In the field of IR I was considering US8214361 B1: if I can resume the claims in two words the invention is a search engine interface that not only provides a set of results but also a set of categories in which results are grouped, and it allows the user to customize the categories so that the next time she would search she will be provided the customized set of categories.

My questions are:

  • how this can be considered not obvious? It's a simple combination of features well known to everybody. Isn't it like to say that I want to patent a car painted with yellow and purple stripes: just because nobody did before is it an invention?

  • in the case somebody would like to implement such a system the point actually would be the algorithm that makes possible to categorize search engine results in a meaningful way. In this invention instead this algorithm is completely abstracted. Isn't it like to say that I want to patent time machine. A system and method for travel in time, not saying anything about how this would be possible?

  • if such kinds of patents are granted, given that somebody estimates that every day 110 software patents are granted by USPTO, then how to be sure that every kind of web interaction somebody would want to implement in her web application isn't yet patented? Patent search isn't always reliable and it can also be that patent application hasn't been yet published. I mean: if somebody puts money and efforts to develop a web product there's the risk that somebody else has filed the same idea less than 18 months before. This risk can be acceptable if limited to real invention (how the time machine work) but instead becomes too high if extended to such broad concepts (time machine itself).

1 Answer 1


When reading a patent for innovation and non-obvious, you will need to read it with bias of the date it was filed -- that is you need to put your self in 2008 and look at whether the subject matter was innovative at that time.

Things when successful are pretty quickly becoming accepted and "obvious", but that does not mean that they were obvious at the time the patent were written -- in fact everything which is a good invention becomes "common knowledge" very quickly -- that is a sign of that it is working well.

The way search engines have evolved to make result more relevant has been fast evolving over the last decade. 10 years ago search result were presented just as a list pf results with no context and no history to add relevance -- both Yahoo, Microsoft and Google have had significant research projects in how to make it a better experience for users -- I guess this is just one of the many inventions, and I'm sure that you can find similar patents files by both Microsoft and Yahoo in the same area.

While I'm not arguing for or against this particular patent -- you should ask yourself if you can find an example of what they are describing dated 2007 or before that.

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    This is a good answer - I'd like to add/clarify that being "innovative" is not a legal requirement for patents in the U.S. The requirements are novel (no one reference can be found that does/has everything being claimed), non-obvious (can't find one reference with much of what the claim requires + a few other relevant reference to equal the claimed matter) and usefulness. Earth shattering is not on of the requirement and most patents are improvements to things that exist.
    – George White
    Aug 17, 2014 at 5:14
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    @Soren I don't believe that reading it with the bias of the date changes my opinion. A search engine provides results, results can be tagged, tags can be modified: wasn't that known in 2008? Was combining those features not obvious in 2008?
    – user8305
    Aug 17, 2014 at 7:31
  • @Soren Also considering the fact that Microsoft and Yahoo as well have this kind of patents and not only Google, I don't think that changes things a lot. This patent application is related to the search engine interface and not search engine itself, and according to me this is the point. If patents are granted on user interface then is like patenting, in a car, not mechanical mechanisms but external shape and the like.
    – user8305
    Aug 17, 2014 at 7:41
  • @Soren Please consider that even this forum we are writing on (StackExchange) has a search page that groups the results by tags (categories) and these tags are user created and modified. So, according to me, is infringing US8214361.
    – user8305
    Aug 17, 2014 at 7:46
  • @GeorgeWhite Sorry when I first wrote the question I misused the term "innovative", but what I had in mind was "invention", so I corrected it.
    – user8305
    Aug 17, 2014 at 7:48

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