Patent Litigation Abuzz in Silicon Valley

It is no exaggeration to say that what’s stirring the pot in Silicon Valley right now isn’t the latest i-Gadget—it’s tech patents. Licensing intellectual property is a big money-maker out there, where something as intangible as an algorithm is often the hottest commodity. Protection of IP is the sign of the technological times—consider that a majority of the half-million patents applied for each year are tech-related.

And a behemoth tech-company like Google, which has quickly become a part of our everyday lives, (and profits very well from that fact), is not surprisingly taking the lion’s share of patent-related lawsuits.  Fresh from litigation with Oracle, a software company that claimed Android devices infringed on its Java programming, Google is now back in court with IP Engine, concerning the very web search algorithm that made Google, well, Google.

Because the 14-year history of this particular algorithm is perhaps more complex than how it works, here’s the IP Engine/Google fiasco in a nutshell according to Fast Company: in 1998 engineers Andrew Lang and Donald Kosak patented an algorithm that allowed search engines to scour the web and filter the results. While the patent was bought and sold since, it is now owned by IP Engine, who claims Google and other companies like AOL have used the algorithm and therefore owe a royalty. Given that Google alone makes 38 billion annually, a mere fraction of that would be a tidy sum.

As is common with many patent lawsuits, the devil is in the details, or in this case, the definitions. “Scanning” is the term in question—whether it refers to the traditional hand-visor surveying to pick out a particular thing, or the more technical method of “spidering” that is the M.O. of many a search engine.

This is, of course, just the groundwork being laid out as the case goes to trial. We’ll have more for you as the drama unfolds.

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