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Google Patents the Google Doodle


Written by Gene Quinn
President & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
Patent Attorney, Reg. No. 44,294
Zies, Widerman & Malek
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Posted: March 25, 2011 @ 10:05 am
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A colorized portion of Fig. 5 from the patent, showing the Founders celebrating the 4th of July in 2000.

Earlier this week Google received U.S. Patent No. 7,912,915, titled “Systems and methods for enticing users to access a web site.” The patent covers what is known as a “Google Doodle,” which is a decorative changes made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists and scientists. If you click on the Google Doodle on the Google website you are taken to Google search results related to the event being celebrated.

Having fun with the corporate logo by redesigning to celebrate an occasion was largely unheard of, but since the first Google Doodle launched in 1998 it has become a part of the branding of Google, with many looking forward to the next release of a new Google Doodle.  The patent application, which issued as a patent on March 22, 2011, was originally filed back in 2001.  Due to Patent Office delay Google was awarded a whopping 2,618 days of patent term extension.

The concept behind the Google Doodle originated in 1998 when Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin modified the Google logo in a subtle way for the purpose of letting Google users know that the founders were not in the office and were attending a festival. The first Google Doodle was simple, but there seemed to be interest, so in 2000, Larry and Sergey asked Dennis Hwang (the current Google Webmaster who was an intern at the time) to produce a doodle for Bastille Day, and Google was off to the races. To date there have been over 300 Google Doodles created for the United States and more than 700 created internationally.

A provisional patent application was originally filed on May 1, 2000, and a nonprovisional patent application followed up on April 30, 2001, which means that it took nearly 10 years for Google to obtain this patent. That is dedication indeed!

For the casual observer who will likely read only the first page of the patent application there is likely to be a tremendous outcry of outrage. The outrage outcry based on the title and Abstract is all too familiar for those who fail to understand that the rights conferred are dictated based on the claims. What is even more irritating, if you ask me, is that the outrage outcry typically comes from those who are arrogant and play the part of an omnipotent overseer, as if they are the only ones worthy give their allegedly superior knowledge.

So brace yourself for the outrage outcry from those unknowing, arrogant, anti-patent autocrats, because the Abstract of this patent make it seem like the patent covers far more than what it actually does. The Abstract summarizes the invention as follows:

A system provides a periodically changing story line and/or a special event company logo to entice users to access a web page. For the story line, the system may receive objects that tell a story according to the story line and successively provide the objects on the web page for predetermined or random amounts of time. For the special event company logo, the system may modify a standard company logo for a special event to create a special event logo, associate one or more search terms with the special event logo, and upload the special event logo to the web page. The system may then receive a user selection of the special event logo and provide search results relating to the special event.

Surely Google just didn’t patent the alteration of a company logo that is uploaded to the company’s web page, right? Of course not!

There were only 4 claims granted in this patent, and even the broadest claim, claim 1, is rather narrow. The claims issued are:

1. A non-transitory computer-readable medium that stores instructions executable by one or more processors to perform a method for attracting users to a web page, comprising: instructions for creating a special event logo by modifying a standard company logo for a special event, where the instructions for creating the special event logo includes instructions for modifying the standard company logo with one or more animated images; instructions for associating a link or search results with the special event logo, the link identifying a document relating to the special event, the search results relating to the special event; instructions for uploading the special event logo to the web page; instructions for receiving a user selection of the special event logo; and instructions for providing the document relating to the special event or the search results relating to the special event based on the user selection.

2. The computer-readable medium of claim 1, wherein the instructions for creating a special event logo further include: instructions for modifying the standard company logo with at least one of video or audio data.

3. The computer-readable medium of claim 1, wherein the instructions for creating a special event logo further include: instructions for modifying the standard company logo with information associated with a holiday.

4. The computer-readable medium of claim 1, wherein the instructions for uploading the special event logo include: instructions for replacing the standard company logo with the special event logo on the web page.

It would seem that the limitations of claim 1 render it so narrow that it wouldn’t even cover the Harry Houdini Google Doodle (see left) used by Google on March 24, 2011, to mark that birthday of Houdini, born Erik Weisz on March 24, 1874. I say this because claim 1 specifically recites that the company logo is modified by “one or more animated images,” and it certainly doesn’t appear as if there are any animated images present in the Houdini Google Doodle, although some Google Doodles are no doubt animated images.

While the claims issued are far more narrow than would be suggested by the Abstract, by the Summary of the Invention and indeed by the Detailed Description, I thought it might be interesting to see what claims Google sought when they filed the nonprovisional patent application on April 30, 2001. Off to Public PAIR for an answer!

The original claim 1 sought by Google was:

1. A method for enticing users to access a web page, comprising: uploading a first image in a story line to the web page; and periodically uploading successive images, following the first image, to the web page according to the story line.

Perhaps the breadth of claim 1 as filed explains why it took Google 10 years to obtain a patent.  It doesn’t tell the whole story though, obviously, given that a ridiculously enormous 2,618 days of patent term extension was provided to Google to account for delay on the part of the Patent Office.  A large chunk of that delay, but certainly not all of it, can be attributed to the appeals process within the Patent Office.  Google filed its appeal brief on July 9, 2007, and didn’t get a decision until September 23, 2010.  Notably the Board of Appeals and Patent Interferences upheld the examiner’s obviousness rejections in 23 out of 24 appealed claims, so while the initial delay in getting to the patent application and the delay in getting to the appeal accounted for unacceptable and rather ridiculous patent term extension of 2,618 days, the patent examiner largely got this one right and only narrow claims have been allowed.

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Posted in: Fun Stuff, Gene Quinn, Google, IP News, IPWatchdog.com Articles, Patents, USPTO

About the Author

is a Patent Attorney and the founder of the popular blog IPWatchdog.com, which has for three of the last four years (i.e., 2010, 2012 and 2103) been recognized as the top intellectual property blog by the American Bar Association. He is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.

 

10 comments
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  1. For any readers that are interested in seeing the file history, without learning how to navigate PAIR, I have the entire 450 page file history embedded in this post:
    http://gametimeip.com/2011/03/23/if-a-google-doodles-a-patent-in-the-woods-does-it-get-a-laugh/

    “For the casual observer who will likely read only the first page of the patent application there is likely to be a tremendous outcry of outrage.”

    So you’ve missed the dozen or so articles using this patent as “evidence” that the patent system is “out of control” or claiming that Google will sue anyone who hangs a St Patrick’s Day sign outside their bar?

    What’s actually outrageous (if anything) is the fact that they spent so much time, money and energy (likely equivalent to what most people make in a year) to obtain a patent that (A) doesn’t likely cover their own process for creating doodles (as you pointed out), and (B) isn’t likely to be practiced by anyone (rendering it un-licensable).

    With that being said, Google should be cautious about marking its “Doodles” with the patent number … $500 per page view could add up real quick!

  2. Patrick-

    When you say: “So you’ve missed the dozen or so articles using this patent as “evidence” that the patent system is “out of control” or claiming that Google will sue anyone who hangs a St Patrick’s Day sign outside their bar?”

    What do you really mean? Is that supposed to be some kind of cut down? I’d love to hear you elaborate on what appears to be a gratuitous slap. It seems that because I didn’t write what you wanted to read you felt it appropriate to take a swing. Is that your MO?

    -Gene

  3. Gene,
    I think Patrick is talking about the misunderstanding made by others, claiming than an outcry has already happened.

    That said, limiting it to only animated images doesn’t it make it that narrow. It won’t cover static doodles, but dynamic doodles over company logos for special events is still quite a bit of coverage for practically no innovation.

    Even with that, Google doesn’t seem particularly litigious. Perhaps the bigger problem is that time is being wasted on something as pointless as this. In addition to wasting limited resources for all parties involved, it also seems to suggest that you can get a US patent for basically anything that hasn’t been done exactly that way before. It even arguably suggests that a PHOSITA in the US is a moron if one holds that the USPTO is following patent statutes.

  4. It even arguably suggests that a PHOSITA in the US is a moron if one holds that the USPTO is following patent statutes.

    Only in the art of comments made by those who refuse to understand the law…

    Why, hello Bobby, speak of the devil…

  5. Thought Mr. Righteous “Do no evil” Google was really against patents. So it is more like he’s only against those patents he doesn’t own. Quite a hypocrite.

    Don’t worry about the outrage outcry from those “unknowing, arrogant, anti-patent autocrats”, as there won’t be any, since google is One of Them, even though this is one of those overly broad “simple” patents with overly lenghty terms they like to rant against.

  6. BD,
    The defense of this patent that Gene gave was that it was too narrow to be a concern, which may be the truth, but it doesn’t change that there wasn’t anything significant brought to the table, at least in the concept (the art itself in a doodle may have been quite creative or skilled). However, the USPTO concluded that the invention wouldn’t at the time of invention be obvious to a PHOSITA. Even at the time, anybody who considered that to be non-obvious wouldn’t be very bright. Thus, the USPTO concluded that a PHOSITA at the time of invention wasn’t very bright.

    It seems to me that the doodle falls into what is, in the words of Giles Rich, “the expected skill of ordinary workers” that “will be made anyway, without the ‘fuel of interest’ which the patent system provides.” If you give patents for that, even ones that are useless in practice, it makes the achievement of getting a patent much more mundane. If one considers the value of bragging rights in getting a patent, the bar being set incredibly low like this makes ‘I got a US patent’ without additional qualifiers a meaningless statement that roughly equivocates to ‘I spent enough money to get a US patent’, which isn’t an intellectual achievement at all. That’s not to say that patents, if we have them, should be set as high as Nobel Prizes, but they don’t need to be as low as ‘participant’ ribbons in various competitive events either, especially with the implications of current patent language regarding a PHOSITA.

  7. This does seem rather uncomfortably close to a patent on an “abstract idea” — which the Bilski patent litigation was supposed to prevent. If S.23, the patent reform bill, passes in the House in substantially the same form, It will be interesting to see whether and how the business method provisions of that legislation may be asserted in the future against patents like this one.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-tech/post/qanda-small-inventors-raise-patent-reform-concerns/2011/03/28/AFLJ9NpB_blog.html

  8. Gene,

    I’ve always respected your analysis and opinion, even if when I haven’t agreed with it. But, this is a bridge too far. This is the exact type of patent that you usually criticise the USPTO for granting.

  9. John-

    Why is this a bridge too far? The critical time to determine whether this was novel and obvious was at least before 2000 when the provisional patent application was filed. In fact, the date you would have to demonstrate the existence of prior art by is almost certainly before 2000 because with a first to invent system the patent applicant can swear behind references. But lets assume the date is in 2000. What evidence of prior art do you have from before Google filed its provisional patent application to invalidate one or more claims. That is, after all, what is required to make your statement that this is a bridge too far.

    I’d also be interested in knowing why you think it is a bridge too far given the exceptionally narrow claims that Google received. They didn’t even seemingly patent the Google Doodle really because they claims they obtained are too narrow to capture some, if not many or even most, of the Google Doodles.

    I criticize the USPTO for granting things they should not have granted. Looking back with the hindsight of a decade and saying this is obvious now so it shouldn’t be granted isn’t legally permissible, so I see no reason why these claims shouldn’t have been allowed. Of course, if you have prior art that would invalidate one or more claims that has a date at least before Google’s provisional patent application I would love to see it.

    -Gene

  10. Gene,
    There was nothing uncommon about animated images back on the web in 2000 or using images as links. There would be absolutely nothing unique in 2000 about using an animated GIF to make a link. In December of 1996, Yahoo had a company logo that functioned as a link that was modified for the holidays. While it wouldn’t be covered by the patent, it seems close enough that substituting an animated GIF where Rudolf’s nose blinks and changing what the link points to to ‘Rudolf the red nosed reindeer’ or ‘Christmas’ search results would make it fit, and such changes would hardly be novel.

    http://web.archive.org/web/19961220154510/http://www.yahoo.com/

    Keep in mind this is not inherently the best example of prior art, but rather the best example of prior art that about 5 minutes in the wayback machine produced for me.