July 25, 2008

Google PageRank Patent

New criteria for restricting the scope of what the US Patent Office considers patent-worthy poses a threat to numerous software patents, including Google's famed PageRank.

Editor's Note: Losing the PageRank patent could be troubling for Google, but the broader scope of patent reform-something Google has championed otherwise-is intended to protect innovators from the itchy trigger finger of an overly litigious society. What you you think? Good idea? Let us know in the comments section.

Google climbed past a morass of ineffective search engines when it arrived on the Internet. Its devotion to the most relevant possible solution for a given query quickly made it the de facto search choice as millions of people shifted their browsing habits from walled garden content to the broader World Wide Web.
The essential and much-discussed PageRank technology holds a patent, a common legal protection sought by software developers small and large. Some have claimed software patents affect far too broad a scope of potential innovation, leading to lawsuits where a patent owner claims damages by multiple companies.

Those on the losing end of such suits end up paying for what they argue are obvious and non-original concepts. That could change with a shift in the way the USPTO looks at software patents, the Patently-O blog on patent law said.
A series of cases may remake the software industry, all the way to the top where Google and other companies reside:

In the most recent of these three (cases)—the currently pending en banc Bilski appeal—the Office takes the position that process inventions generally are unpatentable unless they "result in a physical transformation of an article" or are "tied to a particular machine."
Patently-O sees Google's PageRank, the patent for which is owned by Stanford University, as failing the first part of the test, as generating scores isn't a physical transformation. The second part proves troubling given recent decisions made by the USPTO in a couple of other cases, not only for PageRank but other Google patents too.
"Google might have thought that the patent system would surely protect new technological developments that are highly creative and socially valuable. The PTO’s new position proves that view mistaken," Patently-O said.

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