Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An(other) "I'm Feeling Lucky" Patent

Today, Techcrunch reports on a story that an Israeli company, Netex, has been issued a patent on an Internet search option, the issuance of which could generate massive licensing/royalties fees from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and other companies involved in Internet search. [story here]

In essence, the patent covers one specific search technique, whereby a user simply inputs a search term (e.g. 'Phish') directly into an address bar, or search field, and that input will lead the user directly to the web page represented by that term (Phish.com). Many browsers, such as Firefox and Chrome, enable this search option through the use of their address (or "wonder") bar. Google further makes use of this searching option through their "I'm Feeling Lucky" search choice, featured underneath the search box.

First of all, this story is a strident example of the patent system's failure to disclose an invention until well after the invention has been in use. PTO workload and patent disclosure issues are seemingly both at fault here. Sure, this Israeli company cannot impose royalty or licensing fees retroactively, but it can (and will) stifle current usage of innovation by 'holding hostage' the search companies, requiring them to pay the licensing fees in order to continue implementing this search option.

This development is striking similar to the i4i/Microsoft office patent situation. i4i claims not to be out to 'destroy' Microsoft, however, their actions appear to be sickeningly extortionate in nature. Here, the business model appears to be to make money off a patent, while not producing further innovation or working the invention ourselves. The "lucky" issuance of a questionable patent allows for this to occur.

Netex's statement regarding their patent is also disheartening. The 28-year old face of the company states that they plan on "entering the American market " and "try[ing] to make the most of our patent." Again, this sounds like a business model based on collecting royalties from a (questionable) patent. The company will not work the invention, and will not significantly add anything new to Internet search.

Sadly, the "lucky" issuance of this questionable patent gives this misguided company a monopoly over this particular search option (ironically, one that is relatively insignificant, besides the addition of a slight modicum of convenience).

Google is in the business of adding, not removing, search features; naturally, the Mountain View company will not be happy to yank this search option. They also will not be eager to pay an extortionate licensing fee, especially to a company such as Netex. It will be intriguing to see whether an amicable resolution is forthcoming, or whether Google (or Microsoft) will initiate some form of challenge or protest.

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