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I came across the patent US9521164 from an article about the recent YouTube advertiser drama. I initially thought it was a bad April fools joke, but unless the author has trouble reading a calendar it seems to be legitimate.

After taking a brief look at the patent in question I can't understand how it describes a new, non-obvious invention, or how it would help with anything at all.

The main method described for finding the legitimacy of a website seems to be by comparing the "line density" with known illegitimate sites. The patent states it is:

A method for determining a legitimacy of a website comprising:

retrieving website content from a website;

analyzing the website content by at least determining a line density of the website, wherein the line density of the website is determined by the relationship LD=s/l, where LD is the line density, s is the size of the website and l is the number of lines of code used to present the website, and determining a website score based at least partially on the analysis;

determining that the website is illegitimate in response to said website score exceeding a threshold;

I can't see how the "line density" (average line length in bytes) of a website would help with anything, let alone determine if a website is illegitimate.

The rest of their patent seems to show retrieving data from a website and storing it in a database, something that every programmer and their dog has done at some stage:

a first computer connected to the Internet,

a data storage element interfaced with said first computer such that said first computer is operable to query said data storage element and operable to store and edit data stored in said data storage element, wherein the data storage element is further operable to store previously analyzed website information;

a user interface operable to allow a user to interact with and control said first computer;

Am I misunderstanding the patent? Is there some way in which this is original and/or would do something useful?

  • The question if that's useful is probably off topic, but I had a shot at what I think was your underlying question. – DonQuiKong Apr 8 '17 at 15:37
  • I changed to link to the patent to make the figures viewable. In general, patents.google.com is better than www.google.com/patents. – Eric Shain Apr 8 '17 at 16:38
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There are two aspects to patentability: novelty and non-obviousness. Novelty relates to whether anyone else has applied the same solution previously. I can't answer that question in this case, but the patent examiner didn't find significant enough prior art to invalidate the claims. Second is non-obviousness. Your own reaction to this patent where you state "I can't see how the "line density" (average line length in bytes) of a website would help with anything, let alone determine if a website is illegitimate." would lead me to believe that you, at least, wouldn't find the described technique to be obvious, but surprising. Now, what I think DonQuiKong was getting at is that it isn't necessary that an invention be particularly good or better than prior techniques of solving a problem, it just has to be new, have utility and be non-obvious.

As to your second quotation, it undermines your argument when you don't quote the entire claim. Claims have to be considered in their entirety as it might just be a single statement at the end that makes the claim novel. This is the case here.

  1. A computer system comprising: a first computer connected to the Internet, a data storage element interfaced with said first computer such that said first computer is operable to query said data storage element and operable to store and edit data stored in said data storage element, wherein the data storage element is further operable to store previously analyzed website information; a user interface operable to allow a user to interact with and control said first computer; and a non-transitory computer readable medium storing instructions operable to cause said first computer to perform the steps of retrieving website content from a website, analyzing the website content and determining a website score based at least partially on the analysis, determining that the website is illegitimate in response to said website score exceeding a threshold, and storing the determination in the data storage element in response to at least one command received at said user interface, wherein determining the website score includes at least determining a similarity between the received website and the at least one known illegitimate website by comparing a line density of the received website against a line density of a list of known illegitimate website, where a line density of a website is determined by the relationship LD=s/l, where LD is the line density, s is the size of the website and l is the number of lines of code used to present the website.

I know this seems redundant, but it is very common for software patents to have claims of this form. I'm assuming it is related to court opinions and the ability to enforce the patent.

I tend to agree that I kind of doubt the line density calculation by itself is likely to be enough to detect fraudulent websites. The first claim is more complex and cites line density as measure of similarity when comparing a website to known fraudulent websites. Similarity is used in machine learning so this term may be more complex than the common usage. I'd have to read the specification to tell how they mean it. If you look at the figures, you can see that the inventors are using multiple measures in their similarity analysis to determine whether a site is fraudulent. They are patenting this single technique. It is possible they also have other related patents or applications too.

  • I decided to eliminate the second half of the quote as it just seemed like a duplication of the information in the first quote. According to the patent the Line Density Algorithm, which represents the average number of bytes per line presented by the content which at least to me seems like they are not including anything else (images etc.) in the size. – user2248702 Apr 8 '17 at 16:42
  • @user2248702 Thats Ok, it is better to quote the whole claim as others may not go to the document and read it. I'll take out my comment about your interpretation. Otherwise, I think the answer is valid. If it isn't clear, feel free to ask for improvements. – Eric Shain Apr 8 '17 at 16:45
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You're mixing concepts here. You say it's ridiculous and at the same time say it's not inventive. Professionals thinking something is ridiculous is actually a sign for inventive step, because then it's something non-standard. And for it to be patentable, it does not have to be useful (useful in the way we normally use that word, in patent speech it's used differently).

To be patentable, something does not have to be good at performing it's designated job. If nobody had thought about using the line density to assess a website, that was patentable. Maybe checking if the website went online on 01:44pm is a novel concept to check for legitimacy, so I could have patented it. As long as it's not something that can obviously not work, that doesn't go against the usefulness criteria for patentability.

And why not? So you don't see how that might work, then it won't disturb you if somebody patented it. And maybe it does work, then that person holds those rights because they conceived the idea. And if it didn't work, they hold a useless patent on something that was still their original idea.

Utility requirement

A patent has to be useful, but that doesn't mean it has to be of any use. Mpep provides for example

(C) Any rejection based on lack of utility should include a detailed explanation why the claimed invention has no specific and substantial credible utility. Whenever possible, the examiner should provide documentary evidence regardless of publication date (e.g., scientific or technical journals, excerpts from treatises or books, or U.S. or foreign patents) to support the factual basis for the prima facie showing of no specific and substantial credible utility. If documentary evidence is not available, the examiner should specifically explain the scientific basis for his or her factual conclusions.

(https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/s2107.html)

In practice, this mean, if the applicant says the invention can be used for anything, the examiner should prove that's impossible. Utility rejections are used against perpetuum mobiles, but not even against homeopathy in general (example: https://www.google.de/patents/US8163308).

So as long as the provided algorithm is able to identify spammy websites, in whatever constructed situation, or it is believable that it might be possible to get anything more than pure randomness as a result, it's useful in a patent speech way of thinking.

  • "It does not have to be useful" conflicts with the utility requirement. You should clarify what you mean there. Also, your answer would be better if it addressed obviousness as I think this is the crux of the question. – Eric Shain Apr 8 '17 at 15:58
  • The "line density" seems ridiculous to me, I may be completely wrong, but I can't see any way in which this could be useful. The rest of the patent goes over a lot of stuff that people have been doing for decades without providing any detail on how they do it differently. I'm not too worried if they hold a useless patent, but at least according to the article linked, one of the patent holders seems to think they have Google cornered with it. – user2248702 Apr 8 '17 at 17:14
  • @user2248702 if they think that, it can't be that useless, can it? So maybe it was a good idea. – DonQuiKong Apr 8 '17 at 17:18

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