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Patents The Internet

Google Patents Search Algorithm 367

Posted by michael
from the google-this dept.
blastedtokyo writes "Google gets the first web search patent. According to this News.com.com article, Google was able to patent how they crawl and rank web pages. They claim "an improved search engine that refines a document's relevance score based on interconnectivity of the document within a set of relevant documents.""
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Google Patents Search Algorithm

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  • by govtcheez (524087) <govtcheez03@hotmail.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:48AM (#5395580) Homepage
    Let's start screaming about how evil patents are and... oh wait, it's Google (and /. loves Google), so we'll get "Thank God they're this innovative and patented it before someone else stole it."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:48AM (#5395585)
    Oh, wonderful. I'm just waiting for the "google is evil!" campaign to start any minute now since they have a patent...
  • by Nikk Name (649179) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:50AM (#5395607)
    And Google still cannot do accurate phrase searches! The 2nd and 4th result of searching on "to be or not to be" produces is erroneous. I won't give up on Altavista until Google can do accurate searches reliably.
  • by Furan (98791) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:51AM (#5395610) Homepage
    Google(for now at least) have been very good about the way they handle their business. They're not exactly evil. Hell, patenting their algorithm is probably a good idea now that AltaVista has a new owner.
  • by taumeson (240940) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:51AM (#5395614)
    Patents are a tool for creating temporary, artificial monopolies.

    With that said, aren't you glad Google might be able to stay on top and profitable, instead of having to resort to banner ad revenue, etc?
  • hmmm.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kevin Stevens (227724) <kevstevNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:52AM (#5395629)
    I am not quite sure of the purpose of this article since most patent articles are intended to point out the ridiculousness of the patent system, but this seems like a pretty legit patent to me. They developed a technology that is superior to their peers, that they developed completely in house w/out ripping anyone off. This passes my shadiness test. If anything, we should all be happy now that Google will be publishing some of the details for their system.
  • by Nikk Name (649179) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:53AM (#5395648)
    Compared to other "patent the fork" icon'ed items, this one is not that outrageous.

    Google's way of doing thing was certainly not the first way to search, it is not the most obvious way to search, it is not the only way to search, and it might not be the best way to search (something better likely will come along). In other words, I don't think this patent will harass many others at all.

    This is nothing near as bad as Amazon patenting message boards attached to sale items, or "one-click shopping" being patented.

  • Hmm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Astin (177479) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:54AM (#5395652)
    Wow.. an internet patent that might actually make sense. It's not "A method to search through an index of web pages for relevant links to a user request for specific information." But the improvement on it. And it's generally accepted that Google DID improve web searching tremendously and have a unique method of doing it. Of course, this means it will be struck down immediately by some small company that gets a broader patent (see above) and sues them.

  • hmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oZZoZZ (627043) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:54AM (#5395653)
    mixed feelings here, I'm sure for everyone. No one is happy when ridicolous patents are filed, but is this a ridicolous patent?

    An invention is something new, or an improvement on an existing invention. Google's algorithm is an improvement on an existing invention. However in order to obtain a patent, there must be no prior art and it must be non-obvious. I don't necessarily beleive that the later two fit in this case.

    The description of this patent seems more general than it needs to be, so I'm sure prior art can be found to fit the general description of this patent.
  • Is not so bad... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:54AM (#5395654) Homepage Journal
    at least we can still use <a href="http://www.google.com/technology/pigeonrank. html">PidgeonRank (tm)</a> without the risk of a lawsuit.

    At least the patent is not so about a "common sense" technology (at least, not was in '96), and I don't think that google will sue the other search engines that refines a little the PageRank concept (like i.e. <a href="http://teoma.com">Teoma</a>) but to avoid someone else patent this or something very related.
  • by Amsterdam Vallon (639622) <amsterdamvallon2003@yahoo.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:54AM (#5395656) Homepage
    Back when Page and his Stanford pal created Google, they had planned to just simply create a really snazzy and useful research project. From day one and for a couple years, they assured everyone that they would never sell-out and their algorithms and code would remain in the public view.

    However, things changed, and they quickly hopped onto the dot-com bandwagon. With this privatization, they closed all their notebooks and journals and stopped teaching others how to implement a great webcrawler and search ranking system.

    They made out well, but I feel that the CS community lost a great number of resources. I'm proud of Google and I use it a lot, but I just wish they'd have remained a bit more loyal to the open source community that they started off with.

    If it weren't for open BSD code and free database software, Google wouldn't exist today. Don't forget that.
  • by jwriney (16598) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:55AM (#5395662) Homepage
    Aaaagh! Patents are bad! Patents are bad!

    (Psst - hey, Google's getting one.)

    Uh, well, (grumble) I guess that's okay then, er...

    Bring on the wave of apologists.

    --riney, Karmakaze
  • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:55AM (#5395666) Homepage
    It's not a question of whether Google is 'good' or 'evil'. It's a question of whether the patent office was right to grant this patent, and whether a patent system that includes software is of greater economic benefit to society than one that does not.

    You can ask: if patents on computer programs were not available, would Google have developed their idea anyway?
  • by Kynde (324134) <kynde@noSpam.iki.fi> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:55AM (#5395673)
    They thought of a way to improve upon an existing invention. They were the first to do it. They want to make money from their idea. It's only logical for them to seek a patent. I guess congratulations are in order!

    Yeah, that's a constructive way to look at it. Thank god that hasn't been the mentality when people have been working on, say, RFCs.

    Nice trolling though...
  • by Tet (2721) <slashdot AT astradyne DOT co DOT uk> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:58AM (#5395700) Homepage Journal
    I'm in two minds about this. Should Google get a patent for this? Google have innovated here, and thus the patent is a valid way to reward the effort they put in to designing the system, in exchange for the idea entering the public domain after the patent expires. While the duration of patents in IT related areas needs to be drastically shortened if they're to serve their original purpose, I'm not inherrently opposed to patents like this. The question then becomes, is it sufficiently obvious to anyone in the field that it shouldn't be patentable? Well, it's a tough call. The fact is that no one had done anything like that before Google. If it was so obvious, why not? My personal view is that it's obvious enough that if Google hadn't done it, someone else would have done within a couple of years. So while I don't think the patent should have been granted, I don't think it's as cut and dry a matter as it may at first appear...
  • by MondoMor (262881) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:58AM (#5395701) Homepage Journal
    Thanks to blogging, the web is filling up with more and more, shall we say, "crap"?

    If "what's popular" is "what's important" according to Google, then how long will it take for the mountains of interlinked banality to make that method useless (or at least make more informative search results harder to find in all the noise).

    Don't get me wrong -- I like Google's system, and it's an oustanding site. I just worry about the world's ever-shallowing and more self-referential culture, and its effects on the future.
  • by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79 @ g m ail.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:58AM (#5395703) Homepage
    "They thought of a way to improve upon an existing invention. They were the first to do it. They want to make money from their idea."

    (I've got some kharma to burn, so why not...)

    Couldn't it be argued, then, that Amazon improved upon online purchasing with their one-click process?

  • Re:watch out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DCowern (182668) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @09:58AM (#5395705) Homepage

    What's wrong with what Google is doing? They're simply trying to keep an "edge" on the market. The reason why they're the best search engine out there is because they figured out how to make a better way to rank pages. They deserve to reap the benefits of that invention without anyone else cutting in on their business.

    As for the "googling" incident, I just think they're attempting to defend their trademark. If you don't do that kind of stuff, you lose your trademark. Kinda like how Kleenex and Xerox lost theirs (everyone says "may I have a kleenex?" or "could you xerox this?" and so it became colloquial and no longer a trademark).

    All Google is trying to do is cover their ass. If they decide one day to try to patent the search engine, then there'll be reason to get up in arms.

  • Good for them... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theGreater (596196) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:00AM (#5395720) Homepage
    ...because they're Google. But if it were Microsoft patenting "an improved method for giving help to users", say maybe the help files vs. man pages, people would flame about prior art, talk endlessly out of their anuses about how Bill Gates is trying to wrest control of the tinfoil hat co-op from Mac users, and generally be nuisances.

    I love /.ing while in class, but honestly, people. Google gives a C&D letter, we all golf clap and say "way to defend your IP!" Someone else does it, and we all run to chillingeffects to boycott / whine / gripe / whatever.

    Here's a thought... get off your hobbyhorse, and start evaluating things based on FACTS, not the general feeling of techno-elitism you get from pretending you're cool because you get jokes written in PERL.

    And mod me -5 Troll, if you want. But it's the damned truth, and you know it.

    -theGreater.
  • by Kevin Stevens (227724) <kevstevNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:02AM (#5395741)
    I definitely think so. I mean other search engines have yet to implement it effectively, even though they know in a broad sense how it works (IE they rank pages based on links to the page). I think the 'easily implementable' test can be executed as follows: do you know how to do this? Or if youre not a programmer type, could one of your programmer friends implement this? This is an entire system google developed, not some inanely simple idea some marketing guy thought he was a genius for thinking of (people like to buy things by clicking on as few pages as possible). I feel this is an excellent example of what a software patent should be, especially since the trickiness is in the implementation, as well as the idea.
  • by BobRooney (602821) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:02AM (#5395745) Homepage
    Don't get me wrong, google does a great job is easily my favorite search engine. However, does it bother anyone else that they are trying to patent an algorithm? Patents are for specific devices/solutions to problems, not methodologies for solving said problems. An algorithm is an idea; a mathematical or verbal expression of understanding. As such there should never be a patent granted because it could never be enforced. In order to enforce a patented idea you need to control how people think. (ah the 1984 references) Short of mind control, you cant stop people from sharing an idea or using it themselves, or modifying it for the betterment of such an idea.
  • by lavalyn (649886) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:02AM (#5395748) Homepage Journal
    And keep every other search engine out on patent infringement? This just means Google can position itself as the only search engine using linkage networks, and not have to improve its products in the face of nonexistent competition.
  • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:04AM (#5395760) Homepage
    Patents are a tool for creating temporary, artificial monopolies.

    Yeah, I agree. Still not all monopolies are bad; I guess it depends on the character of the company that has the monopoly; or what they do with it, or don't do with it. In the US, monopolies aren't illegal, although some of the freedoms that you have if you aren't a monopoly are removed. This seemed to upset Microsoft no end: "we've done nothing wrong, we aren't really a monopoly. Yeah right. Or actually, no, wrong.

  • by DCowern (182668) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:04AM (#5395765) Homepage

    I'm sorry I came off trollish but I just don't see why every patent is seen as evil on Slashdot. I agree wholeheartedly that the patent system has gotten out of control. I just don't agree that every patent is evil. In a lot of cases, businesses need patents to exist. For example, what would happen if Microsoft figured out how to implement Google's page rank system and implemented it on MSN? Google would have no recourse and Microsoft has approximately 80 bajillion times the resources of Google and could easily out market them.

    And by the way... the difference between patents and RFCs is that with RFCs, there's no expectations of profit. They're made in cases where, as a previous poster pointed out, the greater societal benefit outweighs potential profits. Many RFCs and IEEE standards are based on corporate IP anyway, especially ones dealing with network protocols. Token Ring, FDDI, and Ethernet were all proprietary standards back in the day...

  • by tetro (545711) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:07AM (#5395785) Homepage
    Patents aren't technically evil. It's just the way they're used.
  • by DeadSea (69598) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:10AM (#5395808) Homepage Journal
    This is one patent that should be granted. It's no one-click shopping patent, it's no "put an e- in front of it" patent. If Google weren't doing it, then I wouldn't have thought to do it myself.

    Having a patent on it means that Google will be the only viable search engine for the next twenty years if it chooses not to license the patent. Is that what we really want? I could see four or five years, but twenty years is a good percentage of my lifetime. Google is an innovative company, but who's to say somebody couldn't do it better after a few years by building on the idea. The first implementation almost always sucks compared to clones.

  • by Booie Paog (640418) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:13AM (#5395832)
    they can make money, and still put the source code in the patent! software patents disregard the original concept of patents...namely, you have to SHOW what you are patening, including the inner workings of the discovery/invention. if they want a patent, then include the source.
  • by s20451 (410424) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:14AM (#5395840) Journal

    With this privatization, they closed all their notebooks and journals and stopped teaching others how to implement a great webcrawler and search ranking system.

    Troll.

    The upside to patenting (at least in theory) is that Google no longer has to keep its IP secret, in fear that someone else will copy them. If you're so curious, why don't you request a copy of their patent yourself, and review it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:15AM (#5395847)
    That is not the patent for PageRank. PageRank had already been patented by Stanford University, before Google was created, when it was a community effort.
    This new patent is a patent over an improvement of PageRank, what they call now LocalRank and NewRank. It is designed to stop competitor from developing pagerank-like technologies. Armed with that kind of patent, they can stop Teoma, open-sorce Aspseek and others from developing similar technologies.
    What they are tryng to do is extend patents over citation ranking and peer-review, something that has been around since the creation of the first libraries. This is NOT good. This means no more money from the suits to any citation-ranking related effor in any start-up, fearing litigation. It means no more installations of open-source Aspseek (Google Appliance's competitor )in corporate environments, because of fear of litigation.

    This is sad.
  • by TWX_the_Linux_Zealot (227666) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:17AM (#5395869) Journal
    I'd argue that they're probably one of the most respectable internet services companies operating. They don't go for the 'pay for position' revenue scheme, and while they do have sponsored links, they're clearly labelled and generally actually somewhat relevant to what the searcher is looking for. I have found a couple of companies to do business with while looking at their site.

    If they're able to demonstrate an original concept in their analysis of data (eg, html), and have made use of this process to specifically achieve a result not duplicated elsewhere, I would argue they deserve the patent, especially in comparison to the dumbass patents that the USPO has been issuing to others.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:21AM (#5395897) Homepage
    ...because they're Google. But if it were Microsoft patenting "an improved method for giving help to users", say maybe the help files vs. man pages, people would flame about prior art, talk endlessly out of their anuses about how Bill Gates is trying to wrest control of the tinfoil hat co-op from Mac users, and generally be nuisances.


    so you got any prior art on google? They patentented something that IS ACTUALLY INNOVATIVE and took time to patent.. other than patenting an icon that says "start" or patents on clicking on an object to cause an action.

    most patents are completely absurd and need to have an angry mob impale the patent-er and the clerk at the patent office that approved it on a large spike somewhere very public as a lesson to others.

    google's patent is actually something that is worthy of a patent (like the wankle engine, or using an exploding device to inflate a teflon/cloth bag to lessen the impact on the people in a vehicle during a crash... you know something innovative.. It's hard to recognize today in the sea of non-innovatives.
  • Re:watch out (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aengblom (123492) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:23AM (#5395913) Homepage
    Kinda like how Kleenex and Xerox lost theirs (everyone says "may I have a kleenex?" or "could you xerox this?" and so it became colloquial and no longer a trademark).

    ?!?!?

    Both are still very much trademarks. You may use the words in conversation, but I can't make a photocopier named "Xerox."

    What Google is doing is stupid. Mostly because, "to google" refers only at this point to USING GOOGLE!. (Not search)
  • by Bonker (243350) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:24AM (#5395917)
    While I personally think that patents are repugnant, Google has fallen down on the 'just' side of using the patent laws the way they were intending to be used. They're not trying to bilk people out of vast sums of money ala British Telecom's hyperlink patent or Amazon's 1-click buy patent. They have a unique process that they've carefully guarded and have built a business around.

    Now that they've been awarded a patent for page-rank, it's required for them to make it public so that people can license it. You can't patent a trade secret and still have it be secret. People now have the opportunity to build new methods and innovate with Pagerank as a basis for that innovation. (Real innovation, not MS innovation.)

    Again, I think that patents are a misstep. I think they allow too many Amazon and BT events to happen. Despite the fact that the patent system is horribly broken, Google is using patent laws responsibly here. Wait until they announce a patent on 'all search technology that lists search results on a web page' or something like that. *Then* you can start complaining about how broken the patent system is.
  • by registro (608191) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:24AM (#5395923)
    That is not the patent for PageRank.
    PageRank had already been patented by Stanford University, just before Google was created, when it was a community effort.
    This new patent is a patent over an improvement of PageRank, what they call now "LocalRank" and "NewRank". It is designed to stop competitor from developing pagerank-like technologies. Armed with that kind of patent, they can stop open-sorce Aspseek, Teoma and others from developing similar technologies.
    What they are tryng to do is extend patents over citation ranking and peer-review, something that has been around since the creation of the first libraries. This is NOT good.

    Basically, this means no more money from the suits to any citation-ranking related effor in any start-up, fearing litigation. It could mean also no more installations of open-source Aspseek (Google Appliance's competitor )in corporate environments, because of fear of litigation.

    This is sad.
  • by Xformer (595973) <avalon73@@@caerleon...us> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:28AM (#5395955)
    Well, considering that a lot of the other software patents of late have been used as a kind of extortion weapon, patenting a technology (sometimes an obvious one) and waiting for it to become popular before suing people left and right, I'd say Google is on the side of good here.

    They 1) have a clearly working example and 2) are making money off of that example. That's more than what can be said of a lot of the other patents of that kind. I'd want to cover my arse, too, in case other people wanted to jump on the bandwagon, figuring out how I did something that was truly innovative, replicating it, and trying to steal my business with it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:30AM (#5395965)

    The patent office is there partly to keep patent attorneys in business. When prior art exist, they issue the patent anyway, cause if google decides to sue someone, lawyers get wealthier! In case you haven't figured it out yet, the laws are for corporations(stealing taxpayers money and giving it to the elite) and for lawyers(stealing private sector money through increased business cost{=increased product/service price} due to unnecessary expensive litigation).

  • by rjstanford (69735) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:33AM (#5395998) Homepage Journal
    Ah, but Google doesn't show you pages that have been evaluated (by one of their systems) as important. Just popular. And it turns out that, most of the time, pages that other people are worth linking too are ones that are more interesting.

    If you could actually come up with a search engine that gave rankings based on the actual page's importance, that would be a large step forward. May I sumbit that if you did, you'd be likely to at least consider patenting the technique, too!
  • Well dang (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nemus (639101) <astarchman@hotmail.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:36AM (#5396022) Journal
    Eh, too bad. I was hoping Google would stay out of this, but with their over-reaction to "googling" being the "most useful new slang word", and them demanding it be removed, I'm not too surprised they're going the "ultra obscure software patent" approach.

    I remember when there was a time that when I thought about what a "patent" was, I would think of a specific invention, like a microwave, or VCR, or TV. But now most patents seem to be more along the lines of vague methods and unclear descriptions, which seem to have more of a shotgun effect, rather than a more precise one. Everyone else is saying it, so I'll jump on the bandwagon too. The US patent system needs a swift kick in the ass.

  • Re:So? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:38AM (#5396045) Journal

    This isn't one of those overly broad patents where every search engine is covered.

    Most aren't. The difference is with Google we already know this, and don't jump to conclusions when we read "Google has a patent on crawling the web!"

    Spin is everthing.

  • by THEbwana (42694) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:43AM (#5396088)
    A patent is like a baseball bat made out of rubber. When you're competing against other companies - you both get out your set of rubber baseball bats and hand them over to your lawyers who proceed to pummel eachother. After a while - one of the sides will tell their lawyers to stop since they're running out of money (lawyer batsmen are rather expensive). The side who gives up looses - the winning side buys the looser for 5cents (since they're bankrupt).

    These are the current rules (in the US, but also to a varying degree in the EU) of the "game" called free enterprise. They are quite senseless and arbitrary - but you have to adapt since lawyers equipped with rubber baseball bats exist whether you want them to or not.

    Ultimately, every people has the responsibility for its government (if you cant handle this responsibility - then you become a refugee) - and subsequently also for the laws passed. If the rules of the game are ignorant, they are so for a reason. And since ignorance is usually expensive - in the long run, someone will allways have to foot the bill. Bad policies allways have a monetary cost.

    Amazon, Google are naturally doing the right thing since their primary task is to generate profits for their owners - it is not to make policy or specify the rules of the game (the government is supposed to do this on behalf of the voters).
    The politicians are obviously doing the right thing since they're basically excercising their mandate of doing what the average joe has given them authority to do.
    - so I guess that makes the average joe the bad guy/gal. At least the responsibility lies with the same people who are going to pay the price.

    It kinda reminds me of a favourite quote: "if you think education is expensive - you should try ignorance!" /m
  • You READ that C&D? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by siskbc (598067) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:52AM (#5396174) Homepage
    I love /.ing while in class, but honestly, people. Google gives a C&D letter, we all golf clap and say "way to defend your IP!" Someone else does it, and we all run to chillingeffects to boycott / whine / gripe / whatever.

    First, that was the nicest C&D in the history of them, if you can even call it that. They politely *asked*, not demanded, webspy to change their definition to mention Google's trademark. Had that been M$, they would have sent over Vincent and Jules to go midieval on their asses. Ezekiel 25:17 would have rained its vengence upon them. Nah, Google did that nice. I agree, they might not have had to do it, but it was the kind of grey area that makes lawyers nervous. Overall, they did OK.

    Second, Google patented more than an "improved method of helping users." This isn't like Amazon, where they basically patented efficiency (thanks, USPTO). Google didn't patent *all* ways of serving up better results. They patented their fairly specific method, which they were in fact the first to practice. There were a lot of search engine companies at the time - if it were obvious, someone would have been doing it. So I think it passes muster there.

    I do agree that people tend to kneejerk on this site, but there were a lot of people during the C&D discussion who kneejerked against google too - so I don't think this blind acceptance of google is really a problem here. Blind hatred of M$ is more likely.

  • by JoeBuck (7947) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @10:58AM (#5396245) Homepage

    While the Google algorithm is non-obvious, the claims are so broad as to encompass obvious approaches. It seems that any search procedure that awards any kind of bonus or penalty that is a function of interconnectivity would infringe the last two claims.

  • Re:Black/White (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ergo98 (9391) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:06AM (#5396333) Homepage Journal
    I think you thoroughly missed the humor of the post that you replied to. You see Slashdotters, as a general stereotype, fall over themselves to gush praise on Google and to assuage themselves that Google is a benevolent force that represents all that is good (despite several questionable practices. Anyone remember the competition where Google got kids across the land to give them new search techniques virtually for free?). These people seek out and fervently debate any post that casts anything but pure heavenly light on the forces that be at Google. On the flip side these same people spittle bile in a trembling rage at the mere mention of software patents, particularly about something as trivial as what we're talking about here. This is the sort of paradox that is causing heads to pop from the contrasting pressures like a giant whitehead bursting at its skinly bounds. Can you hear that? [pop!] [pop! pop!] [pop!] That's the sound of hypocrisy claiming some victims.

    Note: I like Google. Neigh, I love Google.
  • by cgenman (325138) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:07AM (#5396345) Homepage
    Well, yes and no.

    On one hand, the patent [uspto.gov] covers the fundamental aspects of the algorithim as of three years ago.

    On the other hand, this algorithim does not include updates since then, nor does it include the actual values of the variables, simply their names. Likewise, google is probably using an updated version of this algorithim in their page rank system, one which may resemble this one but which doesn't necessarily emulate it. Furthermore, this doesn't tell us anything that we didn't already know, at least at a fundamental level.

    The exploits, such as putting up 1000 pages with lots of text and tags that point back to your page, are already known. They didn't exactly post any source code, so specific bugs are out of the question. The patent will not reveal buffer overflows.

    "Open to public scrutiny" is a relative term... This patent opens google to as much public scrutiny as photos of the wing of the B2 bomber give away the secrets of the mechanisms inside.

    So yes, it is open. And no, it doesn't actually tell you anything.
  • by jyasskin (539003) <jyasskin@maWELTY ... edu minus author> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:07AM (#5396347)

    I assume you aren't opposed to patents on physical objects. Let's take the light bulb. Say I'm Edison. I have a choice between patenting "a device for converting electricity to light" or "a method for producing said device". Which of those is more likely to stop all progress in the lighting industry for 20 years? Which one is a patent on an algorithm? That's right, we'd rather someone patent the algorithm so that someone can design around the patent.

    Any method, process, procedure, etc. IS an algorithm, just not specified as well. What makes an algorithm unpatentable just because it's implemented on a computer? In order to fight software patents, we have to find a real answer to that question. Just saying "an algorithm is a theorem" doesn't work.

  • Right on (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bheerssen (534014) <bheerssen@gmail.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:10AM (#5396371)
    Google deserves a patent because I love Google and they are not Microsoft or Amazon. What better justification is there?

    Seriously though, this is a valid patent because it documents a new, usefull, and unique idea. The patent makes no proprietary claims about any of the trivial processes [gnu.org] Google may employ in delivering it's product, just the core, non-trivial, methods used to generate it. Although the patent does mention the site and the systems required to support it, it is clear that it is the unique search functionality that is patented and not the website or it's infrastructure. Quite unlike the Amazon patent [uspto.gov] I ranted [slashdot.org] about yesterday.
  • by cascadefx (174894) <morlockhq@nOSPAM.gmail.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:14AM (#5396407) Journal
    Software patents are a bad idea.

    [Rant On]
    Really.

    What G**gle is doing is basically quantifying word of mouth. Everyone knows the best restaurant in town is the one that everyone talks about. We "link" to the restaurant of our choice. Someone new to the office, and town, is looking to go to the best restaurant there is. They ask around. 5 people say it is the Puerto Vallarta Mexican restaurant 2 say it is White River Landing [muncienews.com], and 8 others say it is Vince's [muncienews.com]. Vince's it is.

    Simple word-of-mouth ranking right there. If the new person throws in variables like, "I don't eat Mexican." That skews the results. Nothing fancy about this.

    In fact, I bet a few hours of research into Sociology, Psychology, and Linuquistics papers will turn up generic proofs and observations of the very same things that page rank takes care of in a different context. A context shift shouldn't be patentable. Much software (but not all) involves making these logical leaps. Many times they are leaps from pure science that is copyrighted (on the one hand) but (increasingly less so) open on the other. This is human knowledge we are dealing with. The Scientific Method... all that crap. It doesn't work unless everyone shares their toys. Start locking them up and you stifle innnovation (at the least) or become dictatorial master of (increasingly more of) everyone's lives.
    [/Rant Off]

  • by ergo98 (9391) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:22AM (#5396484) Homepage Journal
    Now that they've been awarded a patent for page-rank, it's required for them to make it public so that people can license it

    I had made this mistake before, confusing trade groups with patents. AFAIK patents do not force you to license it whatsoever. Instead they can be used to hunt down anyone who intrudes into your patent and sue them out of existence.

    In any case this isn't about PageRank, but is about a revised search technique: In a nutshell it is PageRank by resultset -> i.e. Say you searched for "Scooby Doo" : It gets the result set of Scooby Doo hits, and THEN it derives a pagerank within that set of Scooby Doo hits (versus the basic PageRank which derives the ranking for the whole net). It's funny because I had actually investigated the initial steps of a patent several years ago for something which I called a "combined corpus" (which in a similar light groups items by topic of discussion-i.e. a page on Crickets would get a good score for cricket searches by being referenced by lots of Cricket pages : It wouldn't benefit them to put a nude picture of Britney Spears to get a lot of links and boost their generic pagerank) because of the general ridiculousness of something like the basic PageRank, but I knew that against a giant machine like Google I wouldn't stand a chance so I just forgot about it (which is the problem with patents: How many people think of a great idea but then let it rot because of the almost certain patent overlaps). I've had that same thought process with a lot of, in my opinion, great ideas.

    People now have the opportunity to build new methods and innovate with Pagerank as a basis for that innovation. (Real innovation, not MS innovation.)

    Ooooh, nice use of the obligatory MS slam for mod points (ignore the fact that MS has been a fantastic patent citizen and has never, to my knowledge, enforced dubious patents). In any case how is it "innovation" for others to now use something existing (if Google allowed it)? Sounds like counter-innovation because everyone who might possibly overlap with this patent will now just dump the project lest they cross paths with Google.
  • by Com2Kid (142006) <com2kidSPAMLESS@gmail.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:24AM (#5396503) Homepage Journal
    • What G**gle is doing is basically quantifying word of mouth.


    Which is a pretty impressive proccess. Making a set of mathmatical formulas out of an otherwise very much fluid and etheral concept. Not half bad.

    • Everyone knows the best restaurant in town is the one that everyone talks about.


    Oh? I think it is the one that everybody with a good sense of taste talks about? What is a good sense of taste? Welllll, now we are getting down to the nitty gritty. What defines a "trustable" website?

    • We "link" to the restaurant of our choice. Someone new to the office, and town, is looking to go to the best restaurant there is. They ask around. 5 people say it is the Puerto Vallarta Mexican restaurant 2 say it is White River Landing [muncienews.com], and 8 others say it is Vince's [muncienews.com]. Vince's it is.


    You must define the weight, if person a and b say Vinces but they both say that person C has "better taste" in Mexican Food, and person C says Puerto Vallarta, and enough of that goes on, than the decision base upon the results can be changes signifigently.

    • Simple word-of-mouth ranking right there.


    Yes, sounds like a good alpha-level project. :)

    • If the new person throws in variables like, "I don't eat Mexican." That skews the results. Nothing fancy about this.


    True, but what if resturant X has a style of Mexican that is mixed with, say, Soul Food, and the person REALLY loves Soul Food. Then what? Life gets confusing. :)


    • In fact, I bet a few hours of research into Sociology, Psychology, and Linuquistics papers will turn up generic proofs and observations of the very same things that page rank takes care of in a different context. A context shift shouldn't be patentable.


    Oh? If it is so obvious, why did search engines for so long, well, heh, suck. I remember using insanly complicated regexps with those "other" search engines to do what are now trivial searches on Google.

  • by Thavius (640045) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:26AM (#5396537)
    There's two ways patents can be used: as a sword, and as a shield.

    IBM holds many interesting patents. One that caused a former employer of mine to take notice is one that covered anything that used templates to generate HTML files. This patent basically covers almost all WYSIWYG HTML creation tools (we were in the middle of creating one when it was issued). I haven't seen any breaking stories on how IBM is beating down small companies with it, and our company didn't get served a C&D order because of it.

    It appears that IBM is using the patent as a shield, to protect themselves against another company saying, "I invented that, give me money." It will protect them from being the target of an infringement suit.

    Other companies, such as BT, and Amazon, and others, are using their patents as a sword to exthort money out of companies. This is what I disagree with, because most often they target small companies first. They never seem to go after companies with resources, because they know their sword is not as sharp or strong as it could be.

    I'm not patents as an idea, but patents of some tech innovations have been abused. The side-swinging patent, that guy will never try to enforce his patent, because it was for fun. But just like anything else, patents can be abused to the detriment of everyone.

    Google's patent can be used in two ways. Let's see how they use it.
  • This is total crap (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nagora (177841) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:30AM (#5396585)
    A patent on an algorithm is just a patent on a list of instructions, and pretty vague (no source code) instructions at that . There is NO difference between Google's patent and you or I getting a patent on a good shortcut from our house to the shops. I have no problem with people printing the instructions, copyrighting them and selling them, or just keeping them to themselves and offering a service based on their knowledge but saying that no one else is allowed to follow this list of instructions or to even think of them for themselves is crap, pure and simple.

    I am deciding which alternative to Google to use, just as, despite being a book collector, I never buy from Amazon.

    ALL software patents are wrong: this one, the one that stung Microshaft the other day, Amazon's, LZW, ALL of them. You can't pick and choose when to apply your morals (*cough* *Tony Blair* *cough*), if you do then they aren't morals, they're just slogans.

    TWW

  • Re:Oh, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by symbolic (11752) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:04PM (#5397042)
    What G**gle is doing is basically quantifying word of mouth.

    What probably makes it special and innovative is that it has the words using a computer somewhere in the definition.
  • by FreeUser (11483) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:12PM (#5397124)
    (Psst - hey, Google's getting one.)

    Uh, well, (grumble) I guess that's okay then, er...


    Since your definition of apologist is likely anyone who disagrees with your prima facia absurd allegations, feel free to count my as one. Coming from someone who would post such utter nonsense (and the idiot moderators who would mod such idiocy up) that would be a compliment.

    Slashdot is a community of people, voicing their own opinions in often vehement dissention to one another. It is not a collective gastalt or hive mind with one opinion, one sense of what is good and bad, or even one sense of what is 'politically correct' and what is not. It is a diverse group of people, ranging from the cheapest Microsoft shilling whore to RMS, from devout communists to zealous libertarians, from athiests to religious fundamentalists of various flavors.

    Allegations of "Slashdot hypocracy" are as oxymoronic as "Peaceful Acts of Terror" and "Progressive Presidents by the name of Bush."

    Back on topic, speaking for myself (and not the whole of slashdot, as you imply but in truth no one person ever can), my opinion of patents are that they are bad. Very bad. Software patents make the issues raised by all patents more obvious, and the problems more apparent (and the flaw in the reasoning that led to patents more obviuos), but these issues exist in less acute form in all areas of scientific endeavor and research, and are largely responsible for our having been far behind in aviation development at the start of world war I (as documented by none other than the US federal government itself), and for our having hydrogen vehicles (mostly buses for the moment) only now, rather than 30-40 years ago when they were invented (and the patents suppressed by the automotive and oil industries), for disruptions in AIDS and cancer research, etc. etc.

    Patents are bad. They were bad when they were given to Thomas Eddison. They were bad when they were given to online book purveyors with delusions of grandeur, they are bad when they are given to Microsoft, and they are bad when they are given to Google.

    About the only good patents which could possibly be granted would be those granted to an organization such as the EFF or the FSF, where the patent is used to specifically (and defensively) undermine the very proprietary system it perpetuates, in much the same way the GPL has done to copyright. Alas, I don't see too many such patents being applied for, much less granted, despite the fact that the vast majority of the "inventiveness" in the industry comes from exactly those quarters (to then be granted by the imbecels at the USPTO to copycats as 20 year monopolies).
  • Re:Oh, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Planesdragon (210349) <slashdot@@@castlesteelstone...us> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:22PM (#5397277) Homepage Journal
    What probably makes it special and innovative is that it has the words using a computer somewhere in the definition.

    Don't forget _automatically_.

    Any human can play Go. But if you come up with an algorhythm to let a computer play Go by itself, then that's a patentable invention.

  • by Shoten (260439) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:45PM (#5398324)
    Ok, so here's a challenge for you:

    Without looking into any existing algorithms for searching, ranking, or correlating, write Pagerank. Produce even pseudocode that can achieve what Google has achieved (and Altavista et. al. have NOT). Then I think you can tell us that what they have developed is no big deal. The truth is, what you described is the basis for ranking...big deal, ideas are a dollar a dozen. Patents don't protect ideas. At least, that's not how they're SUPPOSED to be used, but some GS-9 in an office can screw that up with a rubber stamp. Patents protect IMPLEMENTATIONS. Working models of implmentations of ideas are supposed to be part of a patent application, and for a reason. If you can't make it work, you can't patent it, because it's all about how you managed to do it...and by the way, if someone comes out with a better idea on how to achieve the same thing, tough beans, your patent does not protect you from their competition.

    At least that's how it's supposed to be, how the laws were written. The problem isn't patents, but how the USPTO has been approving dumb-ass applications that are nothing more than wordings of concepts. "One-click buying" is not an implementation, neither is hyperlinking or any of the other egregious patents that are the bane of our existence these days.

    But until you can whip me up Pagerank code from scratch, don't whine about how they don't deserve a patent for it :)

  • by Thavius (640045) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @03:11PM (#5399392)
    No, they are a good idea because if you make something new, and don't obtain a patent, it WILL bite you hard in the ass later.

    Imagine this: You develop the HTMLDoohickey, but don't patent it, because you want it to be free. It's been around for a while, people are using it. Now another company develops and patents the HTMLThingiee, which functions a lot like your HTMLDoohickey. The other company sends you a bill for lots of royalty fees. "Wait a minute, your patent is invalid, I have prior art!" you say. Now you have to spend lots of money proving it in court, or settle with them. If you settle, not only will you be paying lots of royalties, but so will the users. Now users of HTMLDoohickey are pissed off because it's no longer free, and you no longer can claim you invented it. Or you can fight it in court, invalidate their patent, and file for bankruptcy because you spent all your money and more fighting it.

    Switch situations. You patent HTMLDoohickey, but don't charge royalties for it. Lots of people are using it. HTMLThingee comes along, and starts harassing you, because they've filed for a patent on it. Now you can wave your patent in their face. If they still pursue it, any lawyer who has 3 brain cells will realize it's a losing battle, and you'll be left alone.

    Patents can also be used to protect things you don't want a company to exploit. Since the USPTO is handing out patents to anyone who can pay the fees, it is often cheaper to patent, rather than fight.

    Nothing is inherently bad or evil, it's all intent. Patents can be used for good, or evil, just like everything else in the world.
  • Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fw3 (523647) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @05:24PM (#5400877) Homepage Journal
    As pointed out above, a primary reason that patents exist is to prevent technology from being held in 'trade secret'. In patent, you get a *temporary* monopoly in exchange for disclosing the art necessary to practice your invention.

    Lots of things would be different without patent law, see all the /. handwaving about how bad it is. However, consider how much that is disclosed in patents would otherwise be trade-secret? I think the anti-IP/patent crew usually fails to consider that trade-secret (e.g. closed source) is a fundamental form of IP.

    In fact the restrictions & freedoms of patent law are very much like the GPL, one of whose intents is to ensure that source code remain available. In exchange for placing a restriction on the distribution, the author is enforces that the art of his or her work remains open.

    I don't expect this will be a popular thought among the denizens of /. which is so heavily populated with people who thing free==GPL. The Perl Artistic license or the BSD license provide freedom without restriction, compare this with those the (anti-patent) GPL.

    proprietary: GPL: BSD
    tradesecret: patent: public domain

    Last I'd like to point out that GPL is *forever*, while patents expire. Once expired, patent IP becomes public domain. GPL can change at the author's discretion, however in the (intended) complex situation of packages with dozens or hundreds of significant authors, it seems unlikely for most systems to do so.

    After a patent expires *anyone* is allowed to practice the art, and to do so without further disclosure or license. Again, GPL is forever, that's not good or bad but it does have consequences.

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