Did Google Acquire the Tech (or Patents) for Google Related from Northbrook Digital LLC?

The Google Related Logo.

My Google toolbar updated on me earlier today, and a notification window popped up, telling me about one of Google’s newest features, Google Related, which has some interesting implications. Ran Ben-Yair, a Product Manager from the Google Related team located at the Israel R&D Center introduced the feature in a blog post titled Find more while you browse with Google Related

The notification announcing the addition of Google Related that popped up when I opened my browser.

I haven’t had much time to explore the use of Google Related on more than a couple of sites, but I’ll be looking for more signs of it on the Web. I noticed a couple of days ago a number of patents that Google had recorded as being acquired from Northbrook Digital LLC which looked like they shared some very similar features to Google Related. Interesting to see them possibly incorporated into Google so quickly.

Google Related shows a toolbar at the bottom of some pages providing links to other content on the Web. An example from the toolbar help page tells us that if you are on the homepage for a restaurant in San Francisco, Google Related might provide you with links to click upon to show you information such as “the location of the restaurant on a map, user reviews, related restaurants in the area, and other webpages related to San Francisco restaurants.”

I went looking around to see if I could see the Google Related toolbar in the wild, and found it in use on the Daily Beast Newsweek pages. The first image showed the toolbar as it appeared on the site:

The Google Related toolbar at the bottom of my browser window, showing some information about related topics, and widgets that I can click upon to see related news stories, and related web pages.

There were two informational widgets available for me to hover over with my mouse pointer and view on the Newsweek pages, as well as an “options” widget. The first of them showed 5 related news stories, along with thumbnails and Google + buttons and a count of how many times those had been plussed:

After hovering over the News Widget, I was seeing a popup providing links to 5 related news stories.

The second displayed 5 pages which includes blog posts and more news, and thumbnails and plus buttons again.

After hovering over the Related Web pages Widget, I was shown a popup providing links to 5 articles including news and blog posts.

The options widget provides a number of controls, such as the ability to hide the Google Related Toolbar for a particular page or an entire site, disable the feature, access help, or send feedback. Here’s what that looks like:

After hovering over the Options Widget, a popup appeared that provided controls for using the Google Related toolbar.

It’s probably time to sneek in a screenshot from one of the patents Google recently acquired at this point which shows a toolbar at the bottom of the page with rectagular widgets included in the toolbar, and a control at the right of the toolbar that provides control features for the toolbar:

A screenshot from one of the new patents showing a popup with controls for using the toolbar, looking somewhat similar to the Google Related toolbar and popup control.

There are some differences, but the similarities are interesting.

Here’s another image from one of the patents showing a couple of informational widgets:

A screenshot from one of the new patents showing a popup with a couple of informational widgets, looking somewhat similar to the Google Related toolbar and informational widget.

The patent claims from the first batch of patents appear to be pretty good matches for Google Related as well. The description doesn’t quite match up 100%, but most patent descriptions are illustrative examples, and the claims sections are the important parts.

According to the Google Related help page, additional content that might be displayed might cover a number of categories, including “videos, news articles, maps, reviews, images, web sites and more.” Most of these seem like they might present previews of content, but the help page does say that if you hover over a video content item, the video will appear in the preview box and can be played from there.

For Google Related to work in Internet Explorer, you need to have the newest version of the toolbar and your Google Toolbar needs to be configured so that the search site it uses is Google.com. It also tells us that sometime in the future that might change to be available with country-specific versions of Google search. There is also a Google Related Chrome Extension for people using Google Chrome.

The Northbrook Digital LLC Patents

In two separately recorded sets of patent assignments at the USPTO from Northbrook Digital LLC to Google over the past week, with an execution date of July 21, 2011, Google acquired a number of granted patents and a pending patent application from NorthBrook Digital, LLC. All of the patents are listed as having been invented by Mark A. Wolfe

The first batch were various continuations of a granted patent with the same name, and a pending patent application that looks like it covers the same territory, but with a slightly different name. The second batch also all seem to be continuations of a different patent. All of the filings in the first group have the same abstract, except the second patent to be filed, where the abstract is expanded upon a little. The 4 granted patents in the second group all have slightly different titles, and three of them share an abstract.

System and method for communicating information relating to a network resource
US Patent 6,006,252
Granted December 21, 1999
Filed: September 25, 1997

System and method for communicating information relating to a network resource
US Patent 6,341,305
Granted January 22, 2002
Filed: November 16, 1999

System and method for communicating information relating to a network resource
US Patent 6,336,131
Granted January 1, 2002
Filed: April 5, 2000

System and method for communicating information relating to a network resource
US Patent 7,043,526
Granted May 9, 2006
Filed: December 12, 2001

System and method for communicating information relating to a network resource
US Patent 7,257,604
Granted August 14, 2007
Filed: August 5, 2003

System and method for communicating information relating to a network resource
US Patent 7,433,874
Granted October 7, 2008
Filed: December 30, 2005

System and method for communicating information relating to a network resource
US Patent 7,536,385
Granted May 19, 2009
Filed: September 6, 2006

Abstract

A system and method for communicating information relating to a network resource. A computer for displaying supplemental information about another document on a display screen for a user. Guiding individuals to places of interest on a network where information is stored, and/or displaying or otherwise presenting useful information to the user.

System and method for communicating information relating to a network resource
US Patent 6,292,813
Granted September 18, 2001
Filed: November 17, 1998

Abstract

A system and method for communicating information relating to a network resource. Upon detecting a hypertext document displayed on the screen a request identifying the document to a supplemental information server and retrieving information related to the hypertext document. The supplemental information is also displayed and the user may be provided opportunity to select further information or links. Guiding individuals to places of interest on a network where information is stored, and/or displaying or otherwise presenting useful information to the user.

Communicating Information Relating to a Network Resource
US Patent Application 20070136418
Published June 14, 2007817
Filed: January 19, 2007

Abstract

In an information retrieval system, a system and method for presentation of information and/or resources that are pertinent to an individual’s interests or task. Guiding individuals to places of interest on a network where information is stored. Displaying or otherwise presenting useful information to the user.

=========================================

The following patents are continuations of an original patent, now abandoned, filed Jun. 7, 1995, with the Serial No. 08/487,925. There are some slight differences in the names, and the last three granted patents use the same abstract.

They appear to describe an electronic online version of a Shepard’s guide to citations for legal cases, as seen in the following screenshot from the patent, but if you read through the claims to the patents, those don’t appear to be limited to providing case or statute citations for legal cases until a mention of judicial opinions in one of the later claims. It might be possible that this patent could be used in a broader manner:

A screenshot from one of the new patents below showing a legal document in a main window, with a list of cited cases in a sidebar.

Document research system and method for displaying citing documents
US Patent 5,870,770
Granted February 9, 1999
Filed: January 28, 1998

Abstract

A method for displaying on a computer screen information concerning the interrelationships of documents. A first document is retrieved over a network and displayed in a document display window on a display screen while simultaneously displaying, in a second window on the display screen, separately selectable representations of related documents which are relevant to the subject matter of the first document. When a user selects a representation of a second document, the second document is displayed in the document display window, and the representations of related documents in the second window are automatically updated when the second document is displayed in the document display window.

Document research system and method for efficiently displaying and researching information about the interrelationships between documents
US Patent 6,263,351
Granted July 17, 2001
Filed: February 5, 1999

Efficiently displaying and researching information about the interrelationships between documents
US Patent 7,302,638
Granted November 27, 2007
Filed: August 29, 2003

Efficiently displaying and researching information about the interrelationships between documents
US Patent 7,246,310
Granted July 17, 2007
Filed: April 5, 2006

Abstract

A system for displaying, on a computer screen, information concerning the interrelationships of documents. A system employing the present invention also allows for the efficient research of documents that cite a document shown on the computer screen. In one embodiment, the present invention involves displaying at least a portion of a first document and simultaneously displaying a representation of one or more citing documents. The citing documents cite some portion of the displayed document. In another embodiment, the invention involves displaying at least a portion of a first document, and displaying a representation of one or more citing documents, wherein the displayed citing documents cite the displayed portion of the first document.

Conclusions

Since the patents aren’t from Google, it’s hard to tell how much of what the first batch of patents describe might be incorporated into Google Related, but it does appear that these patents are related to Google’s new feature. Not sure if Google will use the processes from the second set of patents, and if they have any interest in providing that kind of legal information. They do have a patent search, so the idea isn’t necessarily outrageous. And I’d love to see a feature like the one described in the second group of patents used to provide links to the documents appearing as references in Google patents.

The idea of Google providing a feature that appears on other peoples’ websites probably should be a little disturbing, especially if it might potentially lead people away from those sites. If you’re a restaurant owner in San Francisco, and you can access Google Reviews without leaving the page, and links to other restaurants in the immediate area, that could potentially be troublesome if some of your reviews might not be that good, or if there are a lot of other good restaurants in the area.

It’s uncertain as well whether Google might enable Website owners with the ability to turn off the Google Related toolbar on their sites. The toolbar help page is silent on the topic, but there might be a good number of upset webmasters when they see the toolbar appear on their pages for the first time.

We also don’t know if Google might take advantage of displaying this extra content to show advertisements, or links to pages like Google Places which contain advertisements.

It’s impossible to tell if Google acquired Northbrook Digital LLC, or if it just acquired the patents. Did Google acquire them to use the technology described within them, or were they working on something similar, and decided that they patents might help shield them from possible patent infringement litigation from either Northbrook or someone who may possible have patented something similar?

Finally, I’m also using the image at the top of this post, with the Google Related Logo as part of a test. In my last post, Google’s Asymmetric Social Network and Plus Authoring Patent, I wrote about a patent from Google that looked like it described how authors at Google Plus might be able to add a link to a post and choose amongst a number of images from the page linked to, to appear next to the post.

The patent noted that it might not include some images as options to show based upon whether they were so small that they might be decorations or icons. It stated that it might do that by not offering the options to use images that were smaller than 30 pixels on any one side. The “Google Related” logo that starts this post is 39 pixels long on its shortest side. Once I publish this post, I’m going to write a new post at Google Plus, and link to this post, and see if that logo image is available to me. I suspect that it will be.

Added August 18, 2011 at 7:21pm (edt) – my image experiment at Google Plus wasn’t successful. Google didn’t offer me the option to use the Google Related Logo at the start of this post. That could be because it’s too small, or maybe because there were too many other larger images to choose from. :(

Share

18 thoughts on “Did Google Acquire the Tech (or Patents) for Google Related from Northbrook Digital LLC?”

  1. I came across your blog QUITE by accident. Your assessment of “Google Related” is enlightening for me because I absolutely hate these extra toolbar but this is making me thing I should at least consider Google’s.

    Do you really think that this could be useful for those of us that look for extra love from related backlinks? Maybe it’s the conspiracy theory in me worrying about G looking over my shoulder.

    Definately adding you to me read list. ++2

  2. Hey Bill,

    Sorry to hear about the image…

    On the Northbrook Digital patents – I guess I’m kinda curious to know whether it is a case of acquiring the patents to circumnavigate legal action against an already developed technology, or whether the technology was based on the acquired patents.

    I suppose the only indicative value is the execution date of July 21st.

    Is 28 days (20 week days) enough time to get the product up, running, and live based on patents from somoene else, or is it enough time to tweak an existing product based on someone else’s patents.

    I’d probably go with the latter personally which my someway infer that the acquisition had a protectionist motivation, but then again, i could be completely wrong…

  3. Hi Buddy,

    Thanks.

    I’m not sure yet how useful Google Related might be, and I understand your concern about privacy. Google does collect a lot of information about how we browse and search, and what we might click upon and so on. From all of the patents and whitepapers that I’ve read, they really are exploring how they can use that information to try to improve search results, so my concerns about other ways they might use the data they collect are tempered with that.

    The feature is pretty new, and it’s definitely aimed at providing resources for searchers, so it’s hard to tell how much help it might provide to site owners. Chances are that related links being shown for news stories are going to focus upon fresher and highly topical articles and blog posts. I haven’t run across any Google Related toolbars showing up for businesses yet, but I’m looking forward to investigating those and seeing what Google might provide with them.

  4. Hi Tom,

    Using the image was an experiment, so a failure was as good as a success in that it gave me a couple of other questions to ask about how Google is providing choices of images to show at Google Plus. :)

    It appears that person heading the R&D team in Israel has some previous experience with this type of technology, so while there might be some similarities between the images in the patent and the way that Google Related appears, implementing Google Related was probably a chore. Google might have been aware of the patents before that execution date, and there may have been an agreement in place before the assignment happened, so we don’t know how much time Google might have had to develop Google Related as it looks and works now.

    I suspect that Google may have been working on something like this for a while, but saw the patents as an opportunity to provide some ideas on how to implement this way of letting people access additional references and give them some legal protection as well.

    Google did come out with a widget that people could place on their web pages called Google Related Links that would provide links to other pages on your website and links to Google search results for topics on your page that could potentially be called similar in that it added some reference material for visitors who might be interested enough in the topic on your page to want to see more.

    But the related links widget required that people actually install it on their websites, where this doesn’t. It also looks like Google Related may potentially add many more types of related content, such as videos that will play in a preview box without visitors leaving your page.

    So the idea of displaying related content has been in the air at Google for a long time. The patent may have influenced how it’s been implemented.

  5. I also noticed this toolbar show up on my computer and was interested as well. I know that everything I do on the computer is saved somewhere in the cookies that apparently am learned that are cookies that we dont even know about. As far as the patent google has been lagging lately as facebook seems to be taking the first spot right now as a 10 Pr and they are willing to do anything that will seem to help users use more of their apps.

  6. What concerns me is Google attaching competitors site information to the browser being used to view my site. Isn’t competition strong enough without doing the customers research for them ?
    There must be a way to block these from people viewing our site.

  7. Well, after fooling around with this for a couple of days I have yet to trigger a related event. Have you been able to see it reliably on what you have been searching for?

    Of course, I could be the moron here. lol

  8. For any small e-commerce owner or operator Google Related is destructive. You spend all kinds of time, money and hard work building up focused traffic then Google invades your site and induces your customers to shop elsewhere. Wonder if the sites they are featuring have a strong AdWords profile? Google is starting to remind of Microsoft during the 90s. This is not a healthy situation.

  9. Hi Dave,

    I don’t know if we will see anything on the Google Related toolbar that is personalized and relies upon cookies or other information about our previous browsing and searching history, and that really isn’t hinted at in the patent, but it’s a possibility.

    I’m seeing more of the Google Related toolbar, including on this site, and I can’t say that I’m very impressed with what I’m seeing.

  10. Hi Mark,

    I haven’t seen anyway to block Google Related from appearing on your site, otherwise I would be pretty tempted to block it from showing up on my site – primarily becaus it’s just not helpful at all. What Google thinks is related and what I think are related seem to be very different things.

    But, I agree completely with you – it really doesn’t make any sense to have Google show off competitors to your site in the Google Related Toolbar.

  11. Hi Buddy,

    I’m starting to see more of them myself, including on this site.

    To see the Google Related toolbar, you either need to be using Internet Explorer with the most recent Google Toolbar installed, or using Google Chrome with the Google Related extension installed.

  12. Hi Robb,

    Google Related should be something that site owners could opt into rather than just be forced to live with.

    I’m seeing the Google Related toolbar on more and more sites, including this one, and I don’t use Google Adwords at all. I haven’t seen any related links to competitors, or at least not yet. Need to look around and see more of what they are featuring in those on my pages.

  13. Hi Jaimie,

    Thanks for sharing information about your plugin, which I recommend that everyone take a look at and try out.

    I’m surprised that there isn’t more of an outcry over Google Related, especially since I see it spring up in places like ecommerce sites where it offers comparative shopping results on specific product pages for many different types of goods. It also shows competitors sites for many shops and services through Google Local results.

    Imagine doing what you can to try to get people to your site, and you have them on a page where they can purchase one of your products or contact you to inquire about your services, and there’s the related pages toolbar at the bottom of the page acting as a pathway away from your site.

    It would be great if Google offered site owners a way to opt out of having Google Related appear on their pages, but they don’t.

  14. @Bill

    I spot-checked a few major sites. It does, indeed, appear even on Amazon.com. With Amazon’s ridiculous level of traffic, I’d think this would concern them.

    I can find, in various places, links to (esp.) eBay for seemingly-cheaper prices. They’re definitely going to see bounces as a result of this bar.

    Could be worth another post :)

  15. Thanks, Jaimie

    I am surprised that I’m not seeing more people from more sites criticising Google Related, and how intrusive it is.

    It is definitely worth another post, focused more upon the potential impact on many sites.

    For ecommerce sites, in showing only prices for products as comparative shopping results, it de-emphasizes many other things that people looking for those products should consider, from shipping policies to customer service to unique aspects of a business offering those goods.

  16. Hi Bill, I totally agree with your sentiments about being able to opt out. I find recently that my “money pages” are being “infected” which was not the case until yesterday. I cannot believe how little grumbling there is about this. All I can think is that webmasters just dont realize (using browser chrome or ie without a toolbar) But they are certainly experiencing reductions in cash flow, I can verify this, I suddenly dropped 90% click through rate when my money page was infected where i used to get 40 conversions a day, to the order page, I now get 3 a day (after over 7 years of consistent 30 to 40 a day)

    I have another article site that google feeds me visitors with their search results (100 a day) and that had the infection too but I wasnt so concerned and felt that it was almost “fair” since they gave me the traffic in the first place (not really fair but anyway). But now suddenly my money pages are being used for their links to youtube etc. I cant stand this its totally ruined my business that has been rock solid for 7 years, I am now wondering if i actually have to find a job because I cant afford this.

    What can i do?

  17. Hi Pete,

    I would love it if Google decided that the Related Toolbar wasn’t something that they wanted to continue to display. There really hasn’t been very much talk about it, or complaints that I’ve seen.

    It might be worth asking about it in Google’s help forums.

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Webmasters?hl=en

    I think that Google needs to see that there are people who aren’t very happy with the feature.

Comments are closed.