Title:
JACKPOT PREDICTION CONTROLLER, A GAMING SYSTEM AND A METHOD OF GAMING
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method of gaming comprising conducting a jackpot having a jackpot prize awarded from a jackpot pool; receiving at least one player prediction of a final value of a parameter characterizing the jackpot prize when the jackpot is awarded determining that a jackpot prize is to be awarded; determining a final value of the parameter corresponding to the award of the jackpot; and determining whether to award one or more prizes from a prediction prize pool based on each player prediction and the final value.



Inventors:
Van Ly, Sen (Lidcombe, AU)
Application Number:
12/325903
Publication Date:
07/30/2009
Filing Date:
12/01/2008
Assignee:
Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited (Lane Cove, AU)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
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20090082088GAMING MACHINE WITH COLLECTIBLE GAME CARDSMarch, 2009Anderson et al.
20070265071Laser MazeNovember, 2007Ziemkowski et al.
20080136106Method of playing poker gameJune, 2008Toyoda
20060258416ANALYZER FOR DATA RELATING TO NETWORKED GAMESNovember, 2006Crawford
20090023488Systems and methods for playing Liar's PokerJanuary, 2009Lewis
20040229676Method of playing a game of chanceNovember, 2004Duhamel et al.
20080197569Inverse ChessAugust, 2008Srinivasa et al.
20100001463GAME AND RELATED KITSJanuary, 2010Imboden
20100075728ONLINE GAMING SYSTEM FOR SIMULATING A SOCCER GAMEMarch, 2010Poisson



Primary Examiner:
KUSUMAKAR, KAREN M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Aristocrat Technologies, Inc. c/o Armstrong et al. (St. Louis, MO, US)
Claims:
The claims defining the invention are as follows:

1. A method of gaming comprising: conducting a jackpot having a jackpot prize awarded from a jackpot pool; receiving at least one player prediction of a final value of a parameter characterizing the jackpot prize when the jackpot is awarded determining that a jackpot prize is to be awarded; determining a final value of the parameter corresponding to the award of the jackpot; and determining whether to award one or more prizes from a prediction prize pool based on each player prediction and the final value.

2. A method as claimed in claim 1, wherein determining whether to award one or prizes comprises determining whether one or more player predictions matches the final value.

3. A method as claimed in claim 2, wherein a prize is awarded to each prediction which matches the final value.

4. A method as claimed in claim 1, wherein determining whether to award one or more prizes comprises determining the closest player prediction or predictions to the final value.

5. A method as claimed in claim 1 comprising: receiving a bet amount in respect of each player prediction; and collecting at least a portion of each bet amount in the prediction prize pool.

6. A method as claimed in claim 5 wherein determining whether to award one or prizes comprises determining whether one or more player predictions matches the final value, wherein a prize is awarded to each prediction which matches the final value, and wherein any prizes awarded in respect of different predictions are proportional with the bet amount associated with the prediction.

7. A method as claimed in claim 1 wherein each player prediction comprises a value of the parameter.

8. A method as claimed in claim 1 wherein each player prediction comprises a range of values of the parameter.

9. A method as claimed in claim 1 wherein the parameter is the amount of the jackpot prize awarded.

10. A method as claimed in claim 1 wherein the parameter is the time when the jackpot prize is awarded.

11. A method as claimed in claim 1 wherein there are a plurality of jackpot pools and player predictions may be made in respect of any one or more of the jackpot pools.

12. A gaming system comprising: a jackpot controller arranged to: conduct a jackpot having a jackpot prize awarded from a jackpot pool; and determine that a jackpot prize is to be awarded; and a jackpot prediction controller arranged to: receive at least one player prediction of a final value of a parameter characterizing the jackpot prize when the jackpot is awarded; determine a final value of the parameter corresponding to the award of the jackpot; and determine whether to award one or more prizes from a prediction prize pool based on each player prediction and the final value.

13. A gaming system as claimed in claim 12, wherein the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to determine whether to award one or prizes by determining whether one or more player predictions matches the final value.

14. A gaming system as claimed in claim 13, wherein the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to award a prize to each prediction which matches the final value.

15. A gaming system as claimed in claim 12, the jackpot prediction controller determines whether to award one or more prizes by determining the closest player prediction or predictions to the final value.

16. A gaming system as claimed in claim 12 arranged to: receive a bet amount in respect of each player prediction; and collect at least a portion of each bet amount in the prediction prize pool.

17. A gaming system as claimed in claim 16 wherein the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to determine whether to award one or prizes by determining whether one or more player predictions matches the final value, wherein the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to award a prize to each prediction which matches the final value, and wherein the jackpot prediction controller is arranged such that any prizes awarded in respect of different predictions are proportional with the bet amount associated with the prediction.

18. A gaming system as claimed in claim 12 wherein each player prediction comprises a value of the parameter.

19. A gaming system as claimed in claim 12 wherein each player prediction comprises a range of values of the parameter.

20. A gaming system as claimed in claim 12 wherein the parameter is the amount of the jackpot prize awarded.

21. A gaming system as claimed in claim 12 wherein the parameter is the time when the jackpot prize is awarded.

22. A gaming system as claimed in claim 12 wherein there are a plurality of jackpot pools and player predictions may be made in respect of any one or more of the jackpot pools.

23. A jackpot prediction controller for a gaming system, the jackpot prediction controller arranged to: receive at least one player prediction of a final value of a parameter characterizing a jackpot prize when the jackpot is awarded determine a final value of the predictable parameter corresponding to the award of the jackpot; and determine whether to award one or more prizes from the prediction pool based on each player prediction and the final value.

24. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 23, arranged to determine whether to award one or prizes by determining whether one or more player predictions matches the final value.

25. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 24, arranged to award a prize to each prediction which matches the final value.

26. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 23, arranged to determine whether to award one or more prizes by determining the closest player prediction or predictions to the final value.

27. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 23 arranged to collect at least a portion of a bet amount in respect of each player prediction in the prediction prize pool.

28. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 27 when dependent on claim 25, arranged such that any prizes awarded in respect of different predictions are proportional with the bet amount associated with the prediction.

29. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 23 wherein each player prediction comprises a value of the parameter.

30. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 23 wherein each player prediction comprises a range of values of the parameter.

31. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 23 wherein the parameter is the amount of the jackpot prize awarded.

32. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 23 wherein the parameter is the time when the jackpot prize is awarded.

33. A jackpot prediction controller as claimed in claim 23 wherein there are a plurality of jackpot pools and player predictions may be made in respect of any one or more of the jackpot pools.

34. A computer readable medium including computer program code which when executed implements a method of gaming comprising: conducting a jackpot having a jackpot prize awarded from a jackpot pool; receiving at least one player prediction of a final value of a parameter characterizing the jackpot prize when the jackpot is awarded determining that a jackpot prize is to be awarded; determining a final value of the parameter corresponding to the award of the jackpot; and determining whether to award one or more prizes from a prediction prize pool based on each player prediction and the final value.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

The present application claims the benefit of priority to Australian Provisional Patent Application No. 2007906532, filed on Nov. 29, 2007, entitled “A JACKPOT PREDICTION CONTROLLER, A GAMING SYSTEM AND A METHOD OF GAMING”, which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.

FIELD

The present invention relates to a method of gaming, a gaming system and a jackpot prediction controller.

BACKGROUND

Currently many gaming systems incorporate a jackpot controller which receives jackpot contributions from a plurality of gaming machines, collates them in a jackpot pool, and makes a jackpot award in response to the conditions for award of the jackpot being met. Depending on the type of jackpot, the condition may be that a signal is received from a gaming machine indicating that a jackpot winning event has occurred on the gaming machine or the condition may be that the jackpot pool has reached a designated value as is the case in a mystery jackpot.

Typically, player interest in a jackpot increases as the jackpot pool increases, particularly if a mystery jackpot has a known upper limit.

The present invention aims to provide additional player interest in relation to jackpots.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In a first aspect the invention provides a method of gaming including:

    • conducting a jackpot having a jackpot prize awarded from a jackpot pool;
    • receiving at least one player prediction of a final value of a parameter characterizing the jackpot prize when the jackpot is awarded
    • determining that a jackpot prize is to be awarded;
    • determining a final value of the parameter corresponding to the award of the jackpot; and
    • determining whether to award one or more prizes from a prediction prize pool based on each player prediction and the final value.

In an embodiment, determining whether to award one or prizes includes determining whether one or more player predictions matches the final value.

In an embodiment, a prize is awarded to each prediction which matches the final value.

In an embodiment, determining whether to award one or more prizes includes determining the closest player prediction or predictions to the final value.

In an embodiment, the method includes:

    • receiving a bet amount in respect of each player prediction; and
    • collecting at least a portion of each bet amount in the prediction prize pool.

In an embodiment, any prizes awarded in respect of different predictions are proportional with the bet amount associated with the prediction.

In an embodiment, each player prediction includes a value of the parameter.

In an embodiment, each player prediction includes a range of values of the parameter.

In an embodiment, the parameter is the amount of the jackpot prize awarded.

In an embodiment, the parameter is the time when the jackpot prize is awarded.

In an embodiment, there are a plurality of jackpot pools and player predictions may be made in respect of any one or more of the jackpot pools.

In a second aspect, there is provided a gaming system including:

    • a jackpot controller arranged to:
      • conduct a jackpot having a jackpot prize awarded from a jackpot pool; and
      • determine that a jackpot prize is to be awarded; and
    • a jackpot prediction controller arranged to:
      • receive at least one player prediction of a final value of a parameter characterizing the jackpot prize when the jackpot is awarded;
      • determine a final value of the parameter corresponding to the award of the jackpot; and
      • determine whether to award one or more prizes from a prediction prize pool based on each player prediction and the final value.

In an embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to determine whether to award one or prizes by determining whether one or more player predictions matches the final value.

In an embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to award a prize to each prediction which matches the final value.

In an embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller determines whether to award one or more prizes by determining the closest player prediction or predictions to the final value.

In an embodiment, gaming system is arranged to:

    • receive a bet amount in respect of each player prediction; and
    • collect at least a portion of each bet amount in the prediction prize pool.

In an embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller is arranged such that any prizes awarded in respect of different predictions are proportional with the bet amount associated with the prediction.

In an embodiment, each player prediction includes a value of the parameter.

In an embodiment, each player prediction includes a range of values of the parameter.

In an embodiment, the parameter is the amount of the jackpot prize awarded.

In an embodiment, the parameter is the time when the jackpot prize is awarded.

In an embodiment, there are a plurality of jackpot pools and player predictions may be made in respect of any one or more of the jackpot pools.

In a third aspect, there is provided a jackpot prediction controller for a gaming system, the jackpot prediction controller arranged to:

    • receive at least one player prediction of a final value of a parameter characterizing a jackpot prize when the jackpot is awarded
    • determine a final value of the predictable parameter corresponding to the award of the jackpot; and
    • determine whether to award one or more prizes from the prediction pool based on each player prediction and the final value.

In an embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to determine whether to award one or prizes by determining whether one or more player predictions matches the final value.

In an embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to award a prize to each prediction which matches the final value.

In an embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to determine whether to award one or more prizes by determining the closest player prediction or predictions to the final value.

In an embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller is arranged to collect at least a portion of a bet amount in respect of each player prediction in the prediction prize pool.

In an embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller is arranged such that any prizes awarded in respect of different predictions are proportional with the bet amount associated with the prediction.

In an embodiment, each player prediction includes a value of the parameter.

In an embodiment, each player prediction includes a range of values of the parameter.

In an embodiment, the parameter is the amount of the jackpot prize awarded.

In an embodiment, the parameter is the time when the jackpot prize is awarded.

In an embodiment, there are a plurality of jackpot pools and player predictions may be made in respect of any one or more of the jackpot pools.

In a fourth aspect of the invention provides computer program code which when executed causes a computer to implement the above method.

In a fifth aspect the invention provides a computer readable medium having thereon the program code.

In a sixth aspect the invention provides a data signal including the program code.

In a seventh aspect, the invention extends to transmitting the program code.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a gaming machine of an embodiment;

FIG. 2 is a block diagram of a gaming machine of an embodiment;

FIG. 3 is a block diagram of the memory of a gaming machine;

FIG. 4 is a block diagram of a player marketing module of the gaming system of an embodiment;

FIG. 5 is a block diagram showing how a plurality of gaming terminals are networked and in data communication with a jackpot controller; and

FIG. 6 is a flowchart of a gaming method of an embodiment.

The foregoing summary, as well as the following detailed description of certain embodiments of the present invention, will be better understood when read in conjunction with the appended drawings. For the purpose of illustrating the invention, certain embodiments are shown in the drawings. It should be understood, however, that the present invention is not limited to the arrangements and instrumentality shown in the attached drawings.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring to the drawings, there is shown an exemplary gaming system with a jackpot prediction controller. In the gaming system, players are able to make predictions in relation to awarding of the jackpot. These predictions are received by the jackpot prediction controller and checked when a jackpot is awarded to determine whether a prize is to be awarded in relation to one or more of the predictions.

In the exemplary embodiment, the jackpot prediction controller is described in relation to a gaming system having a plurality electronic gaming machines arranged to play one or more resident games; the gaming machines arranged to contribute to one or more jackpots. However, persons skilled in the art will appreciate that a jackpot prediction controller could also receive jackpot contributions in a server based gaming system and that the jackpot prediction controller could be part of such a system or of a system that combines standalone and server based gaming. In server based gaming, a terminal which takes a form similar to a standalone gaming machine operates as a client and a remote server executes the game. Contributions to a jackpot are based on bets input at the terminal. Further, the jackpot prediction controller could be incorporated within another system or device such as a jackpot controller or a casino management system.

A typical stand alone gaming machine 10 is illustrated in FIG. 1. The gaming machine 10 includes a console 12 having a display 14 on which is displayed representations of a game that can be played by a player. A mid-trim 20 of the gaming machine 10 houses a bank of buttons 22 for enabling a player to interact with the gaming machine, in particular during game play. The mid-trim 20 also houses a credit input mechanism for example a coin input chute and/or a bill collector 24B. Other credit input mechanisms may also be employed, for example, a card reader for reading a smart card, debit card or credit card.

Artwork and/or information, for example pay tables and details of bonus awards and other information or images relating to the game may be provided on a front panel 29 of the console 12. A coin tray 30 is mounted beneath the front panel 29 for dispensing cash payouts from the gaming machine 10.

The display 14 shown in FIG. 1 is in the form of a video display unit, particularly a cathode ray tube screen device. Alternatively, the display 14 may be a liquid crystal display, plasma screen, any other suitable video display unit, or the visible portion of an electromechanical device. The top box 26 also includes a display which may be of the same type as the display 14, or of a different type.

A player marketing module (PMM) 50 having a display 52 is connected to the gaming machine 10. The main purpose of the PMM 50 is to allow the player to interact with a player loyalty system. The PMM has a magnetic card reader for the purpose of reading a player tracking device in the form of a magnetic swipe card, for example as part of a loyalty program. However other reading devices may be employed and the player tracking device may be in the form of a card, flash drive or any other portable storage medium capable of being read by a reading device.

FIG. 2 shows a block diagram of operative components of a typical gaming machine which may be the same as or different to the gaming machine of FIG. 1.

The gaming machine 100 includes a game controller 101 having a processor 102. Instructions and data to control operation of the processor 102 are stored in a memory 103, which is in data communication with the processor 102. Herein the term “processor” is used to refer generically to any device that can process game play instructions in accordance with game play rules and may include: a microprocessor, microcontroller, programmable logic device or other computational device, a general purpose computer (e.g. a PC) or a server.

Typically, the gaming machine 100 will include both volatile and non-volatile memory and more than one of each type of memory, with such memories being collectively represented by the memory 103.

The gaming machine has hardware meters 104 for purposes including ensuring regulatory compliance and monitoring player credit, an input/output (I/O) interface 105 for communicating with peripheral devices of the gaming machine 100. The input/output interface 105 and/or the peripheral devices may be intelligent devices with their own memory for storing associated instructions and data for use with the input/output interface or the peripheral devices. A random number generator module 113 generates random numbers for use by the processor 102. Persons skilled in the art will appreciate that the reference to random numbers includes pseudo-random numbers.

In the example shown in FIG. 2, a player interface 120 includes peripheral devices that communicate with the game controller 101 include one or more displays 106, a touch screen and/or buttons 107, a card and/or ticket reader 108, a printer 109, a bill acceptor and/or coin input mechanism 110 and a coin output mechanism 111. Additional hardware may be included as part of the gaming machine 100, or hardware may be omitted depending on the specific implementation.

In addition, the gaming machine 100 may include a communications interface, for example a network card 112. The network card may, for example, send status information, accounting information or other information to a central controller, server or database and receive data or commands from the central controller, server or database.

FIG. 3 shows a block diagram of the main components of an exemplary memory 103. The memory 103 includes RAM 103A, EPROM 103B and a mass storage device 103C. The RAM 103A typically temporarily holds program files for execution by the processor 102 and related data. The EPROM 103B may be a boot ROM device and/or may contain some system or game related code. The mass storage device 103C is typically used to store game programs, the integrity of which may be verified and/or authenticated by the processor 102 using protected code from the EPROM 103B or elsewhere.

It is also possible for the operative components of the gaming machine 100 to be distributed, for example input/output devices 106,107,108,109,110,111 to be provided remotely from the game controller 101.

FIG. 4 is a block diagram of a player marketing module 50. The player marketing module 50 is connected via input/output port 57 to a serial input output port of the input/output section 105 of the electronic gaming machine. The player marketing module has a card reader 54 and a display 52 which may be a touch screen display. The PMM 50 may also have buttons 53 for receiving a player input (at least in embodiments where there is no touch screen display) and a speaker 51. Input received from the card reader 54 is processed by processor 55 based on the data stored in memory 56. The PMM 50 is connected to the jackpot system by a network card 58. Thus, in the embodiment, the gaming machine 10 communicates jackpot contributions to the jackpot system via the PMM 50 as described in further detail below.

FIG. 5 shows a series of electronic gaming machines 10 connected via respective player marketing modules 50 over a communications network 510 to a jackpot controller 520 and a jackpot prediction controller 540.

The jackpot contributions are configured in accordance with the techniques known in the art and are transmitted to the jackpot controller 520 via the PMM 50 from the electronic gaming machine 10. This process occurs irrespective of whether the jackpot controller 520 is implementing a mystery jackpot or a game triggered progressive jackpot. The jackpot controller 520 is arranged to aggregate and store the contributions to the prize pools in database 521.

When the jackpot controller 520 is implementing a machine triggered jackpot, it waits to receive a signal from one of the electronic gaming machines 10 indicating that the jackpot has been won. The jackpot controller 520 then locks the jackpot pool, validates the win and awards the prize.

In the case of a mystery jackpot, the jackpot controller compares the current value of the pool to a threshold value (which is typically randomly determined) and when a contribution causes the jackpot pool to increase to above the threshold value, determines whether to award a prize and awards the prize in accordance with a technique known in the art.

In the embodiment, a jackpot prediction controller 540 is also provided. A predictable parameter of the jackpot award is advised to players, for example, on the display of PMM 50. The players are invited to enter predictions of the value of the parameter when the jackpot is awarded. The parameter could be, for example, the amount of the jackpot prize when the prize is won or a time at which the jackpot prize is won.

In another embodiment, the EGMs 10 are modified to enable a player to enter such predictions and a bet amount which is debited from the credit meter of the EGM and transmitted as a contribution to the jackpot prediction controller 540 which stores the contributions in a contribution pool within database 541 as well as stores the predictions. The predications are stored in a manner that they can readily be searched by the jackpot prediction controller when the jackpot is won, for example, by the value of the parameter.

In another embodiment, an additional terminal in the form of jackpot prediction terminal 530 having a credit input mechanism such as a bill validator is used as an alternative or an additional mechanism for entering a jackpot prediction and an associated bet amount. The terminal 530, may have any appropriate input mechanism such as a key board, buttons, mouse or touch screen to enable a user to place a bet. The terminal may present, for example, a graphical user interface operable to place a prediction. The terminal may include a processor executing program code stored in memory to implement the user interface. In another embodiment, PMM 50 may be operable to input the prediction. The terminal, PMM or other mechanism for making predictions are in data communication with the jackpot prediction controller.

When the jackpot controller 520 awards a prize 521, the jackpot controller 520 advises the jackpot prediction controller 540 of the final value of the predicted parameter. Depending on the configuration of the jackpot controller it may or may not be necessary to modify the jackpot controller. For example, the jackpot controller may already be arranged to output the value of the parameter in a broadcast which can be picked up by the jackpot prediction controller. In other implementations the jackpot controller 520 may need to be configured to communicate with the jackpot prediction controller 540.

The jackpot prediction controller 540 searches the database 541 to determine whether to make an award from the jackpot prediction pool. The rules for determining whether to make an award may be that the prize is only awarded for an exact match or for the closest match. The award may be, for example, a percentage of the prediction pool.

Persons skilled in the art will appreciate that the jackpot prediction controller can be implemented in a number of different ways. For example, it can be implemented by a server computer having program code stored in a memory which when executed by the processor of the server computer implements the jackpot prediction controller. Further, while a database 541 is described above, any appropriate data structure may be employed.

In cases where it is determined to make prize awards from the prediction pool in respect of two or more predictions, the amount awarded may be either split between the predictions or split on the basis of the bet amount associated with the prediction such that the award is made proportionally to the bet amount.

A receipt for the prediction can be provided to a player in a number of different ways. For example, the EGM may print a ticket as a receipt for the jackpot prediction using a ticket printer. In another embodiment, data specifying the prediction could be stored on a player loyalty card inserted into PMM 50. Still further, the player prediction may be associated with a player account and an account identification number used to determine how to provide the award to the player. Where the player is issued with a ticket, the player will present a ticket to redeem any prize.

The method 600 of the embodiment is summarised in FIG. 6 where it is shown that a jackpot is conducted 610, predictions are received and stored in a data structure in conjunction with their associated bet 620 by the jackpot prediction controller. The prediction can be stored so as to enable the winner to be identified, for example by storing in the data structure sufficient data to identify the party who made the bet or a unique identifier for the prediction which is also provided to the party who placed the bet. For example on a ticket.

When it is determined that a jackpot is won 630, it is determined what the final value of the predictable parameter is for that jackpot 640. For example, the jackpot prediction controller receives a broadcast of the final value from the jackpot controller. It is then determined by the jackpot prediction controller whether to make an award of a prize from the prediction pool based on the prediction 650 if it is determined to award a prize, the prize is awarded 660 otherwise, the method reverts to conducting the next jackpot 610. The determination of whether to award a prize is made based on rules written in a form interpretable by a processor of the jackpot controller. On example of a rule is that the prediction must match the final value exactly. Another example of a matching rule is that the prediction is within a defined tolerance of the final value. Another example of a rule is to award a prize to the closest prediction. Additional rules may determine how to split the prediction prize pool if more than one prediction satisfies the prize award rule. Example prize splitting rules include splitting the prize equally or splitting the prize based on the relative amounts bet in respect of the prediction. For example, if a first winning party bet $2 and the second winning party bet $1, ⅔ of the prize would be awarded to the first winning party. Jackpot prediction controller can award the prize in a number of different ways, for example it can have another data structure in which it stores the unique identifier associated with the winning structure and waits for the prize to be claimed by presentation and validation of a ticket or, if a party is identified the award could be made directly to a player account or the like.

Further aspects of the method will be apparent from the above description of the gaming system. Persons skilled in the art will also appreciate that the method could be embodied in program code. The program code could be supplied in a number of ways, for example on a computer readable medium, such as a disc or a memory (for example, that could replace part of memory 103) or as a data signal (for example, by downloading it from a server).

It will be understood to persons skilled in the art of the invention that many modifications may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention, in particular it will be apparent that certain features of embodiments of the invention can be employed to form further embodiments.

It is to be understood that, if any prior art is referred to herein, such reference does not constitute an admission that the prior art forms a part of the common general knowledge in the art in any country.

In the claims which follow and in the preceding description of the invention, except where the context indicates otherwise due to express language or necessary implication, the word “include” or variations such as “includes” or “including” is used in an inclusive sense, i.e. to specify the presence of the stated features but not to preclude the presence or addition of further features in various embodiments of the invention.

It will be appreciated by persons skilled in the art that numerous variations and/or modifications may be made to the invention as shown in the specific embodiments without departing from the spirit or scope of the invention as broadly described. The present embodiments are, therefore, to be considered in all respects as illustrative and not restrictive. Several embodiments are described above with reference to the drawings. These drawings illustrate certain details of specific embodiments that implement the systems and methods and programs of the present invention. However, describing the invention with drawings should not be construed as imposing on the invention any limitations associated with features shown in the drawings. The present invention contemplates methods, systems and program products on any electronic device and/or machine-readable media suitable for accomplishing its operations. Certain embodiments of the present invention may be implemented using an existing computer processor and/or by a special purpose computer processor incorporated for this or another purpose or by a hardwired system, for example.

Embodiments within the scope of the present invention include program products comprising machine-readable media for carrying or having machine-executable instructions or data structures stored thereon. Such machine-readable media can be any available media that can be accessed by a general purpose or special purpose computer or other machine with a processor. By way of example, such machine-readable media may comprise RAM, ROM, PROM, EPROM, EEPROM, Flash, CD-ROM or other optical disk storage, magnetic disk storage or other magnetic storage devices, or any other medium which can be used to carry or store desired program code in the form of machine-executable instructions or data structures and which can be accessed by a general purpose or special purpose computer or other machine with a processor. When information is transferred or provided over a network or another communications connection (either hardwired, wireless, or a combination of hardwired or wireless) to a machine, the machine properly views the connection as a machine-readable medium. Thus, any such a connection is properly termed a machine-readable medium. Combinations of the above are also included within the scope of machine-readable media. Machine-executable instructions comprise, for example, instructions and data which cause a general purpose computer, special purpose computer, or special purpose processing machines to perform a certain function or group of functions.

Method steps associated with certain embodiments may be implemented in one embodiment by a program product including machine-executable instructions, such as program code, for example in the form of program modules executed by machines in networked environments. Generally, program modules include routines, programs, objects, components, data structures, etc., that perform particular tasks or implement particular abstract data types. Machine-executable instructions, associated data structures, and program modules represent examples of program code for executing steps of the methods disclosed herein. The particular sequence of such executable instructions or associated data structures represents examples of corresponding acts for implementing the functions described in such steps.