The Major

Search Engines


Search Wars: The Patent Menace
by Aaron Turpen of Aaronz WebWorkz

Weird Al Yankovic was only slightly off when he sang "It's 
all about the Pentiums, baby!" In reality, it's all about 
the patents.

Ever since Yahoo!'s acquisition of the Overture pay-per-
click engine, it's been rumored that Yahoo! planned to drop 
long-time partner Google in favor of its own, internal 
algorithm. This finally happened last month when Yahoo! 
announced it will no longer be using Google as its back-end 
provider and instead has debuted "Yahoo! Search Technology" 

In a press release on February 18, Yahoo! made this 
announcement and has since been changing and updating their 
site with new search options and changes. These include 
XML/RSS syndication links and other relevant technologies.

Well, now battle lines have been drawn in the search engine 
patent battle. A new "search engine arms race," as one 
insider put it, pits the largest of the search engines 
(Google and Yahoo specifically) against one another in a war
to see who will control the technology that is one of the 
Web's largest assets - and promises to be important for the 
foreseeable future.

For months now, Yahoo! and Google have been quietly fighting
over ownership and viability of a patent covering search-
related advertising - something both companies base a large 
portion of their incomes on. Yahoo, for instance, showed an
earnings growth of 84% last year due in large part to this.

Yahoo! owns patents from several recent acquisitions as well
as their own: including those held by recently-absorbed 
Inktomi and Overture. Overture, before the purchase by 
Yahoo!, also received some of the oldest patents on the Web,
gained by their acquisition of AltaVista.

Google is no slacker either, holding patents in such obscure
(and important) things as methods for information extraction
from a database and for detecting duplicate files. Google 
also holds a patent, via its founder Larry Page, for 
PageRank, which is a formula for calculating the importance 
of pages based on the number of other pages which link to it…

Not to be left behind, Microsoft, IBM, and even 
hold patents relevant to search engine advertising and 

Some of these claims have already gone to court, most 
notably Overture in its aggressive protection of its patents
on pay-per-click advertising.

Most in the industry believe that these fights are just the 
beginning as the various "Big Boys of the 'Net" jostle for 
position and superiority. We shall see where this leads.

Aaron is the proprietor of Aaronz WebWorkz, a full service
online company providing consultation, development, and more
to small businesses online. You can find him at his website

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