Google Book Search Patent Application

There’s a newly published patent application from Google, and on its face, it looks like a good match for the way books could be displayed in Google’s Book Search.

Parts of it do appear to be included in what Google has developed, but I don’t see them using the “image distortion” described in the document.

If you haven’t spent any time with Google book search, you may not have seen how they handle some sources differently than others. For a few books, it appears that you can look at a number of pages that include your query terms. For other books, where the search terms may appear on a lot of pages, you need to log into Google to look at some of the pages, so that they can track how much of the book you’ve seen.

For shorter works, instead of providing full pages, it seems that Google’s Book Search only delivers snippets of relevant text. This is where the patent application seems to point to the use of a full page with the parts that aren’t relevant appearing distorted and even unreadable.

It may be worth skimming over the patent application if you are interested in seeing a detailed description on how to handle the issues that the process described within it was intended to address.

What issues was the patent application intended to resolve?

A little paraphrasing of the document…

Digital documents are easier to copy than physical ones, which concerns the owners of those documents when they might want to make digital copies accessible to the public.

In spite of this worry, those content owners often do want to offer their documents online, often charging for them, and it can help if the information within those documents can benefit from being searchable so that people can find what they are looking for.

The patent application notes that people who use search engines have become used to being able to view relevant portions of a document or other content before they make a decision to purchase it. But the risk in that is in providing too much content, so that they can make a complete copy and not have to pay for it.

While there are some ways to provide limited access, or complete access and do something like disable the ability to print a document, most of the technologies enabling that access can be circumvented.

The patent application

This patent application assigned to Google describes “a way to allow a user to view an electronic document while preventing the user from making a copy of it.”

Image distortion for content security

Inventors: Joseph K. O’Sullivan
US Patent Application 20060061796
Published March 23, 2006
Filed: September 22, 2004


A software module is presented that enables a person to determine the relevance of an electronic document while preventing the person from making a complete copy of the document. In one embodiment, this is accomplished by displaying an image that represents a region of interest and conveys the context of the region of interest within the document while distorting other portions of the document. In one embodiment, the software module is used in conjunction with a search engine to generate an image of a search result document.

I get the sense that this document describes the way that Google may have first envisioned Google Book Search to work, and that in the time between when it was filed, and published, a number of alternatives were developed.

For instance, if Google didn’t provide so many other services, such as Gmail and personalized search and Orkut, with the same single sign-on for all of those services, it might be questionable as to whether people would log in to see some books. Since they do, it provides one way of tracking how much of a book that a viewer sees.