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This Patent Application received a non-final rejection by the US Patent Office! An initial rejection is part of the typical course of a patent application.

Some of the grounds for rejection (can be seen in Public PAIR) are based on prior art from Lycos, Yahoo, Oracle, and Microsoft's own patent applications.

AN OVERBROAD PATENT ON Applying administrator defined ranking rules to alter the ranking of search results - This application from Microsoft seeks to patent the idea of...Applying a user-defined ranking rule on search results and re-ordering the search results based on the ranking rule! 10 minutes of your time can help narrow US patent applications before they become patents. Follow @askpatents on twitter to help.

QUESTION - Have you seen anything that was published before 1/27/2012 that discusses:

  • Re-ordering search results based on rules defined by a user.

If so, please submit evidence of prior art as an answer to this question. We welcome multiple answers from the same individual.

EXTRA CREDIT - Graphical User Interface allows a user to: configure the ranking rules such as to enter key/value restrictions or set a boost value, preview an application of one or more of the ranking rules, specify a portion of results from which statistics such as standard deviation, average score are calculated.

TITLE: User-configured rules to re-order search results.

Summary: [Translated from Legalese into English] Receiving search results, applying user-defined re-ranking rules to the search results, and re-ranking the search results based on the user-defined re-ranking rules.

  • Publication Number: US 20130198174 A1
  • Application Number: US 13/360,536
  • Assignee: Microsoft
  • Prior Art Date: Seeking prior Art predating 1/27/2012
  • Open for Challenge at USPTO: Open through 1/28/2014
  • Link to Google Prior Art Search - "Find Prior Art"

Claim 1 requires each and every step below:

A method for re-ranking search results, comprising:

  1. receiving search results that are ranked; and

  2. applying a ranking rule defined by a user to the search results that re-ranks the search results, wherein the ranking rule includes user specified parameters that influence how a result within the search results is re-ranked using statistical information relating to the search results.

In English this means:

A method for re-ordering search results, comprising:

  1. receiving search results in an order in response to a search query executed using a search engine;

  2. applying a re-ordering rule defined by a user to re-order the search results, where the re-ordering rule defines ordering a result within the search results on the basis of statistical information related to search results; and

  3. re-ordering the search results on the basis of user-defined re-ordering rule.

Good prior art would be evidence of a system that did each and every one of these steps prior to 1/27/2012

You're probably aware of ten pieces of art that meet this criteria already... separately, the applicant is claiming A Graphical User Interface (GUI) displays options for a user to set search parameters to re-rank search results.

"User defined re-ordering of search results" from the Applicant

What is good prior art? Please see our FAQ.

Want to help? Please vote or comment on submissions below. We welcome you to post your own request for prior art on other questionable US Patent Applications.

  • 1
    Not sure I understand the patent. Does Amazon's sorting count? (low to high price, most relevant, etc)
    – Kevin Chen
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 2:27
  • The intent seems to be that a user (e.g. a search administrator) may desire to re-order search results for other users of the site. For example, an admin may like a result to be placed at/near the top of the results list, specify a ranking for the results, remove results or place them at the bottom of the list. Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 22:27
  • The embodiments described in subsequent dependent claims seem to relate to the GUI that the admin uses, the admin setting parameters or -- perhaps most generally -- the admin creating rules about which results should appear where on the search results list. Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 22:31
  • So the user is the administrator not the end user? Basically this seems to say that you sort but then customize so you can do something like put the paid results at or near the top even though the first query would not have.
    – Elin
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 1:57
  • This sounds pretty novel to me: "2.applying a ranking rule defined by a user to the search results that re-ranks the search results, wherein the ranking rule includes user specified parameters that influence how a result within the search results is re-ranked using statistical information relating to the search results." Sure, there's some user input, but it looks like statistical methods on top of the result set to improve the results seems like more than just choosing a sort criteria (which has obviously been around forever)
    – McKay
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 13:47

4 Answers 4


I'd look into Tableau Desktop and it's ability to run extracts (execute query/receive results) and then in the desktop client you can do operations, create cross tabs and re-render the results received (apply user configured ranking rules/display results).


The term "user" in the description of the patent makes it unclear what user role the configuring of search results applies to i.e. the administrator of the application (for example of a website who would configure a search task for use by end users) or the end user of the application (who would submit and get the results of a search). This posting addresses the former, allowing a site administrator to configure the ranking of search results.

Because of the wording it is not totally clear whether the claim involves end users refreshing search results (for example using ajax) using a different set of sorts or filters such as a limited list of sort options (data, alphabet, price etc ascending/descending) based on static variables. These are also available in the application I am going to describe below as well as in many other applications as mentioned in other comments.

"Smart Search" also known as "Finder" is a Joomla component first produced by the company JXtended (under the Finder name) and now part of the Joomla CMS (under the Smart Search name) that provides advanced search configuration and customization by administrators. Smart Search was released as part of the Joomla! CMS January 12, 2012 (Announcement) which is just before the date in question. Here is a link to an Internet Archive copy of an article from December 9, 2008 from the JXtended website. This screenshot from a November 24 2010 Internet Archive scan shows a description of the Finder user defined relevancy feature under the Indexed Content heading.

Image of JXtended page

I'm going to give an overall summary of why I think Finder/Smart Search is prior art. The application works as follows. Content on a website is indexed which first involves tokenizing various data sources to words and phrases. As part of this process each unique word or phrase receives a weight and is placed in the finder_terms table. Finder_terms table excerpt

Each "content item" (the Joomla term for a database row representing the main content of a single rendered web page) is also assigned a "link_id" in a second table and then each term_id link_id combination is added to one of 16 tables. Finder_links_terms

As part of the process of creating the term_id*link_id row, a weight is created by analyzing where the term is located. Possible locations are: title, meta data, body text.
The weight assigned to each data source is configurable by a site administrator. For example the default configuration weights are shown here. Default weights. By changing these weights the administrator can change the ordering of the search results. For example, I have two articles, one with the word "simple" in the title and metadata but not in the body text and another with the word "simple" in the body text. After indexing with the default settings, a relevance ranked search returns Default weight results

I then changed the weights to increase the importance of body text and decrease the importance of title and metadata. New weights

After reindexing (which is easily done by an administrator) the relevance ranked search returns the same results ranked differently.

results with new weights

With well managed weights and content an administrator can, for example, use the keyword field (part of the metadata) to push certain content items to the top of the search results and other items without the keywords to the bottom.

Developers can also use the extension type that Joomla calls a plugin to introduce new weighting variables and otherwise modify the indexing process to more finely control the results.


I think a similar idea can be found in the eBay search feature: http://pages.ebay.com/help/search/customize-results.html

eBay lets the user choose the order of search results. You can see it clearly in the description of their search customization feature:

To customize your results page:

  1. Make sure you're signed into eBay.
  2. Search for an item.
  3. In the View drop-down menu located at the top of the search results page, select Customize.
  4. Modify your settings.
  5. Click the Apply changes button to save your settings.`
  • 1
    The patent claim covers a re ranking based on user-by-user weighting. That seems very different from choosing an alternate among a small list of site-provided basic sorts.
    – George White
    Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 5:08

Google Custom Search was "Released on October 24, 2006" according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Custom_Search

https://developers.google.com/custom-search/docs/ranking "This page describes how to tweak the ranking of the search results returned by your search engines."

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