The next time you suspect Google has manually adjusted your search results, you can do more than simply complain at WebmasterWorld, you can snitch to Yahoo.
The #2 search engine was just awarded a patent for its "Method and apparatus for search ranking using human input and automated ranking." In other words, Yahoo holds a patent on human editing of search results.
Now, I admit that I’m somewhat stirring the pot here–can I get Matt Cutts to comment two days in a row?–but when you read the summary of Yahoo’s patent, you can see how the company could file a claim against Google–should it ever conclude the search giant is manually editing its search results:
A search system provides search results to searchers in response to search queries and the search results are ranked. The ranking is determined by an automated ranking process in combination with human editorial input. A search system might comprise a query server for receiving a current query, a corpus of documents to which the current query is applied, ranking data storage for storing information from an editorial session involving a human editor and a reviewed query at least similar to the current query, and a rank adjuster for generating a ranking of documents returned from the corpus responsive to the current query taking into account at least the information from the editorial session.
Digging deeper, it does appear that manually penalizing search rankings is included in the patent:
Promotions and demotions might be absolute ("Rank this document first highest."), relative to itself ("Rank this document four positions higher than it would otherwise be."), or relative to another document ("Rank this document higher than this other document."). Other types of promotion/demotion might include "remove this document from consideration no matter what the automatic system suggests", "this set of documents are to be given equal (`tied") rankings", "do not rank this document higher than position P" for some integer P, or the like.
Of course, Yahoo’s about to give up its search engine to Microsoft–and this patent was filed way back in 2002–but it could present Yahoo with an interesting proposition. Forget the new Y!ou marketing blitz. If you want some real attention, sue Google for patent infringement–that will earn you plenty of publicity!