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Patent Troll Sues Google, AOL Over Search 'Snippets' and Ad Serving Tech 83

Posted by timothy
from the excuse-me-have-you-seen-my-rent? dept.
First time accepted submitter WindyWonka writes "Google and AOL were sued for patent infringement Thursday, accused of violating two former British Telecom patents via Google's search 'snippets' and by Google AdSense and Advertising.com ad serving technology. Incredibly, the lawsuit by apparent patent troll Suffolk Technologies asserts that every Google search result 'snippet' display violates one patent, and that another really broad server patent is violated every time Google and AOL serve up ads."
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Patent Troll Sues Google, AOL Over Search 'Snippets' and Ad Serving Tech

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  • Funding? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by andydread (758754) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @05:34PM (#40277787)
    Who is behind the funding of this Patent Troll?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Consumers. Thanks to politicians. Thanks to patent lawyers.

    • Re:Funding? (Score:5, Informative)

      by stevew (4845) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @05:38PM (#40277805) Journal

      I looked at the Server patent - it essentially patents download files via the web. It is bogus beyond all recognition! It was filed in 2000 - I would imagine that gopher, or some of the other earlier web technologies take care this patent nicely, i.e.. prior art exist in spades.

      • Re:Funding? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sepodati (746220) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @06:21PM (#40278037) Homepage

        I think the difference is in incorporating an "identfiication signal" in the original request that is then processed and determines the file to return. So it's not just requesting "foo.txt" and returning it. But, I would think any program that processes GET or POST data and returns a file based on those "identification signals" would be a violation or prior art for this "invention".

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Its pretty much a patent, as far as I can tell, on serving up images based on referer (I guess thats a "signal").

          So yeah, my apache anti-leaching script in the 90s (That substituted a photo of an erect dick whenever an image was leached) was a total patent thievery acomplished via time-travel or something.

          • Re:Funding? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Monday June 11, 2012 @01:36AM (#40280089)

            So yeah, my apache anti-leaching script in the 90s (That substituted a photo of an erect dick whenever an image was leached) was a total patent thievery acomplished via time-travel or something.

            Did you publish it? If so, push the link to Google's lawyers (dropping it on an anti-patent site like Groklaw will do, if you don't want to talk directly to Google). Everyone will appreciate that. It might seem stupid, but it can be really hard to find examples of obvious ideas from the distant past.

      • Re:Funding? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Qzukk (229616) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @06:26PM (#40278067) Journal

        The patent covers using the page the request was made from to decide what file you should get. The original patent was filed in the UK in April 1996 and discusses the HTTP protocol and the referrer address, but RFC 1945 [ietf.org] was published a month later and defined the HTTP protocol (including the misspelling of referer). Perhaps this information was added to the US version of the patent when it was filed in March 1997.

        This seems like something they could get a few bucks each out of the various blogs that forbid hotlinking by serving up goatse whenever the referer URL for a picture is some other site. But I guess they can get more than a few bucks out of Google and AOL, even if it's not really clear how they infringe on the patent.

        • by sg_oneill (159032)

          Its also possibly one of the most obvious patents imaginable. I honestly dont understand how patent examiners read these things and reject them on spot with a note saying something like "What the fuck is wrong with your brain, idiot?"

          • by Shagg (99693)

            You're assuming they read them. Personally, I think they just blindly rubber stamp everything that comes across their desk.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Just read the claims. Everything else is fluff. (Seriously, throw away everything but the claims; pretend the pretty english text and the pictures and background and stuff don't even exist).

          FTP seems to be solid prior art over claim #1. That's all you need to invalidate. I think we're done.

          • These things are not quite as easy; even if an independent claim is invalidated, dependent claims may still be valid. You want to have lots of prior art which matches each individual claim. Eventually, if just a few claims are left over, the patent may be made invalid as insufficiently original, but remember the applicants often get to rewrite it to avoid the prior art.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Although the RFC was only published a month later, it had been circulating in draft and discussion forms for over a year before it was published, and the notion of the Referer header and its use by servers in deciding what content to return was already public knowledge by the time of both patent application and publication.

          In short, this is yet another fraudulent patent where someone has claimed to invent something that was already standard practice. The patent-holder and applicants should be prosecuted fo

        • by Tablizer (95088)

          This seems like something they could get a few bucks each out of the various blogs that forbid hotlinking by serving up goatse whenever the referer URL for a picture is some other site.


          Goatse, patent 37404666: a virtual mutilated anatomy device to dissuade users from continuing an unwanted action by inducing psychological trauma to maximize the memory and influence of the warning for the lifetime of the target user.

        • by tlambert (566799)

          Jared Rhine, then at Harvey Mudd College, wrote a feedback form CGI that took the "Referer:" header into account to allow the feedback form to be dropped onto various web pages, and caused the content to change based on where it was referred from. He did this in 1994.

          Kee Hinckley at Utopia, Inc. documents the specific process he used in an email dated 30 May 1995.

          You need to be careful there. Redirection is often used to do some
          processing at point A and the continue on to point B. You don't want to
          cache *that* result. It's not always as the result of a form submission
          either. In fact we do this when people point a Lycos, Yahoo, Infoseek or
          OpenText search at one of our mailing lists. We check the Referer field,
          figure out what you were searching for in the particular file you are
          hitting, and then redirect you to the same document, but this time with
          parameters (including a #xxx) which will take you to the right point in the
          document. Caching that would make it impossible for the user to ever go
          directly to the top of the document.

          That's probably prior enough art to invalidate in the UK as well.

          -- Terry

      • I assume you are referring to the Patent Number 6,081,835. It was issued in 2000, but it was filed in March 1997. Further, it claims priority to an April 1996 English patent. Therefore, to invalidate it, Google/AOL will have to find something prior to April 1995, one year before the priority date. I'm sure the patent is bogus, but it isn't too easy to beat.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Vitani (1219376)
          So it was granted in 2000, and they sat on it for 12 years, let other people use their "invention" and only _then_ do they sue. Maybe patents should be like trademarks(?) - if you don't defend them, you lose them? It's not like they could argue they didn't know Google or AOL existed until now ...
      • Why is there no feedback to punish the patent department for allowing such idiotic patents?

    • Re:Funding? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 10, 2012 @05:43PM (#40277831)

      This appears to be British Telecom - aka BT, the main telecoms provider in the UK. They are a huge organisation that got broken up into smaller separate business units for wholesale, business, retail (internet phone) and network maintenance. They have a large 2000-3000 person R&D (at least there used to be lots of R&D there are few years back, but I'm not so sure now) center at Adastral Park in the county of *Suffolk* (just south of Cambridge/Cambridgeshire in the East of England). I assume either BT has setup Suffolk Technologies, or someone close to them has bought the patents to pursue. If it is BT then it will be a well-funded operation.

      I think the broad server patent is rubbish. But, the snippet patent IMHO is a legitimate patent.

      • Re:Funding? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Sepodati (746220) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @06:03PM (#40277925) Homepage

        Yeah, the snippets patent actually does look legit. I doubt that Google's process exactly replicates all of their claims, though, even though the end result looks the same. Without knowing Google's algorithm, I guess ST has to assume Google may be using the same process or figure their lawyers can make a case regardless of reality.

        • by Trepidity (597)

          I'm reading through the snippet patent's claims, and while it's not as broad as the server patent, it doesn't seem like an invention to me either. It's automatic summarization plus some ranking/distribution statistics. Automatic summarization is a really old research field, dating back to the early days of information theory. Why is applying it here novel and non-obvious to someone skilled in the art?

          • by Sepodati (746220)

            I'm not an expert or even really famliar with "automatic summarization", so I don't know if it's obvious or not. The writeup accompanying the patent seems to be a pretty specific algorithm with ways of slicing up data, assigning weights, ranking, etc. That isn't reflected in the broader claims, though. So it may not be a good patent, but it at least looks like some legitimate work went into it. Far better than most "on a computer device" or "on the Internet" patent trolls...

      • Showing the use of a search term in context (i.e. showing a "snippet") is a feature of a concordance [wikipedia.org] - a kind of document that has been produced manually for hundreds of years. So there seems to be lots of prior art.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Adastral Park is in the Village of Martlesham Heath near Ipswich.
        There is no way that it is 'just south of Cambridge' in the same way that London is 'just south of Cambridge' or New York is just south of Albany.
        Ipswich is a good hour away down the A14 from Cambridge(accidents with HGV's permitting). You are going SE almost as far as you can go without getting your feet wet in the North Sea.

        BT do still have a research outfir there but it is a mere shadow of its former self. I worked there for a while in the

      • BT's R&D department derives from GPO Research Centre Dollis Hill, founded 1914, which built the Colossus computer.... so they do have some history of innovation

        But this looks like a company setup to be a Patent Troll using some offloaded patents BT couldn't be bothered with ...

    • by slazzy (864185)
      I wish that if they can't get rid of software patents, they could just change them so that the most someone could be liable for is the possible percentage of lost revenue for the plaintiff. In other words, if the plaintiff is a troll and has no product the most they could sue for is $0, because they haven't lost any sales.
      • by chrismcb (983081)
        You do realize this defeats half the purpose of the patent system.
        The patent system is designed to protect the inventor (to encourage them to invent more). Lets assume a little guy events a process to create a widget. He patents the process. Then begins to gather money to start producing the widgets. But that takes, time, maybe several years. Meanwhile daddy warbucks comes along, and builds the widget, because he can afford to.
        According to you, the inventor is owed $0. Because he doesn't have a product
  • Enough already (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 10, 2012 @06:30PM (#40278087)

    This never-ending series of X sues Y articles bores the shit out of me. Constantly presenting them implies the average technology reader does, or should, have an abiding interest in these corporate hijinks, these capitalist dick-length spats, the outcomes of which are of concern chiefly to powerful, monied interests and their lawyers.

    The degree to which our attention is focused on this garbage shows how much our souls are being sucked dry. Science, math, even technology offers much more than this kind of crap.

    • My prediction : 201x will be referred to as the decade when the software patent and copyright bubble burst.

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      Ditto, but the results of all the crapola can and does affect what we use how we use it - be its drugs, electronics, software, and our access to and participation on the net.

      Do I want to be aware of this stuff? I'd prefer not to be but it's part of the sea in which I swim, kinda hard to avoid. Should I be aware of it? I dunno, man, some days I really don't know.

      "Science, math, even technology offers much more than this kind of crap." Yes indeedy-do. Which make them interesting and useful, and also fert

    • Yes let's ignore the problem.

      It'll go away.

  • When Vernor Vinge wrote True Names in 1981, even he couldn't foresee the coming-to-a-world-near-you technological singularity would be held up, not by warfare or massive economic disaster, but by simple antiquated litigation.

  • Lawyers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Someone really needs to find something more constructive for these lawyers to do, like lining the bottom of the oceans.

    • Re:Lawyers (Score:5, Funny)

      by viperidaenz (2515578) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @07:41PM (#40278413)
      But there are so many of them they'll increase the sea levels... unless the increased mass pushes the sea floor down further making the oceans deeper...
    • "Here, we built a new dining room for all lawyers...don't mind that lever at the entrance and that the floor is one big retracting bridge..."
    • by AcMNPV (2347552)

      Someone really needs to find something more constructive for these lawyers to do, like lining the bottom of the oceans.

      Why do you hate sea creatures that much, did they ever do anything bad to you?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    some of my websites may violate those patents as well. For example, (it's a message board), you hover over a post and it shows a snippet of the post without having to open the whole thing. By creating that 'snippet' using an 'algorithm', wouldn't that fall under it?

    Secondly, the other patent uses a 'signal' from the referring page to determine what to send... my board software uses query_string 'signals' to determine what pages to 'send'... gosh. Could it be any more broad?

    What a f'ing troll.

  • by rayharris (1571543) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:22AM (#40280987)

    If you go read the patent [google.com], there are two things to note.

    First, is that the patent provides very explicit flow charts that describe the algorithm that generates the summary. All Google and AOL have to do to win is show that they generate their summaries using a different algorithm.

    Second, is that the patent is for an algorithm to calculate which section should be shown in a summary. You cannot patent algorithms [wikipedia.org]. The patent shouldn't have been awarded in the first place.

    I hate the USPTO and I hold a (hardware) patent.

  • Sounds to me like the trolls think they have a patent on all methods of wiping one's nose, or picking up a piece of paper and putting it into a waste basket. . Grind up trolls and market them as dog food.

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