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Google Buys 12 Patents, Protection for Google Related, Instant Pages

Danny Goodwin
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Google has bought 12 patents relating to “cross-referencing information online, techniques for speeding up Web browsing and online advertising” from Northbrook Digital LLC for an undisclosed sum, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Google has confirmed the deal, which was announced Monday by Northbrook’s owner Mark Wolfe, and was executed July 21, according to a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filing.

“Northbrook Digital developed a number of different Web browsing technologies that are becoming essential to today’s Web,” Wolfe said in press release, “and recent acquisition interest from multiple parties highlights how important that technology has become.”

After sparring with foes about Android patents and then acquiring Motorola and more than 14,000 patents, it’s not surprising Google is looking to protect itself here. Based on the technology at issue, it seems Google is protecting two recently launched products: Google Related and Instant Pages.

Patents & Google Related

Google Related is the new toolbar extension that shows you links to related content located on other websites, as well as videos or news.

As SEO by the Sea pointed out in a detailed post, one of the patents acquired shows a toolbar at the bottom of the page reminiscent of Google Related that includes rectangular widgets.

“The patent claims from the first batch of patents appear to be pretty good matches for Google Related as well. The description doesn’t quite match up 100%, but most patent descriptions are illustrative examples, and the claims sections are the important parts,” wrote Bill Slawski.

Compare this abstract:

“A system and method for communicating information relating to a network resource. Upon detecting a hypertext document displayed on the screen a request identifying the document to a supplemental information server and retrieving information related to the hypertext document. The supplemental information is also displayed and the user may be provided opportunity to select further information or links. Guiding individuals to places of interest on a network where information is stored, and/or displaying or otherwise presenting useful information to the user."

To Google’s description of their service from the Google Related YouTube video:

“A thin bar will appear at the bottom of your browser, suggesting news, images, and much more in real time.”

Patents & Google Instant Pages

Another patent Northbrook owns is on “pre-fetching.” That is the essentially the same technology that Google uses for Google Instant Pages, which prerenders websites (specifically, the top organic result for your search query), and loads the page in the background, supposedly saving you time (unless Google guesses wrong).

Northbrook went to court against defunct browser Browster Inc., claiming the company had willfully infringed on five patents related to prefetching held by Northbrook. However, in 2008, a judge found that Northbrook could not recover any damages and Browster didn’t willfully infringe on Northbrook’s patents.

Potentially Bad News for Marketers

Securing these patents may be great for Google, but could eventually prove troublesome for webmasters and marketers. And even though Google may avoid litigation later on by scooping up these patents, the move could spur more antitrust complaints.

Searchers who install Google Related may learn to rely on Google’s recommendations (especially among those who lack “search logic”), so some of your efforts on optimizing your site for Google’s search results pages may become erased essentially with Google assuming the role of recommendation engine. You may get the traffic to your site initially, but Google may just as easily take away that traffic, or even a sale or conversion by recommending another site (this is where antitrust complaints could factor in).

It's the vision for where Google is going: serendipitous search, as then-CEO Eric Schmidt called it last year:

"Games, movies, videos -- we can suggest, again, what you watch and what you know. You're never out of ideas. We can suggest what to do next, what to do, what to read, what to eat."

The future has arrived.

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