Xerox Brings Patent Infringement Suit Against Google, Yahoo, and YouTube

Charles Knight, who is now the Search Editor at Nextweb pointed me to a Bloomberg report at BusinessWeek, Google, Yahoo Sued by Xerox Over Search Query Patents.

The patent infringement complaint (PDF – 308k) contains claims that specifically name the following programs as infringing Xerox’s patented technology: Google’s Adsense and Adwords programs, Google Maps, Google Video, and YouTube, as well as Yahoo’s Search Marketing and Publisher Network, Y!Q Contextual Search, and Yahoo Shopping.

The article provided descriptions of the Xerox patents in question, but didn’t identify the patents themselves. While I was able to find one of the two patents from a search at the patent office, the other patent eluded me. I registered with, and signed on to the Federal Government’s PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system to look at the complaint and find the other patent.

Xerox filed the case in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware on February 19th, and asks the Court for cash damages and an order that would keep Google, Yahoo, and YouTube from continuing to “use” the technology described under the patents in question, without permission.

The case number in US District Court for the District of Delaware is 1:10-cv-00136-UNA, and answers haven’t been filed yet by the defendants.

Within the complaint, Xerox claims that the processes described in their patent System for automatically generating queries , are being used to automatically generate queries based upon the content of web pages that show related advertisements through Google’s Adsense and Adwords programs, as well as through Yahoo’s Search Marketing and Publisher Network.

Yahoo’s Y!Q Contextual Search, which I believe is no longer available, is also described in the complaint as “a system that automatically generates queries based on the content of web pages to retrieve information related to the pages.” I did write about Y!Q a while back, and you can get an idea of how it worked from my post, if you somehow missed it – Y!Q didn’t seem to catch on with a wide audience.

The other Xerox patent, Method and Apparatus for the Integration of Information and Knowledge, is claimed as being infringed by Google Maps, Google Video, YouTube videos and Yahoo Shopping.

The author of the BusinessWeek article attempted to contact Google and Yahoo to see if they would comment upon the civil action filed by Xerox. Google’s Google’s senior litigation counsel responded, claiming that the case was without merit, while Yahoo hadn’t returned messages left with them at the time of publication of the article.

More about the Xerox patents named in the complaint:

System for automatically generating queries
Invented by Gregory T. Grefenstette and James G. Shanahan
Assigned to Xerox Corporation
US Patent 6,778,979
Granted August 17, 2004
Filed: December 5, 2001

Abstract

A system generates a query using an entity extractor, a categorizer, a query generator, and a short run aspect vector. The entity extractor identifies a set of entities in selected document content for searching information related thereto using an information retrieval system.

The categorizer defines an organized classification of document content with each class in the organization of content having associated therewith a classification label that corresponds to a category of information in the information retrieval system.

The categorizer assigns the selected document content a classification label from the organized classification of content. A query generator formulates a query that restricts a search at the information retrieval system to the category of information in the information retrieval system identified by the assigned classification label.

The short length aspect vector generator generates terms for further refining the query using context information surrounding the set of entities in the selected document content.

Method and Apparatus for the Integration of Information and Knowledge
Invented by Ronald M. Swartz, Jeffrey L. Winkler, Evelyn A. Janos, Igor Markidan, and Qun Dou
Assigned to Xerox Corporation
United States Patent 6,236,994
Granted May 22, 2001
Filed: June 29, 1998

Abstract

The present invention is a method and apparatus for first integrating the operation of various independent software applications directed to the management of information within an enterprise.

The system architecture is, however, an expandable architecture, with built-in knowledge integration features that facilitate the monitoring of information flow into, out of, and between the integrated information management applications so as to assimilate knowledge information and facilitate the control of such information.

Also included are additional tools which, using the knowledge information enable the more efficient use of the knowledge within an enterprise, including the ability to develop a context for and visualization of such knowledge.

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29 thoughts on “Xerox Brings Patent Infringement Suit Against Google, Yahoo, and YouTube”

  1. Dang, this is pretty interesting. I wonder if it will take off, I mean Google Adwords and such have been around since 2002 – 03?? By the way this is a fantastic blog I got into about 3-4 weeksagao and I am super happy I have found it!! Been reading as many old posts as possible.

  2. Thank you, Adam,

    Both Google and Yahoo have been allowing people to advertise on pages outside of Google and Yahoo for years, presenting ads that are relevant to the content of the pages involved. I’ll be looking forward to the answers to the complaint from both Google and Yahoo.

    It looks like it’s a little too late for Xerox to try to stop Yahoo’s Y!Q Contextual Search, which disappeared a while back.

  3. Yes, they have been around for far too long already…it’s kinda late for xerox to do this now, they should have began this when Google and yahoo started using it. Will also be looking forward to Google and Yahoo’s answers. It is an interesting case. I also love your blog!

  4. I guess they wait until the system is implemented and successful so they can make it big if they win.
    I agree this case is very interesting.

  5. I don’t think it’s too late, Matt and Andrew.

    We don’t know if a court or jury would agree or not that Google and Yahoo and Youtube are infringing upon the patents that Xerox is claiming they are, but the protection that a patent provides covers a number of years, and the programs mentioned in the complaint have been used during that time period.

    Both Google and Yahoo have responded to the press at this point, stating that they lawsuit is without merit. They do have a certain amount of time to file answers to the complaint, and possibly haven’t done so yet. Those answers don’t have to be very detailed, but it’s likely that they will deny that they are infringing upon the patents from Xerox.

  6. Hi ignandy,

    I have lots of questions about the timing of the bringing of the complaint, too.

    I don’t know that they waited until those programs were successful so that they could be awarded higher amounts of damages, but I imagine that Xerox spent a good deal of time trying to determine if they had any likelihood of succeeding in lawsuits against Google and Yahoo, or the possibility of a settlement.

    I also don’t know if there are any other motivations behind bringing the claims that they have, or in their choices of who to bring a suit against. For example, Microsoft also has a contextual advertising program, but they weren’t named as defendants in this case. Is their program different enough from Google’s or Yahoo’s?

  7. Hi Bill. A very interesting development which could have far reaching consequences. How much of G’s income is dependant on contextual advertising? Think I’ll buy some Xeroz shares…

  8. I have my doubts that Xerox will be able to win or even settle this, But I’ll be following this story closely now!

    Assuming Xerox do win, The reparations for Google/Yahoo could be astronomical.. Interesting times ahead!

  9. Hi Bullaman and Outspokenseo,

    Both of you raise an interesting question. If Google or Yahoo were to lose this patent infringement case, how much money would it mean that they would lose. I’m not sure that it would be easy to calculate how much income they made under their contextual advertising programs, or through Google Maps or Yahoo Shopping.

    But, the complaint also asks for triple damages for “any and all willful acts of infringement” of the patents in question.

    That could potentially be a considerable amount of money.

  10. I think Xerox has a strong case. However, whether or not this will make it to court is another question. I wouldn’t be suprised if Google settled out of court to shut them up, considering how deep their pockets are, and how poorly Xerox performed in 09′. Seems like more of an attempt to make up for their losses than protecting their patent. Is Xerox doing anything to develop currently?

  11. I wouldn’t put it past Microsoft

    1. To have a technology sharing agreement in place with Xerox – Microsoft deals with so many document handling issues within the corporate space that otherwise they would be constantly treading on each other’s toes – I dug out a few deals between the 2, especially more recently between the Fuji Xerox subsidiary

    2. Testify on Xerox’s behalf

    I am not a financial wiz, Xerox might seem a little stagnant but it doesn’t look like they are hurting financially.

  12. Hi Andrew,

    Most civil actions tend to settle, and most courts are set up these days to offer mediation and arbitration before cases ever make it to a jury.

    Regardless of that, both Google and Yahoo have publicly stated that they believe the case is without merit, and it is possible that they are right. Even reading through the patent filings a couple of times, I have no idea about the possibility of their success on the merits of the case, but I don’t think that Xerox is sitting still, and not continuing to develop new ideas and products on their own.

    A recent news release from them shows that they have been keeping pretty busy:

    Xerox Patents Up 16% in 2009

    I do know that their subsidiary, PARC, the Palo Alto Research Center, is pretty busy publishing technology and search related patents and white papers.

  13. Hi Andy,

    It’s difficult to say what motivates the timing and choice of defendants in lawsuits, though a business relationship could influence a choice of defendants, and it’s possible that Xerox and Microsoft may have tech sharing agreements in place.

    I don’t think that Xerox is having problems financially either. If they are capable of things like the $5.6 billion takeover of Affiliated Computer Services Inc (ACS), they must be doing something right.

  14. This will be very interesting to see what comes out of this.

    If Google loses out on this, it could be disaster for Adwords and Adsense.

    I wonder if the Yahoo + Bing merger has anything to do with this..after all, this will effect Google the most.

  15. Hi Ron,

    It Google and Yahoo lose this case, it could be a problem for both search engines. I don’t think that Yahoo using Bing’s search database is related to this. I think the impact upon Yahoo would be fairly serious as well.

  16. It is amazing how many different intellectual property rights are implicated in these situations. Google Adwords, a real money spinner, and something that Google will obviously want to keep to itself, has been coming under attack from all angles, not just patent law, but trademark infringement too. The fact is that in an online environment you are potentially stepping on property rights all over the world, so some feathers are going to get ruffled.

  17. Hi Aaron,

    It is amazing, Aaron. The web is a fairly new medium when it comes to the laws of jurisdictions across the world. There are a lot of areas of the law that haven’t been applied to a setting on the internet, or that are unclear and may be for a long time.

    As you mention, trademark and contextual based internet advertising is one area in turmoil and indecision.

    Besides patent infringement and trademark, there are issues regarding copyrights, privacy and data retention laws, and many other areas. It’s not surprising to see Google as one of the targets for many of these lawsuits considering how large of a presence they have on the web.

  18. Hi Jay,

    It appears that Google, YouTube, and Yahoo have filed countersuits against Xerox, in federal court in Delaware. The case is Xerox Corp v. Google Inc et al, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware, No. 10-00136.

  19. I guess they wait until the system is implemented and successful so they can make it big if they win.
    I agree this case is very interesting.

  20. Hi teknoloji,

    Those programs have been around for a few years, so I don’t believe the reason why Xerox waited until now is because they are expecting a bigger payday. It is interesting. I guess we may not expect a company that’s been around for a long time like Xerox to engage in frivilous lawsuits. And, if Xerox wins, what happens to Google and Yahoo?

  21. I think they won’t have any success with their patent law suit against Google and Yahoo. Google knows very well, that there won’t be any risk, so his statement “the case is without” merit fits very well. That doesen’t mean that I approve of Google’s Law strategy. Google feels almighty and unfortunately they are right thinking like that of themselves.

  22. Hi XAVA,

    I’m not sure if we have enough information to tell how much or little merit there is to this law suit, but I would expect most companies in the same situation as Google to respond with a statement like the one that they made about the case lacking merit.

  23. Regarding the timing question, there is no statute of limitations on patent infringement actions, but there is a time limit of 6 years in which you can recover monetary relief. (So there is effectively a six year statute of limitations, because what’s the point of suing someone if there’s no money at the end of it?)

  24. Hi JWC,

    I can’t say that I’ve been following the litigation along at home. The Xerox patents are pretty broad; will have to check up on it. Thanks.

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