating auction services.
 The objective of the invention is to provide increased visibility of an item to be auctioned by mirroring the item to be offered through a plurality of remote auction services simultaneously whether these services are computerized (e.g. e-bay, OnSale.com, etc.) or manually operated (e.g. Sotheby's, Christie's, etc.). As the auction progresses, when a user bid is entered at one site or service, it is duplicated at the other sites or services where the item has been listed. The server process watches each site and creates a bid on the other sites in real-time that corresponds to the bid made at the first site. The bid replication technology revealed here assures that when the auctions are closed, the winning bid is the same at all sites, and that each bidder who has a right to purchase the item in question can be satisfied. By increasing the number of bids for an item and replicating bids across sites, the price will rise because bidders must compete against other bidders not only at their site, but at all sites on which the item is offered. By listing the item on multiple sites, the seller is gaining visibility for the item and has the most potential to receive the highest ultimate price.
 It is also desirable to use the functionality of the service of this invention to provide an optimized method for a bidder to have the multi-auction service place coordinated bids at one or more of a plurality of networked remote auction services for a bidder to enable him to purchase those items at the optimal or lowest prices from the point of view of the bidder. Prior electronic art provides a means for a bidder to have an agent generate automatic bids according to pre-specified rules, which may be complex. However, each set of rules applies only to a single auction and considers bidding activity in only that auction. Contemporaneous bidding activity related to identical items, or similar items which are viable substitutes, occurring at other auctions are not considered. The service of this invention allows a bidder to place an order with the multi-auction service and have the multi-auction service coordinate a bidding strategy for an item or items across remote auction services in order to achieve an optimal result.
 A system and method are disclosed for coordinating an auction for an item between a multi-auction service, a plurality of remote auction services, and a plurality of bidders, all of which are interconnected by a network. The multi-auction service performing the steps of receiving selling parameters for the item to be auctioned from a seller, transmitting the parameters for the item to a plurality of remote auction services, throughout the auction detecting that a bid for the item has been received by at least one of the remote auction services, determining which of the remote auction services should receive a replicated bid, and transmitting a replicated bid to each of the remote auction services so determined. A second embodiment of the invention describes the method wherein more than one remote auction service receives a bid for the item, and wherein the multi-auction service detects that a bid for the item has been received by more than one of the remote auction services, establishes which of the received bids is an optimal bid for the item, and transmits the optimal bid as the replicated bid to each of the remote auction services.
 A networked system is described for coordinating the sale of an item to an optimal bidder across a plurality of remote auction services, where the system comprises a networked multi-auction service system, a plurality of networked remote auction services, and a plurality of bidders. The multi-auction service comprises means for communicating with the plurality of remote auction services, means for replicating the item to be auctioned at the plurality of networked remote auction services, means for detecting a plurality of bids from a plurality of remote auction services, means for determining which of said plurality of detected bids is the optimal bid, and means for replicating the optimal bid across the plurality of remote auction services.
 The remote auction services each comprise means for receiving selling parameters for the item to be auctioned from the multi-auction service, means for receiving bids for the item to be auctioned from the plurality of bidders and said multi-auction service, and means for updating the bid for the item to be auctioned.
 Each of the plurality of bidders comprises means for bidding on the item to be auctioned at one of the remote auction services.
 A method is additionally disclosed for allowing a bidder to communicate with a multi-auction service to request the multi-auction service to selectively place coordinated bids at one or more remote auction service(s) for a plurality of items where one item is desired. This method comprises the bidder specifying to the multi-auction service the item type to be bid upon, the bidder specifying to the multi-auction service the rules for bidding, the bidder or the multi-auction service determining which items at the remote auction services match the bidder requested item, the multi-auction service periodically checking each of the remote auction sites to determine which site and item to bid on, and the multi-auction service placing bids on the item specified at the remote auction services such that a unique and optimal bid is active at only one of the remote auction services at a moment in time and is placed according to the bidder specified rules. In another embodiment, the bidder may specify rules regarding the bidders preference for one or more of identical, or similar, items sought.
 The system and method of the present invention provides the ability for a seller or bidder to input parameters of an item to be acquired or sold to achieve the optimal price for the item. For a seller, the system allows sellers to maximize the visibility of the item to be auctioned by replicating the item across a plurality of remote auction services. For a bidder, the system provides the ability for a bidder to specify bid rules to determine where and how to best achieve the purchasing objectives of the bidder across a plurality of contemporaneous auctions being held at a plurality of remote auction services.
 The prior art method of selling and buying items through networked computer-based auction systems will be described with respect to
 A networked system of the present invention will now be described for implementing a method for coordinating the sale of an item to an optimal bidder across a plurality of remote auction services, where the system comprises a networked multi-auction service
 The remote auction services
 Each of the plurality of bidders comprises communications means
 In the preferred embodiment, the multi-auction service
 Preferably the memory means
 In contrast to the prior art method of conducting an auction, the method and system of the present invention (see
 In addition to a manual mode of operation, this system may be implemented in a computerized method of operation. In this manner either phone-based communications or computer-based coordination may be employed to replicate bids for an item to be sold. The multi-auction service
 In a simplistic version of the present invention, the method of replicating an item across a plurality of remote auction services comprises the steps of transmitting the selling parameters for the item to be auctioned to the remote auction services; detecting that a bid for the item has been received by at least one of the remote auction services; determining which of the remote auction services should receive a replicated bid; and transmitting the replicated bid to each of the remote auction services so determined.
 The replication of the bid may be in the bidders name, sellers name, a third party name or may merely indicate that an “away bid” has been received without identifying the exact source.
 In a comprehensive version of the invention (see
 If the seller has more than one item, at step
 The means for determining of the multi-auction service determines which remote auction services ate to be contacted at step
 The multi-auction service at this point contacts the remote auction services to “list” the item for an upcoming auction. The multi-auction service may use the information determined in the prior steps to generate the descriptive information that is included in the auction request. In the preferred computerized embodiment of the system, the multi-auction service may communicate with the remote auction services through the automated generation of content that matches the input format for each of the remote auction services to be contacted. In one embodiment, a user emulation mode may be utilized to emulate the input of the seller in a batch mode as if the seller provided it by “live” keyboard entry. In more sophisticated systems that provide for automated input of auction items and parameters, the data may be directly transferred to the remote auction server in the form required by that remote auction service selected, thereby bypassing the normal interactive mode of providing content to the remote auction service. In the preferred embodiment, the means for communicating of the multi-auction service contacts each of the remote auction services and relays (transmits) a record for a seller for the remote auction service to process into its system at step
 An item to be auctioned is identified at the remote auction service by the submitting entity where this may refer to the identity of the seller or the multi-auction service may supply contact information indicative of the multi-auction service to the remote auction service In the case where the item is listed on a remote auction service several times under different nomenclature where each of the references are traceable back to one item for auction, the multi-auction service needs to track the bidding activity to assure that while each appears to be a different item, they are in fact replications of the same item and therefore there can only be a single winning bid across all instances of the item being offered.
 The active auction for the item is started by the remote auction services where the multi-auction service detects the bids received by the remote auction service for the item or items at step
 A detailed flow of the bid process will now be described with respect to
 If the bidder
 The system can operate where the multi-auction service responds immediately to a message from the remote auction services that a bid has been received and the multi-auction service contacts each of the remote auction services to replicate the optimal detected bid, or the multi-auction service may communicate with each of the remote auction services to retrieve the current bid for the item to identify the optimal bidder from those pending bids prior to replicating that optimal bid. In either case, this optimal bid is then replicated at each of the remote auction service sites except at the remote auction service where the optimal bid originated. In the Dutch auction format, more than one bid detected at more than one remote auction service may need to be replicated across remote auction services.
 In one embodiment, the multi-auction service periodically communicates with each of the selected remote auction services where the period is a function of the activities occurring at the auction being executed by the remote auction service. Such activities can include, but are not limited to, some or all of the following: time remaining in the auction, number of active bidders and frequency of bidding activity, proximity of bid level to a “sudden death” price, current bidding increment, and price level of the item. For example, when the period is based on the time remaining to the close of the auction, the multi-auction service may contact each remote auction service less frequently if there is no or intermittent bidding activity on the item. If the bidding is not scheduled to close for a prolonged period of time, the period may be longer. Alternatively, the period may be changed dynamically if an increased bidding activity is detected to increase the frequency of detection and replication at all or at some of the remote auction services. The multi-auction service
 Following the detection event, the bid information may be stored locally in a database
 In the preferred embodiment, since a plurality of remote auction services require that the bidder be registered prior to bidding, the multi-auction service may establish a plurality of user accounts on each of the remote auction services that may be used by the multi-auction service to replicate bids at those sites. The replication of the bid may be in the bidders name, sellers name, a third party name or may merely indicate that an “away bid” has been received without specifying the exact source. These accounts will be referred to as proxy representatives. These proxy representatives may then be managed by the multi-auction service to allow bids to be placed on the various remote auction services.
 Prior to replication, the bidder name, contact information (typically bidder's email identifier, but may include more detailed information such as the network port address if available or other indicia that may become available as technology advances and network components provide more detailed user identification data), and remote auction service identifier (may include node address, name, port, network identifier) are stored in memory as the auction progresses. The processor of the multi-auction service may develop a table of users (bidders and sellers) as items are bid on and offered for sale. The bidder identification information may additionally be compiled into a consolidated database of system users that is used in subsequent references to the user. Bids received for new items may then reference this consolidated table to streamline the data gathering and bidding process. Users may additionally be permitted to supply preference information that can be used by the multi-auction service to contact bidders when items having information related to their preferences are offered for auction by the multi-auction service or its clients.
 Bidders of this system may or may not know that their bids are being reflected at different remote auction services using different proxy representatives. The multi-auction service may replicate the actual detected bidder information at the remote auction service as an extension of part of the account name or alternatively may use a system generated identifier or pseudonym to submit the bid for a new bidder at a remote auction service in accordance with the remote auction service's policies.
 Referring back to
 From the point of view of each remote auction service, the bids all appear to be locally managed and processed exclusively by that service. The local user bidding directly through that service submits the bid using the means provided by this remote auction service. Their bids appear directly on this service. After this bid is detected and replicated on another remote auction service, if a remote local bidder on a second remote auction service, seeing that replicated bid from the first remote auction server decides to submit a higher bid, this bid is detected by the multi-auction service and is replicated back on the first remote auction service. The actual method for submitting replicated bids that may be performed by the multi-auction service may involve emulating the entry of bid data as if the multi auction server were a “live” bidder or formatting that submittal in another form recognizable at the remote auction service. The identification data associated with the replicated remote bid, that is then displayed on the first remote auction service is associated with the multi-auction service proxy representative. This bid also appears to be a local bid to the first remote auction service which processes the bid in the standard manner.
 Bids may arrive or be placed in a plurality of “currencies” where there is an equivalency table (either provided by the multi-auction server, the Seller or the remote auction service) for comparing bids. For example, a seller is offering a single item on an auction site in the U.S. and a site in France. French bidders are bidding francs while US bidders are bidding dollars. After the multi-auction service collects the bids, the bids would all be translated to a common unit (most likely dollars), compared and then the optimal bid replicated back in the appropriate currency for that site. The same method of comparison is used for determining what the optimal/lowest bid is for the buyer. In an extension of this system, bids may be placed not only in hard currencies (dollars, francs, etc.) but also barter items. For example, a bidder may bid an airplane flight, which would be translated into dollars using a table so that it could be compared to other barter or hard currency bids. Barter or trade items may additionally be set as reserve values that may be published such that a bidder may see them and provide them as a bid for the item. In general tax effects could be considered as well. In the similar manner the descriptive text of items may be adapted to be translated by the multi-auction service such that either a bidder or seller using the services provided may have their parameters or item descriptions translated from one language into another to either facilitate the specification of the parameters of an item to be auctioned by a seller or purchased by a bidder. Alternatively, users of the multi-auction service may select a language to have auction items of interest converted such that they may review items descriptions in a language of their choice.
 Each of the remote auction services attempts to remotely auction the item as if they exclusively offered it. As bids are received for the item, the bid received is relayed to the multi-auction service for the seller or alternatively, the multi-auction service for the seller periodically contacts the remote auction services to check if bids on the item have been received. If the service finds that a bid has been received at the remote auction service while the service is contacting the remote locations to relay other bid information, the newly detected bids are collected and compared to check which is optimal. If the newly detected remote bid is higher than the current bid being replicated, the service contacts the other remote auction services with this new information. If the newly detected remote bid is lower than the current bid being replicated by the multi-auction service, the multi-auction service for the seller continues to replicate the current bid at the other remote auction sites.
 The optimal bid will usually be the highest for the seller and lowest for the bidder, but can be something else under specific circumstances controlled by the multi-auction service. For example, the highest bidder may have a questionable credit rating or closing history, or the highest bidder may be using a credit card so that his bid needs to be adjusted downward by the processing fees. A database of bidder performance statistics (closing rates, timeliness, seller feedback, etc.) can be factored into the “optimal bid” selection process in order to determine an adjusted bid. When a buyer is using the multi-auction service to achieve an optimal price that is the lowest price, the item offered with the lowest bid may have excessive shipping charges or other ancillary fees that may additionally need to be factored into the bid price as an adjustment. In the preferred embodiment, these factors that affect the bid are assessed during the bid process such that the buyer and Seller are aware of the impact of these charges on the ultimate bid price to be paid. The multi-auction service may adjust for these factors in an automated or manual manner by requesting this information when in a manual mode or by parsing or retrieving corresponding data elements in a computer augmented mode of operation.
 The remote auction services in response to bids from the multi-auction service, may update the posted bid price dynamically on the items at that time of reception, or may indicate that a change is pending for an auction item. This information is usually not relayed to previous bidders unless they request current bid information or to be notified if their bid is exceeded. In this mode of operation when a bidder has not requested to be notified by the remote auction service or the remote auction service does not offer a notification service, a bidder must inquire to receive the current bid of an item at the remote auction service. At that time, the remote auction service looks up the most recent bid information for that item and informs the bidder of the current bid.
 The auction process continues until the auction is closed. Several different methods may be employed to close the auction where the end result is that one or several successful bidders are informed that their bid was successful. In the preferred embodiment, one of the selling parameters of the auction that a seller may define is the method of ending the auction. If the seller specifies that they may end the auction prior to the actual closing date of the auction, the multi-auction service may control the closing process where the remote auction services do not perform the closing steps typically associated with prior art auction methods. In this manner, the multi-auction service may establish an actual closing date that is earlier that the closing dates communicated to the remote auction services participating in the auction. Users bidding on the item are informed that the auction may close prior to the actual closing date due to other circumstances or conditions of the auction. The circumstances may be defined to the users participating in the auction or may only be known to the multi-auction service and seller. One reason for notifying the users of the alternate rules for closing would be to prevent a flurry of bidding in the final moments of an auction where bidders wait to submit a bid until just before the end of the auction hoping to win with a low bid for the item. For example, if bids are not received for an item for some period of time the auction may close. In another type of conditional closing process, a price or proceeds amount may be established such that the first bidder to meet or exceed that price or amount wins the auction. These types of conditional parameters allow for the control of the auction to be managed by the multi-auction service.
 In another embodiment of a closing process, assuming that all of the remote auction services can be configured to allow the closing to be determined by the seller, the seller may specify or the multi-auction server may specify that one of the remote auction locations actually know the closing parameters of the auction. For example, if this controlling remote auction service is given the actual closing date of the auction, when the close of the auction occurs at that site, the winning bid is replicated by the multi-auction service and the auction is closed at each of the remote auction sites. The multi-auction service could additionally act as this controlling remote action service.
 The following are some of the possible closing events that may be implemented in this invention
 (a) fixed time expires;
 (b) period of inactivity;
 (c) first bid to exceed either a published or secret “sudden death”. This “sudden death” price is different than a reserve price in that the auction can close at a lower price if the sudden death price is not reached—the sudden death price relates only to a price level that will cause the auction to close before its otherwise scheduled close;
 (d) auction type (c) with a decreasing “sudden death” price over time.
 Any particular auction can combine these types as well. For example, type “c” may have a type “b” close if the “sudden death” price is not reached.
 In another embodiment, the remote auction services cooperatively interoperate with the multi-auction service and provide automated feedback to the multi-auction service as the auction progresses. The remote auction services notify the multi-auction service whenever bids are received. The multi-auction service provides coordination data on the closing time of auctions where the remote auction services are notified of the closing time from the multi-auction service dynamically. Any pending bids received prior to that closing time are retrieved or received by the multi-auction service to be compared to each other. The winning bid notice is sent to the remote auction service where the optimal bidder was located. The seller arranges for the transfer of the item with the winner. In this mode, the seller may provide a commission to the remote auction service that had the winning bidder, or alternatively, all participating remote auction services will share a portion of the commission. Other commission payment methods may be optionally arranged prior to the auction by the multi-auction service. The multi-auction service may receive payment for the service provided from the seller, where the payment received is further distributed to the site where the winning bidder was found, or alternatively where each of the sites that participated would receive a payment proportional to the quantity of bids processed at or above the reserve price.
 If one of the bidders fails to acquire the item bid for, the multi-auction service provides notification to the seller where the seller determines how the matter will be settled, if he has not already specified a method as part of the selling parameters for the item or items. In one embodiment, the seller contacts the multi-auction service to request the next optimal bidder.
 Since the auction will be closed at one or more of the remote auction services, and each remote auction service will attempt to arrange the end of the auction, there may be some delay following the end of the auction to identify the actual winning bidder(s). In the case of a winning bid by a local bidder at the close of the auction, the remote auction service attempts to notify the seller of the winning bidder information according to prior art methods. When the seller is represented by the multi-auction service, the multi-auction service receives the optimal bidder information from the remote auction service and forwards this information to the seller or proceeds to process fulfillment of the order if the Seller has arranged for fulfillment services. The seller or multi-auction service in turn contacts the optimal bidder and attempts to arrange for shipment and payment for the item. When the winning bid on a remote auction service is a replicated bid placed by the multi-auction service, the multi-auction service will be informed that one of its nominees is the winning bidder and will ignore that particular winning bid.
 In another embodiment where the closing times are remotely controlled in close synchronicity to each other, as one of the remote auction services indicates the close of the auction, this message is detected and processed by the multi-auction service. If at substantially the same time, other auction sites close that have different best bidders than the first to report the close, the last fully coordinated bidder is notified that they are the winning bidder. The auction is provisionally closed unless the last replicated bidder fails to complete the purchase. At this point the multi-auction service may review the optimal bidder data received from all of the remote services to select the next optimal bid. Other options may alternatively be chosen by the system where other than the last successfully replicated bidder may be the winning bidder. Since the multi-auction service may be the only site that knows the actual seller identification data, no other remote services may directly contact the seller. The multi-auction service can determine the identification information of each of the remote bidders that submitted acceptable bids at the various remote auction service after the closing was indicated at the first remote auction service. The multi-auction service can therefore override the winning bid at the remote auction locations by sending the losers email or other communications specifying that their bids appear to be unacceptable, but that they may be informed within the immediate future if their bid is accepted. This notification may occur in the case where an otherwise optimal bidder previously identified does not complete the purchase. In another embodiment, the optimal bidder is determined by contacting each of the remote auction sites in succession to determine the optimal bidder at that time.
 The bids stored in memory of the multi-auction service during the bidding process may be used in subsequent historical analyses of the bids received to aid in implementing future auctions coordinated by the multi-auction service. This information may be statistically analyzed to determine the remote auction services that have the most activity for a class of items, such that only those remote auction services that have significant activity or have provided winning bidders are used in following auctions for similar items. The historical data may also be analyzed to determine the best time of the year, month, week or day to begin and end auctions for a particular type of item. Descriptive information included by the seller may be analyzed to determine the best descriptive text yielding the best closing bid for prior sellers offering similar items for auction. The best descriptive text may be used by the system when a seller offers new items for sale. In one embodiment, the seller is provided with suggested text for the item description that the seller may use as provided, or the seller may modify the suggested text. The seller may additionally view stored images of items previously auctioned that yielded the best bids to assist them in preparing their item for auction.
 The multi-auction service may use historical records to determine how similar objects have sold to determine the best manner to sell an item submitted by a seller. Seasonal items for example such as generators or snow removal equipment sell at higher prices before or soon after the season begins.
 The multi-auction service accesses a memory location which may comprise a file system or computer memory to access those historical records that identify the best times of the year to sell items of that type. The system might be able to use the seller's reserve price to identify the earliest time or statistically best timeframe for a seller to place an item for auction. The historical records may also be used to search for similar products sold to select the best description for the products that statistically return the optimal auction prices. The seller's item would then be given a similar description. The seller may therefore query the history through the multi-auction service prior to submitting an item for auction to choose the best parameters for the auction of the item.
 A seller from a seller computer may contact the multi-auction service
 In the preferred embodiment, a network of ancillary business partners are coordinated through the system such that appraisers are provided to assure the quality of the item to be auctioned. Shipping and handling partners may also be established to facilitate and standardize on the methods of shipping the items to be auctioned from the seller to the winning bidder(s). Warehousing partners may be used to temporarily store items to be auctioned and facilitate distribution by the multi-auction service.
 When network traffic causes delays in the connection or access to bid information held by remote auction services, the multi-auction service may analyze the times of each bid and other information received at the remote auction sites to determine the optimal in the case of a tie. If no tie exists, the multi-auction service may replicate bids as previously disclosed for the optimal bid received. If one or several of the auctions closed remotely when network problems existed, one of the closing processes previously disclosed may be used to reconcile the bidding.
 A tie can occur if a plurality of bidders enter the same bid on the same item at different remote auction services (or instances of the item on the same remote auction service) between multi-auction/remote auction service bid detection times. In this case, the optimal bidder must be selected from bidders who have placed bids at the same price level using a combination of any or all of criteria comprising time stamp, performance statistics of the tied bidders, credit rating, form of payment or other ancillary costs. Other factors may also be used to reconcile the tie. This optimal bidder will be replicated on all remote auction services other than those that have received an identical bid not selected as the optimal bid. In one embodiment, on those remaining remote auction services where the tied bid is not selected as the optimal bid, the bid at that location will be increased to a level even higher than the optimal selected bid in order to “knock out” the tied bidders who were not selected. This tiebreaker bid will be placed in the name of one of the proxy representatives and therefore will not represent a bonafide local bidder from the sellers or remote auction service's perspective.
 The data shown in FIGS.
 In this example the multi-auction service does not replicate all bids, but instead periodically replicates bids by identifying the optimal bid at the bid detection time At the detection time, the multi-auction service contacts each of the remote auction services, (Auction
 In the case when a tie exists at the time of the bid detection by the multi-auction service (see
 The bid replication methodology additionally changes the way Dutch auctions work. In a normal Dutch auction held at one remote auction service the following occurs: (1) A seller list an item for sale, the item quantity (say 100) and the starting bid (Say $10); (2) Buyers bid on a quantity and price they are willing to pay. Once all 100 items have received a bid of $10.00, the new minimum bid increases, say to $11.00; (3) At the close of the auction, the top 100 bids win at the price bid by the marginal/lowest bidder. In its most straightforward embodiment, the present invention will enable a seller to run parallel Dutch auctions simultaneously on multiple remote auction locations. For example, if there are 100 items offered on each of 5 sites, there appears to be 500 items available when a marginal bidder bids an amount and quantity on any one remote auction service site, this bid will be replicated on the others, rendering bidders who would have cleared the market considering bids on the replicatee site alone obsolete. At the close of the Dutch Auctions, each Dutch auction will still sell 100 items. However, some of sales will be to actual bidders and the balance will be to proxy representatives representing the multi-auction service. When all the auction winners are combined across sites, there will be 100 local bidders in aggregate that will be expected to take delivery of the items. If the bidder is also a client of the multi-auction service, the multi-auction service will bid on items across multiple Dutch auctions without regard to whether the particular auction represents a unique auction or a replicated auction since there is no difference.
 In the case of a tie in the Dutch auction format, ties can occur both within a remote auction service or across remote auction services. Ties only matter when there is not sufficient quantity to fill all orders placed at the tied bidders price level. Thus, a tie is not critical unless it involves multiple bidders at the marginal bidders price level. Ties at the marginal acceptable price are typically resolved by ranking the bidders from highest to lowest with respect to quantity bid and then filling orders each order completely until the quantity is exhausted. However, other schemes such as prorating based on bid quantity or time precedence are possible. When two marginal bids are both for the same price level and quantity, time precedence is typically used, but prorating is also possible.
 When the multi-auction service encounters a tie at the marginal bid level between bidders, it will select the set of Optimal Bids to fill. Tied bidders will be notionally allocated items based on the various schemes outlined in the previous paragraph. The bid replication methodology is identical to that in the standard Dutch auction, except that the bids of the selected tied bidders may be incremented by one remote auction service price increment
 The bid replication methodology can also help Sellers increase the price they receive in auctions in the Virtual Buyers Cooperatives format (e.g. Mercatta, Accompany and Act Big auction formats). These auctions are similar to Dutch auctions in that there are multiple identical items available and they will all ultimately be sold at the lowest price that clears the market. In these auctions, unlike Dutch auctions, the quantity of items available is not pre-fixed but rather a function of the level of bidding activity and the prices bid. Bidders place bids for the maximum price they would pay for a quantity of the items. As more and more bidders do this, in some cases the “published price” drops to reflect an aggregate quantity discount appropriate to the aggregate volume of bids across all bids. The market clears at a price acceptable to the seller which reflects this aggregate quantity as if the buyers were banded together to increase their market power. Using the bid replication methodology, a seller can run simultaneous auctions at different locations, aggregating buyers across those locations to either sell the same quantity of items at a higher price than would be achieved at a single location, or alternatively, sell a higher quantity of items than would otherwise be sold at a single location.
 The multi-auction server's bid replication methodology helps buyers in reverse auctions in a way analogous to the way it helps Sellers in normal auction formats. In a normal reverse auction, the buyer describes the item they wish to purchase. Criteria may be inputted such as maximum price (similar to a reverse reserve price), or the buyer may list no criteria. The sellers then have an opportunity to offer the item competitively in a format analogous to a bidder bidding on the item. The buyer can accept or reject the offer. In reverse auctions, the buyer would be the client of the multi-auction service and the multi-auction service would list the buyer's request on multiple reverse auction sites. This will expand the visible universe of sellers who will see and offer the item. When a particular seller on a particular site offers on the item, the multi-auction service will use the bid replication methodologies previously discussed to duplicate his marginally lower offer on the other remote auction services, driving down the price for the buyer in all contemporaneous auctions. The bid replication methodology brings the same advantages to the buyer in stand and Dutch reverse auctions as it does to the seller in standard and Dutch auction formats. The auction parameters are similar to those established by a seller (e.g. there can be a reserve price, sudden death price, etc . . . ).
 The multi-auction service provides through an Internet-based interface comprehensive reporting and auction status functionality where the seller or buyer may for example, interactively affect the current auction by accepting the current bid or offer and immediately closing the auction. The statistics on the bid history may be reviewed in real time to determine frequency of bids or identify bidding anomalies where the bid history is presented in graphical or textual format. Processes executing on the multi-auction service generate the graphical content from the bids stored in the database where all bids detected by this system or optionally only the optimal bids may be recorded.
 The system may collect “market data” on losing as well as winning bidders so that targeted e-mail advertising may be directed to the “losers” or the winners of bids. For example, the multi-auction service could send a losing bidder an e-mail saying “We noticed you did not win the auction for the item sought, but there are other identical items available for auction at these locations (or on sale at these retail web sites with which we have negotiated referral fees), etc.”. Alternatively, the system could use the losing and winning E-mail addresses to form a mailing list and send targeted E-mails of complementary products or sell the list to other entities.
 The multi-auction service may additionally comprise a local auction functionality that bidders may access directly to specify bidding rules for items. In this capacity, the multi auction service will generate bids based on bidding activity detected at various remote auction services and relay bids for items to remote auction services (see
 The method of the current invention may also be used to coordinate the purchase of more than one of the target item. In another version of the invention, relative value rules may be established where a bidder is bidding on two or more similar but not identical items and only wants a certain number. For example, where there are 2 similar stereos and the bidder says “I will pay a 10% premium for stereo B over stereo A, but never more than $350 for either”. The system will utilize this rule to identify and bid on the items sought with the rule enforcing the bidding preference. Based on the bids encountered the system may alternately bid on one or the other item as the bids progress until the close of the auction. Bidders may optionally define rules for the total price or individual price not to be exceeded for multiple items for a quantity desired such that the bidding is stopped by the multi-auction service.
 The bidder may contact the multi-auction service in any manner. In the preferred embodiment, a user interface
 The steps performed by the multi-auction service will now be described with respect to flow diagram of
 The detection process disclosed for the seller may be used in a similar manner for bidders at step
 The multi-auction service of the present invention additionally provides comprehensive interactive monitoring tools to track bids in progress across multiple remote auction service. The intelligent identification process used to categorize items by type for sellers may be used by bidders to assist in the identification of items in pending auctions. The system may provide suggestions to the users as the bidding progresses or the system may implement expert-based tactical bidding strategies that allow for unattended bidding. For example, an Internet-based interface
 In the preferred embodiment, any other type of user interface may be provided that shows substantially similar content such that the bidder may view the activity of the bids, change bid strategy, or place bids for the items shown. Preferably the interface