Over the weekend, the IT blogosphere exploded (along with my inbox) over news of Singapore-based Vuestar Technologies' claim that they hold "significant Technology Patents focusing on Internet searching via visual images, identity security and copyright assets."
As you can probably guess, the claims to the technology have not irked people as much as the demand letters that started appearing in various mailboxes from Vuestar's Singapore legal counsel over the last few weeks (to see a copy of a typical letter, see here).
According to one source, "Vuestar has sent invoices for around S$5,000 (US$3,676) to various parties in Singapore asking them to enter into such license agreements, or to cease allowing images on a parties' Web site to be downloaded or used in Singapore . . . We believe that this development would have a wide-ranging impact on the Internet community in Singapore, given the wide claims made by Vuestar on the intellectual property covered by the patents . . . Parties operating Web sites, offering Web services or developing Web-based and WAP-based products and services need to be especially careful."
While the number of letters sent on behalf of Vuestar haven't been disclosed, one outside counsel for Vuestar allegedly remarked that there have been "enough to keep my phone busy." Also, while the current letter-writing campaign has apparently been focused on Singapore for the time being, VueStar will begin enforcing its patent claims in Australia and the US "soon", and the firm is working on sending "invoices" for Internet heavyweights like Google and Microsoft.
The Singapore Patent referenced in the letters is patent number 95940 - a copy of the patent, as downloaded from IPOS (in .tif format), can be viewed here. An exemplary claim follows:
Related filings have been made in the United States (Patent No. 7,065,520; Pub. Nos. 2004/049728, 2006/149721), Australia (AU 755035B2), Japan (JP 2004515846T), and Canada (CA 2421661A1). Most of these filings stem from WO 0229623A1, which can be viewed on eSpace here.
A method for locating a web-page, the method including the steps of:
a user submitting a search request to a server-side application via a terminal;
the server-side application searching a database in accordance with the submitted
search request; and
identified database entries being transmitted to the terminal as a search results list, each entry containing a hyperlink to a web-page;
whereby, each entry of the search results list contains visual content, the visual content related to the web-page for which the entry contains a hyperlink, the user able to view the visual content without being required to activate the hyperlink to obtain the visual content, and contact information for an organization is provided as a component of an entry of the search results list.
"S'pore firm claims patent to image search", ZDNet Asia (link)
"No Love for VueStar" from Thinking Nectar (link)
"Imaging linking is patented, websites and blogs affected, Advertlets, Nuffnang and Blog2U may have to call it a day" Simply Jean Blog (link)
From Vuestar's webpage: "Among the billions of pages now on the worldwide web a new needle was needed to accelerate search capabilities. The Company had the foresight to realize that visual images held the key to penetrate the massive search and advertising opportunities for a market estimated to exceed online sales of over US$10 billion dollars per quarter."