Posted September 21, 2010 8:50 am by with 3 comments

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According to a story in the Register, a Yahoo employee is claiming that Google Instant search is working in part due to 5 patents that are held by Yahoo. If this is true, which right now it’s too early to tell as details are a bit scarce at this time, it could be an interesting development for sure.

Yahoo! owns several patents covering Google’s new Instant search engine, according to Shashi Seth, Yahoo!’s senior vice president of search and a former search product leader at Google.

In 2005, Yahoo! rolled out a service remarkably similar to Google Instant at a site called AlltheWeb, a small search engine it had purchased a few years before. Like Google Instant, it tried to predict what you were looking for and served up results pages as you typed. That same year, the company introduced another similar service — if less similar — dubbed Yahoo! Instant Search, which launched “speech bubbles” of results just below the search box as you typed.

Speaking with The Register last Thursday morning at Yahoo!’s Sunnyvale headquarters, Seth reiterated that Yahoo! had introduced a Google Instant–like service five years before its rival, and he said that Yahoo! owns “about five…broad” patents that cover Google’s technology.

Ok, I am not a lawyer and I readily admit that I don’t understand how some things work but if this is actually the case wouldn’t Yahoo be a little upset and possibly take action against Google?

The interview with Seth, who was at one time the head of monetization at Google’s YouTube (whatever that means), goes into some other areas as well. He takes shots at Google’s version of these patents and says that Google opted for the busiest option of this new service simply to generate more revenue and not to enhance the search experience (Google looking for more revenue? Who woulda thunk?)

As for Yahoo’s ‘official’ response?

Multiple Yahoo! spokespeople declined to say one way or another whether the company plans to exert its patents for “instant search.” And the company declined to point to the specific patents Seth alluded to.

“Yahoo! continuously innovates to better help people access the information they want, when they want it, delivered in a manner that makes sense for each user,” reads the official statement from the company. “We routinely take appropriate measures to protect that innovation – whether by patent, copyright or trade secret. Yahoo! does not comment on the specific details about how we protect our innovation for a particular product or innovation.

Whether this becomes a legal tussle remains to be seen but you would hope that if a Yahoo employee would actually make these kinds of accusations he would be pretty confident that the situation is genuine, right? Well, this is the Internet industry after all and maybe the whole “truth thing” will eventually be known but for now let’s assume something deviant and underhanded is afoot. Otherwise, what would there be to talk about?

  • The person spoke of “about five…broad” patents – the breadth of the patents may make them difficult to defend. Or there may be other concerns about their validity or applicability.

    Also, Google and Yahoo have in the past resolved a serious patent disputes amicably, via the exchange of a huge amount of money (i.e., Google’s $300+ million dollar settlement of Yahoo!’s advertising patent claims). This provides one company the benefit of allowing its patents to stand unchallenged, allows the other to send a message to would-be imitators (“we think the patent is valid, so be prepared to license the technology or litigate”), and allows both to save a ton of money on IP lawyers and litigation.

    • @Aaron – Thanks for the insight. As noted in the post, the legal side of this is well beyond me but the general concept certainly catches one’s eye.

  • Like the article and like the photo of one of our plaques! Made me laugh when I saw you description of it though!

    But on second thoughts the Dept of Commerce plague could be considered accurate!