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.