AltaVista may have a crap search engine (did we say that?) but in these days of corporate-owned Internet that doesn't matter. It's patents and lawsuits that decide what we can get on the global "free-market". And if it's patents you want, AltaVista has got a few. Thirty-eight in fact, and more on the way.
So what? Well, Internet World magazine has just run an interview with the chairman and CEO of AltaVista's parent company, CMGI, David Wetherell in which he said the company would be pursuing its search engine patents and we can expect lawsuits coming this quarter.
Of course, the intended coup of the Internet search engine market comes in the form of some lovely management speak: "Even though AltaVista's doing well in the advertising space, we just think that in order to really ensure strong growth they ought to leverage their position in search licensing to a greater extent."
Which means that since AltaVista has patents on spidering and indexing, it is going to try to screw any competitors that happen to spider or index the Web - so that'll be all of them, then. In Wetherell's words: "We believe that virtually everyone out there who indexes the Web is in violation of at least several of those key patents."
An example? "If you index a distributed set of databases - what the Internet is - and even within intranets, corporations, that's one of the patents." They can't be serious, but oh yes they are. And while it may seem equally as ludicrous as BT claiming it has the right to hyperlinks, they are on more solid ground.
We don't think that the company wants the sloppy AltaVista search engine to be the only one on the Net, well, not so long as the others give it loads of money.
Search engines have been rapidly filing for patents on whatever bits of their system they can - even Google has a patent pending - but before now it was a case of cold war arsenals. If CMGI really does push this, there will be an almighty stink and if a court decision is ever made (rather than settling out of court like ever other bleedin Internet case), it could affect the entire functioning of the Internet.
Which can only be good because if you can't make money out of something, what's the point in doing it, right? Makes you wonder why kids climb trees.
In case you were wondering what patents AltaVista has, they include: indexing duplicate records of information of a database; parsing, indexing and searching Web pages; mapping an index of a database into an array of files; ranking documents "in a hyperlinked environment using connectivity and selective content analysis"; searching an index; optimizing entries for searching an index; and storing an integrated index of database records.
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