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SYSTEM AND METHOD OF MEDIA CONTENT DISTRIBUTION EMPLOYING PORTABLE MEDIA CONTENT DISTRIBUTION DEVICE
FIELD OF THE INVENTION  The present invention generally relates to information distribution systems, methods, and devices, and particularly relates to systems and methods of media content distribution employing a portable media content distribution device.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 Public areas, such as airports, zoos, and museums, often deploy information kiosks that serve to inform people about local restaurants, taxis, and other services and attractions. While these kiosks are useful for distributing media content to users, their functionality is limited because a person must be physically present at specific kiosk locations to use them. In contrast, a portable media distribution device that a user carries and that functions to distribute information about point of interest in a given range with respect to the point of interest would be more useful.
 Some services have arisen that provide information to wirelessly connected Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and cell phones with GPS tracking capability that provide information to users based on user location. Examples of such services include WebToGo, and Cell-Loc. These services are disadvantageous in that users must own expensive devices to make use of them, and these devices are generally too expensive to rent or freely distribute to users. These devices are also useful in other contexts, and therefore attract theft. Further, the services require vendors and purveyors of attractions and other points of interest to purchase cellular network services, and this requirement is relatively cost prohibitive.
 The need remains, therefore, for a system and method of media content distribution that utilizes portable devices that are relatively inexpensive and/or have a dedicated use that renders them suitable for rental or free distribution. The present invention fulfills this need.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION  In accordance with the present invention, a media content distribution system includes a portable device operable to store media content, wirelessly receive input signals, select a portion of the media content based on the input signals, and communicate the selected portion to a user. The system further includes a signaling mechanism disposed at a location and producing an input signal in a range respective to the location. The input signal is selected to ensure that the selected portion of media content includes information relating to the location when the portable device is disposed within the range.
 Further areas of applicability of the present invention will become apparent from the detailed description provided hereinafter. It should be understood that the detailed description and specific examples, while indicating the preferred embodiment of the invention, are intended for purposes of illustration only and are not intended to limit the scope of the invention.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 The present invention will become more fully understood from the detailed description and the accompanying drawings, wherein:
 FIG. 1 is a partial perspective block diagram depicting storage of media content in a portable device in accordance with the present invention;
 FIG. 2 is a partial perspective block diagram depicting media content distribution according to a first embodiment of the system of the present invention;
 FIG. 3 is a partial perspective block diagram depicting media content distribution according to a second embodiment of the system of the present invention;
 FIG. 4 is a schematic block diagram depicting a portable media content distribution device according to the present invention;
 FIG. 5 is a block and flow diagram depicting a method of operation for a portable media content distribution device according to the present invention; and
 FIG. 6 is a flow diagram depicting a method of distributing media content according to the present invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
 The following description of the preferred embodiments) is merely exemplary in nature and is in no way intended to limit the invention, its application, or uses.
 Portable device 10 of FIG. 1 is modeled on an MP3 player with an expanded interface and addition of a relatively short range (compared to a cell link) wireless data link (Bluetooth, radio frequency, etc.). It is subject to being programmed by input signals 12 provided by programming station 14 under operation by a device programmer. Alternatively, programming can be accomplished by wire. Accordingly, a device programmer supplies media content 16 relating to various locations corresponding to points of interest, and plural portions of media content relating to a particular point of interest may be authored with respect to different audiences, times of day, and/or events. According to various embodiments of the present invention, the device programmer can also supply a user profile selection 18 for a particular device 10, and thus cause the particular device 10 to deliver media content authored for a particular type of audience. This functionality can be extended to provide a security measure preventing a user from receiving media content not authored for the audience to which the user belongs, and thus prevent intentional and accidental switching of the user profile by the user. In response to instructions from the device programmer, program module 20 produces input signals 12 based on data 22 relating to times and/or locations associated with various points of interest, and based on dedicated programming code sets for programming device 10.
 Input signals 12 received by device 10 have a sequence dictating storage of media content 16 in memory 24A of device 10, and storage of a user profile offset in memory 24B of device 10. The exemplary input signals 12 of FIG. 1 have a sequence in accordance with alternating pairs of portions of media content being authored with respect to different times, events, and/or selections of a user. They also have a sequence in accordance with alternating portions of media content being authored with respect to different audiences. Thus, portions of media content in the
first row of memory 24A may, for example, correspond to daytime content for an adult, followed by daytime content for a child, followed by nighttime content for an adult, followed by nighttime content for a child. Notably, daytime and nighttime content can be the same for one point of interest, and different for another; the same can be true of adult and child content.
 FIG. 2 demonstrates an exemplary implementation of the system of the present invention at a plurality of locations 26A, 26B, and 26C having wireless signaling mechanisms (Bluetooth, radio frequency, etc.) disposed therein, and producing input signals 28A, 28B, and 28C in ranges 30A, 30B, and 30C respective to the locations. In the present implementation, the input signals 28A-C are selected to ensure that selected portions of media content communicated to users as at 32A, 32B, and 32C include information relating to the locations when portable devices 10A, 10B, and 10C are disposed within the corresponding ranges 30A-C. Timekeeping mechanisms 34A, 34B, and 34C provided to devices 10A-C serve as time indicators providing functional offsets 36A, 36B, and 36C, which are further useful for retrieving information relevant to a particular point of interest at a particular point in time.
 In an example where locations 26A-C correspond to points of interest at a zoo equivalent to a lion exhibit, concessions, and a dolphin exhibit, respectively, and where the functional offset serves to indicate whether it is time for a dolphin show, the system operates as follows. Device 10A, receives code <1> from the lion exhibit and differentiates between the various locations based on the input signal, thereby identifying media content 1A-D relating to the lion exhibit. Device 10A further uses functional offset 36A to differentiate between media content for different times, thereby identifying media content 1A-B. Device 10A further uses user profile offset in memory 24B1 to differentiate between media content for various audiences, thereby identifying media content IB and communicating it to the user. As a result, the user receives media content relating to, for example, lion eating habits. An adult user would, for example, have instead received media content 1A additionally relating to lion mating habits. If a dolphin show time had been indicated, the adult and child users would have received media content 1C-D, which would be the same as media content 1A0-B since the lion exhibit is not affected by dolphin show times.
 Further to the present example, device 10B in range 30B receives input signal 28B indicating code <2>, and thereby differentiates between the various locations to identify media content 2A-2D. Each portion of media content 2A-2D serves to communicate identical information about available concessions, with daily specials and other promotions being coordinated through daily reprogramming of the portable media distribution devices. In an alternative implementation, timekeeping mechanism 34B could be adapted to affect functional offset 36B based on date to promote daily specials.
 Yet further to the present example, device 10c receives signal 28C indicating code 3 and thereby identifies media content 3A-D relating to the dolphin exhibit. Since functional offset 36C indicates a dolphin show time, media content 3C-D is identified. Media content 3D is finally chosen based on the user profile offset stored in memory
24B3. Thus, the child user receives information relating to the dolphin performance. If a non-show time had been identified, then media content 3A-B would have communicated an announcement relating to available show times.
 Still further to the present example, ranges 30A30D do not overlap, thereby ensuring that a portable device does not communicate a portion of media content to the user about one point of interest when in closer proximity to another point of interest. Alternative implementations, however, may permit certain ranges to overlap and provide the portable devices with an ability to communicate availability of multiple portions of media content to a user, perhaps as text labels on an active display. Then the devices can select an available portion of media content based on a user response, such as a selection of a text and/or audio label via a selection mechanism provided to a device.
 FIG. 3 displays another exemplary implementation of the present invention, wherein a movie theater provides portable devices to patrons wishing to hear a soundtrack of a viewed film, but with dialogue recorded in a foreign language. Thus, a Spanish-speaking adult may rent device 10A for himself, while renting device 10B for his Spanishspeaking child; a French-speaking adult may further rent device 10C. According to the present example, devices 10A-C have been programmed with secure user profiles in memories 24B1-B3, such that the child user receives censored dialogue at 32B, while the adult users receive uncensored dialogue at 32A and 32C. A selection mechanism provided to each device additionally allows the users to switch between languages by manipulating functional offsets 36A, 36B, and 36B. Since preferred language may be considered part of a user profile, this example further employs two user profile-related offsets, where one profile category is secure and the other is not.
 Further according to the present example, the movie theater is provided with a time code extractor mounted, for example, in the theater ceiling, and operable to extract time codes encoded in film images displayed on a movie screen 40 using, for example, Veil technology. As a result, extractor 38 is operable to produce signals 28A-C based on actual event at different times at the point of interest, and devices 10A-C can therefore differentiate between times and/or events at the location based on the input signals. Accordingly, upon receiving an input signal at the start of the movie, devices 10A-C each retrieve a portion of soundtrack for a first reel of the film, and select different language and/or censored versions based on secure and unsecure offsets provided to devices 10A-C. Each additional extracted time code indicating a new reel of the film causes extractor 38 to produce a new signal selected to cause devices 10A-C to retrieve soundtracks for the appropriate reel of the film.
 FIG. 4 illustrates the components of the portable media content distribution device 10 according to the present invention. It has a wireless input 42 receptive of input signals 12 comprising key codes 44, user profile offsets 46, and/or media content 16. Central processing unit 48 is adapted to access memory 50, which can include Random Access Memory (RAM), bit registers, hard disk storage, and/or flash memory. Core operating system 52, application specific program 54, and established key code signals 56 define the procedures for storing user profile offset 46 as a