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Yahoo! 'owns several patents' on Google Instant

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Exclusive Yahoo! owns several patents covering Google's new Instant search engine, according to Shashi Seth, Yahoo!'s senior vice president of search and a former search product leader at Google.

In 2005, Yahoo! rolled out a service remarkably similar to Google Instant at a site called AlltheWeb, a small search engine it had purchased a few years before. Like Google Instant, it tried to predict what you were looking for and served up results pages as you typed. That same year, the company introduced another similar service — if less similar — dubbed Yahoo! Instant Search, which launched "speech bubbles" of results just below the search box as you typed.

Speaking with The Register last Thursday morning at Yahoo!'s Sunnyvale headquarters, Seth reiterated that Yahoo! had introduced a Google Instant–like service five years before its rival, and he said that Yahoo! owns "about five...broad" patents that cover Google's technology.

With a blog post published in the wake of the Google Instant launch, Seth said Yahoo! had filed patent applications related to its Yahoo! Instant Search product. Like the AlltheWeb instant search engine, Yahoo! Instant Search was never available on the Yahoo! homepage. But it eventually evolved into the company's Search Assist service.

Seth also said that while he was at Google in 2006, he helped develop an Instant-like service, well before Google went to work on its current setup. At the unveiling of Google Instant earlier this month, Google distinguished engineer Ben Gomes told The Reg that work on the service began about a year ago (fall of 2009).

For Yahoo!'s Seth, the version of the service Google ultimately rolled out is far too busy and distracting. "Do I really need new search results for each character I key in?" he asked.

He said that Yahoo! is working on a system that will better predict what netizens are searching for — without continuously updating search results the way Google does. "We will find a happy middle-ground," he said.

If you're striving to determine what the user is looking for, Seth said, this shouldn't involve showing a new page of search results every time you type. If Yahoo! determines that you're looking for Martin Luther King's birthday, he said, it should simply show you his birthday — not an entire search result page filled mostly with information you're not interested in.

Shashi Seth is also the former head of monetization for Google's YouTube arm, and he went on to argue that Google has opted for the bombard-you-with-search-results method solely because it will generate more revenue. In serving up more search results pages, it's also serving up more search ads. Google, of course, says that revenue was not a motivator. But it only stands to reason that it was.

Multiple Yahoo! spokespeople declined to say one way or another whether the company plans to exert its patents for "instant search." And the company declined to point to the specific patents Seth alluded to. "Yahoo! continuously innovates to better help people access the information they want, when they want it, delivered in a manner that makes sense for each user," reads the official statement from the company. "We routinely take appropriate measures to protect that innovation – whether by patent, copyright or trade secret. Yahoo! does not comment on the specific details about how we protect our innovation for a particular product or innovation. ®

Update: This story has been updated with the official statement from Yahoo!.

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