For any other company besides Google, a week like this would be interpreted by some in the press as the beginning of the end, and it’s only Wednesday. However, an individual breakdown of every bad story, element by element, reveals the company may not be deluged so much by a hailstorm of controversy as a cavalcade of unfortunately simultaneous snowballs, none of which may end up leaving any lasting damage.
Last Friday, Xerox filed suit in US District Court in Delaware, claiming two counts of patent infringement against Google and Yahoo, and one count against Google’s YouTube division. A scan of the complaint reveals an almost “boilerplate” document, making no arguments other than that its two patents cover types of functionality that the three named defendants willfully employed without negotiating with Xerox first.
The patents themselves are very explicit, and appear to deal with the very specific application of methods and even software, some of it bearing Xerox trademarks. Theoretically, such methods could be used in the dissemination of live repositories of information — meta-documents comprised of information gleaned from multiple sources, as those sources are being published and indexed. Certainly, generating live pages of meta-documents are among the features that Google’s AdSense platform and YouTube video platform, and Yahoo’s contextual search and advertising platforms, perform. So in a very general sense, one could conclude there was a connection, and maybe someone should have looked up Xerox in Google’s patent search.
But had that someone done so, she may also have discovered that the apparatus Xerox researchers described bears close resemblance to the type of document management system the patent was designed to protect, and the methods Xerox did not want to see other competitors lay claims on first.
“One aspect of the invention is based on the discovery that data on the use of documents stored in an enterprise document management system (EDMS) provides insight into the flow of knowledge within the enterprise,” reads US Patent #6,236,994, which all three parties are accused of infringing upon. “This discovery avoids problems that arise in conventional document or knowledge management systems, where the flow of information must be rigorously characterized before or at the time the document is stored into the EDMS.”
For decades, Xerox has been heavily involved in developing an exclusive method for quantifying aggregate data about how the information included in documents is used, and how that use evolves over time. That research is what has made Xerox’ document management software so valuable over the years, and is one of the under-appreciated qualities of that company’s hard work.
But it may be harder work for Xerox’ attorneys to prove that YouTube, for example, produces aggregate data on how its videos are used, compiles workflow analyses, and generates new aggregate documents based on the results of those analyses. The precise pseudocode for that methodology comprises about four pages of the ‘994 patent; Xerox may need to demonstrate that YouTube, among others, followed essentially that same flowchart to do…whatever it is YouTube is supposed to have done with it.
The way Xerox’ attorneys described YouTube’s infringement upon the ‘994 patent sounds a lot more generalized: “YouTube makes and uses YouTube.com, a Web site for video hosting and sharing that integrates information related to videos with data from user reviews and ratings. YouTube performs all elements of the infringed claims of the ‘994 Patent by making and using YouTube.com.”
The other patent under contention, #6,778,979, issued in 2004, covers a method for the automatic generation of queries — essentially, ways in which information gleaned from a database can be compiled into a query that is then run to obtain more information. This patent is extraordinarily well illustrated, with 69 diagrams, most of which illustrate specific use-cases of Xerox’ automatic query generation system put to use.
“Google AdSense and AdWords software automatically generate queries based on the content of Web pages to retrieve related advertisements,” reads Xerox’ complaint. Assuming that’s correct, it may be difficult to prove that AdWords was specifically altered to utilize Xerox’ 2004 methodology, especially since AdWords was launched in 2000.
Google has responded to various press sources today with a single sentence, saying Xerox’ claims are without merit and the company will vigorously defend itself against them.