Local.com patents 'Geographic Search'

Local.com was awarded a patent on Geocoding & Geographic search (filed January, 2005) of full-text webpages. I was pointed to this about a week ago, but finally got the time to look over it.

Abstract:

A local search engine geographically indexes information for searching by identifying a geocoded web page of a web site and identifying at least one geocodable web page of the web site. The system identifies a geocode contained within content of the geocoded web page of the website. The geocode indicates a physical location of an entity associated with the web site. The system indexes content of the geocoded web page and content of the geocodable web page. The indexing including associating the geocode contained within content of the geocoded web page to the indexed content of the geocoded web page and the geocodable web page to allow geographical searching of the content of the web pages.

The primary points of the actual description seem to be that other geographic engines haven't done a 'full-text' search, but only linked to the URL or an address listing of the site or content. In addition, they seem to make the case that local search has been done, but poorly (example includes searching for a restaurant in Dayton, NJ, but getting results in Dayton, OH). Can a patent 'concept' be awarded just because they say they'll do it "better"?

Other suspicious phrases from the full-text patent:

...yahoo.com may be relevant to people everywhere, but search results for local areas are often cumbersome to work with when searching for a specific business or other entity within a specific geographical region.

- again, they're just making a commentary that they don't find yahoo local search easy to use.

Conventional search engines have no way of associating the geographical information contained within one web page of a web site to other pages of that site for searching purposes. Embodiments of the invention provide such a capability.

- this isn't true. It's very easy to associate within a website

The web page content of a business is not searchable since it is not stored in the relational database.

and so on - there are a lot of grammar errors as well that make it sometimes hard to read or unclear as to the meaning.

This seems like an amazing patent to be awarded, especially since the idea of geographic indexing and search is not new. How was this awarded, and is this for real? The original patent was actually assigned to Doug Norman, Interchange Corp., who I assume Local.com acquired at some point.

In 2002, Daniel Egnor won Google's coding contest with a similar "Geographic Search" 'invention.

Google has it's own patent, filed in 2006, Entity Display Priority in a Distributed Geographic Information System. Yahoo has a patent filed in May, 2007: Identification and automatic propagation of geo-location associations to un-located documents (discussion). GeoSearch project from 2003, and so on.

The question is, will companies like MetaCarta, Google, Yahoo, etc. just pay the patent licensing fees? Or do they actually fight the patent by pointing out it's "obviousness" by having been done before. The Local.com patent is so broad that it attempts to cover and all geographic search and ranking from here on out.

Other Coverage

Fairly priceless quote from the press-release:

"...we believe the methods covered have subsequently become the de-facto standard for information retrieval in the local search industry," said Heath Clarke, Chairman and CEO, Local.com.

... heh, subsequently...

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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.