New Search Patents

You can learn a lot about emerging search technologies -- including those that may pose serious threats to your favorite search engine -- from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database. Although web search companies haven't used the strong arm tactics used to enforce its "one-click purchase" patent, it's probably just a mater of time before we see some legal wrangling.

Indeed, David Wetherell, CEO of AltaVista's parent company CMGI, has openly voiced the possibility of enforcing some of AltaVista's patents. "Virtually everyone out there who indexes the web is in violation of at least several of those key patents," Wetherell said in an Internet World interview, adding further that the company would take action against potential infringers soon.

Here are some recently issued patents in the area of search and information retrieval that should be of interest to all searchers. Thanks to Gary Price for sending along these alerts.

For more information on these patents, use the link below to the search form of the USPTO database, and search by patent number.

Scalable Solution For Image Retrieval
United States Patent 6,253,201
Assignee: Philips Electronics North America Corporation (New York, NY)

"The invention is a method and apparatus for determining similarity between images based upon a count of the number of similar characterizations of the images. To provide for efficiency in the comparison process, indexed lists of image identifiers are maintained, and the count of similar characterizations of an image is determined by the count of occurrences of the image's identifier in selected lists.

"The selected lists are determined by a characterization of a target image from which similar images are to be identified. The indexing and retrieval techniques presented herein are suitable for a variety of image characterization techniques, such as characterizations based upon the color content or edge content of partitions of an image. Multiple indexes can be associated with one or more characteristic measures of each partition, allowing for image retrieval based on one or more characteristics of the target image."

Process For Maintaining Ongoing Registration For Pages On A Given Search Engine
Assignee: Search Mechanics, Inc. (New York, NY)

"A process for maintaining ongoing registration for pages on a given search engine is disclosed. It is a method to actively cause an updating of a specific Internet search engine database regarding a particular WWW resource. The updated information can encompass changed, added, or deleted content of a specific WWW site. The process comprises the steps of having software tools at a local WWW site manually and/or automatically keep an index of added, changed, or deleted content to a particular WWW site since that WWW site was last indexed by a specific Internet search engine.

"The software tools will notify a specific Internet search engine of the URLs of specific WWW site resources that have been added, changed, or deleted. The Internet search engine will process the list of indices of changes, additions or deletions provided by a web site, or add the URL of resources that require indexing or re-indexing to a database and visit the WWW site to index added or re-index changed content when possible. The benefit to the Internet is the creation of an exception-based, distributed updating system to the Internet search engine as opposed to the cyclical and repetitive inquiring by the Internet search engine to visit all WWW sites to find added, changed, or deleted content. Overall Internet transmissions are reduced by distributing the update and indexing functions locally to web sites and away from the central Internet search engine."

Method And System For Retrieving Relevant Documents From A Database
Assignee: KCSL, Inc. (Toronto, CA)

"A method for processing a search query uses the results of a search performed on a high quality, controlled database to assess the relevance of documents retrieved from a search of an uncontrolled public database having documents of highly variable quality.

"The method includes the steps of parsing the search query and then searching the authoritative database to generate authoritative database results. The search query is also used to search the public database, thereby generating public database results. The quality or relevance of the public database results are then quantified on the basis of the authoritative database results, thereby generating a quality index. The results from both the authoritative and the public databases are then ranked on the basis of this quality index."

Technique For Providing A Universal Query For Multiple Different Databases
Assignee: International Business Machines Corporation (Armonk, NY)

"A technique for permitting a client in a client/server computing environment to query a plurality of databases for desired data utilizing a single query sent over a network one time. The single query need not be written in the syntax for the target database, but includes the names of the database and table within the database which contains the desired data. The query is sent from the client over the network via a specified socket, and is received by servers connected to the network which are listening to the specified socket.

"Each server includes code which determines if the desired data is present in a database which is associated therewith. If so, the server code generates an appropriate query for its associated database, retrieves the desired data from the database and forwards the data to the client over the network. If the data is not present in the associated database, the server preferably informs the client that the data is not present in its associated database, and the client makes a record of the responses from the servers."

Any comments on these patents? Are you concerned about companies gaining control over key search technologies and forcing other search engines to pay to use the techniques? Use the feedback form and sound off. I'll publish the most interesting comments in a future issue of SearchDay.

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United States Patent and Trademark Office

USPTO Patent Search Menu
From this page, you can search for patent applications and grants using quick search, advanced search, or search by application or patent number.

The Virtual Acquisition Shelf & News Desk
Gary Price's Virtual Acquisition Shelf & News Desk Weblog is an excellent source of timely information on search patents and other web search news.

Internet World Interview with David Wetherell

Patent Wars II: CMGI Strikes Back
Danny Sullivan blasts CMGI's chairman and CEO David Wetherell, writing that he clearly doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to AltaVista's patents and their enforcability.

Search Engines Charged with Deception

Consumer watchdog Commercial Alert filed a deceptive advertising complaint yesterday with the Federal Trade Commission against eight search engines, for placing ads in search engine results without clear disclosure that the ads are ads. The complaint states that such listings "look like information from an objective database selected by an objective algorithm. But really they are paid ads in disguise."

Companies named in the complaint include AltaVista Co., AOL Time Warner Inc., Direct Hit Technologies, iWon Inc., LookSmart Ltd., Microsoft Corp. and Terra Lycos S.A.

Danny Sullivan has the full story, including commentary on the complaint and links to more information posted at

Consumer Group Asks FTC To Investigate Search Ads

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.