Has Powerset Found Its Edge?

Semantic search startup Powerset has apparently licensed some natural language search technology developed at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in Silicon Valley, according to VentureBeat. Powerset’s CTO, Ron Kaplan, is a former PARC scientist.

In an interview, Kaplan said he didn’t believe Google took natural language seriously enough. “Deep analysis is not what they’re doing. Their orientation is toward shallow relevance, and they do it well.” Powerset, however, “is much deeper, much more exciting. It really is the whole kit and caboodle.” While natural language has been a vexing problem for decades, Kaplan said he believes it is ready for prime-time.

Chief executive Barney Pell approached Kaplan in Sept. 2005, and convinced Kaplan to help make a prototype search engine. Over time, Pell negotiated with Kaplan to bring his entire PARC research unit to bear on the problem.

Powerset’s license of PARC’s technology covers the broad areas of consumer search and published content. In return, Powerset will pay PARC a royalty fee, which is capped at an undisclosed level, and other compensation to PARC for the employment of its researchers on the Powerset project. PARC also gets an equity stake in Powerset. Powerset has the right to offer jobs to the PARC employees, if it wants.

The San Francisco-based search company is currently “operating in semi-stealth mode,” according to its site. It has not yet released a publicly available product. Danny wrote about the history of natural language search when Powerset began announcing its plans.

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