Trouble for E-Bay’s Predictive Search Method

As many of you already know, many internet search engines utilize a search system which attempts to predict what you are searching for after you have only typed a few letters. For example, after typing –intelle– into a Google search, a myriad of potential search options appear including intellectual property, intellectual ventures, and intellect.

A recent decision (eBay, Inc. v. Kelora Systems, LLC (.PDF) out of the Northern District of California dealt with exactly this technology.

In this case, software company Master Objects Inc., was attempting to sue eBay for infringing on a patent teaching searching methods which involved analyzing a user’s search string and returning “increasingly appropriate” search information as the search string lengthened.

As a defense, eBay chose to attempt to invalidate four of Master Object’s patent claims by stating the claims were indefinite. EBay stated that two of the claims

contained the language “increasingly appropriate content or search criteria”, while the other two claims contained the language “Increasingly relevant content or search criteria”.

EBay argued that because the claims contained different language, Master Object clearly meant for the claims to apply to different searching aspects.

Because the claims were appearing to apply to multiple aspects, it was unclear what the patent was claiming, and thus the claims were indefinite and invalid.

Master Object chose to respond by stating that both “increasingly appropriate” and “increasingly relevant” should be taken to mean “increasingly matching”.

The court determined that Master Object’s reading of the patent was correct. As such, the patent was not indefinite, and Master Object was allowed to continue with their claim for infringement against eBay.

This case may be one to keep an eye on, as many major search engines on the internet use this method of predictive searching. The outcome of this case may be relevant in determining the future use of such searching methods.