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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

US Patents: Can this be real?! How?!!

I guess many people learned through slashdot that yesterday, Amazon was awarded US patent 7278042, titled Search engine system supporting inclusion of unformatted search string after domain name portion of URL. In case you are still wondering what this patent entails, read the abstract:
A web site system provides functionality for searching a repository of information, such as the World Wide Web, by including a search string at the end of a URL without any special formatting. In one embodiment, when the system receives a request for a URL of the form www.domain_name/char_string, where char_string is a character string that may include spaces and non-alphabetic characters, the system initially determines whether the character string includes a prefix that identifies the URL as a non-search-request URL. If no such prefix is present, the character string is used in its entirely as a search string to execute a search, and the results of the search are returned to the user.
So, basically, this describes an application that would process URLs of the form http://<somedomain>/<search string> by feeding the text value of <search string> into a search engine and return the search results. The flowchart describes the process:



The patent claim includes a few variations:
As will be recognized, various modifications can be made to the method shown in FIG. 1. One such modification is to treat all URLs of the format www.domain_name/char_string as search request URLs. If this approach is used, a subdomain (e.g., www.pages.a9.com) may be provided for accessing other content of the web site. Another variation is to treat certain URLs that lack the full prefix as search requests if such URLs are otherwise invalid. For example, assuming "-/" is used as the only valid prefix, a request for www.a9.com//text may be treated as a request to search for "text" if the URL does not point to a valid subdirectory or object.

Another variation is to use a suffix, rather than a prefix, to identify non-search-request URLs. For instance, a URL of the format www.domain_name/char_string may be treated as a non-search-request URL if and only if char_string ends with a predefined suffix such as "/-" or "/-/"
The patent was filed in 2004. Personally, I have a hard time believing Amazon was the first one to think of this, but even then...I never realized this patent system really is...what will happen next? Is there a patent to interpret subdomains as search strings? Should I file one, just for fun?