may have found a way to make money from its still-in-beta News service without alienating publishers, as indicated by a patent application on file with the USPTO.
If Google could pull off what it outlines in that broad patent application, it may open new revenue streams to publishers of print, CD and DVD media, while broadening its own revenue base.
U.S. Patent Application No. 20040122811, filed by Google co-founder Larry Page, has a deceptively simple name: “Method for searching media.” But the application illuminates possible plans by the Mountain View, Calif.-based search leader to enable search of printed material, offer pay-per-view documents, scanned documents with clickable ads and even the ability for print publishers to swap out ads in digital copies of their printed pages.
There are two key elements of the patent: a method for executing a permission protocol so that the publisher could authorize Google to display more text from the relevant publication; and storing scanned versions of printed documents along with data sets representing the ads that went with them.
Google’s problem with its News service is that there’s no way to monetize it. News publishers would cry foul if it displayed contextual ads against their content, even if it is just headlines and openers.
The proposed permission protocol would request authorization from the publisher — and that protocol could be used to track page views and share some revenue with the publisher, or to enable pay-per-view. One idea Page includes in the patent application is to permit “subscription-like access” to the electronic content.
Google is looking not only to news, but also to to CDs, DVDs and audio books, as well as magazines, newspapers and journals, according to the application. As Google points out, much printed media isn’t available online, but rather “sold in hard copy for profit.” That makes it hard for search providers to get a piece of the action.
“Google wants to make all knowledge available, but all knowledge is not associated with e-commerce,” said Patrick Spain, founder and chairman of HighBeam Research, a subscription-based search service that offers access to both Web documents, the texts of print documents and information in proprietary databases.
Spain said that only search results that attract advertisers or link to e-commerce transactions make money for Google, so the company is, in effect, subsidizing an ever-expanding index of non-paying information.
“Subscription-like access” could add a nice spread to the revenue base.
Spain pointed out that content aggregators already distribute magazine and journal content in digital format to sites like his that provide paid access and return fees to the publishers.
The patent application hints at a way to take that a step further. It would cover a process of scanning printed media and displaying them as search results “as a replica of the corresponding printed media.” This method would maintain a news organization’s or publisher’s branding — and it also would maintain the original ads.
The patent claims a method for updating advertisement information for the printed documents. For example, it would allow the publisher of a hot news story to resell the ad space to a rotating series of advertisers or let advertisers keep the ad but update prices and product information. One of the claims covers storing information about products in the ads. This might allow the advertiser to create a special landing page associated with the ad, working like a Web banner ad.
This method could be used for something similar to Amazon.com’s “search inside the book” feature. While Amazon.com lets people read selections from a book containing keywords, the method Google wants to patent would, following authorization from the publisher, let them see the actual page with any pictures, diagrams or formatting.
Google aims to provide “an electronic path for accessing further information,” which could lead right to the publisher’s ordering form.
Of course, even if it results in a patent grant, a patent application may have little resemblance to the final patent. Nor does an application prove that Google plans to implement the technology. Google did not respond to requests for comment.
But fast-moving tech companies don’t tend to waste time on applying for irrelevant patents, said IP attorney John Rabena, a partner at Sughrue Mion, an intellectual property law firm.
“If Google has a patent application on something, they’re probably doing it now,” Rabena said. In his experience, technology and software companies don’t go after a lot of patents. “They tend to stick to their core technology.”
A gander at Google’s patent portfolio seems to bear out Rabena’s theory: The search advertising giant has six applications in the pipeline, three of them filed in 2004, along with seven patents. All but two relate to search; one is for a method of serving relevant advertising and another is for a method of displaying e-mail.