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The US patent office has outdone itself this week, awarding dating company eHarmony a patent covering online matchmaking.

In patentese, US patent no. 6,735,568 describes a computer implemented method for "identifying people who are likely to have a successful relationship".

In real terms, this amounts to a series of psychometric style questions and multiple choice quizzes - 430 in all - about your likes, dislikes, preferences and so on.

It asks things like "Do you smoke?" to "How much does the word 'dominant' describe you on a list of one through seven?" and "How often do you feel depressed?" The system then ranks people in 29 categories, like sexual passion and spirituality.

Critics complain that reducing all of human relationships to an empirical test takes away the mystery. However, researchers at eHarmony maintain that a psychological profile is a good predictor of marital success. "Opposites might attract, but in our research they don't stay together," said Dr. Galen Buckwalter, vice president of research at eHarmony.

Pardon the cynicism, but this sounds like a teen magazine love-quiz-on-steroids to us: Just17, Bella et al should claim prior art immediately. ®

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