Sunday, September 23, 2012

Patents and ideas

I had an idea one of the previous days, an idea that seemed so great and inevitable that I thought about patenting it. You know, when you have a spark of inspiration and you tell no one about it or maybe a few friends and a few years later you see someone making loads of money with it? I thought I could at least "subscribe" to the idea somehow, make it partly my own. And so I asked a patent specialist about it.

He basically said two things. First of all, even if it is a novel idea, if it made of previously existing parts that can obviously be put together, then it doesn't qualify as a patent. If the concept is obvious enough in any way, it doesn't qualify. Say if someone wrote a scientific paper about a part of it and you find the rest in some nutjob blog about alien conspiracies, then you can't patent it. The other thing that he told me is that a true patent application costs about 44000$, in filing and attorney fees. I don't imagine that's a small sum for someone in the US or in another rich country, but it is almost insane for anyone living anywhere else.

But there is a caveat here. What if the nutjob alien conspiracy blog would be this one? What if, by publishing my idea here, no one could ever patent it and the best implementation would be the one that would gather the most support? It's a bit of "no, fuck you!", but still, why the hell not? So here it is:

I imagine, with the new climate of "do not track"ing and privacy concerns that search engines will have a tougher and tougher time gathering information about your personal preferences. Google will not know what you searched for before and therefore will not be able to show you the things it thinks you are most interested in. And that is a problem, since it probably would have been right and you would have been interested in those things. The user, seeing how the search engine does not find what they are looking for, will not be happy.

My solution, and something that is way simpler than storing cookies and analysing behaviour, is to give the responsibility (back) to the user. They would choose a "search profile" and, based on that, the search engine would filter and prioritize the results in a way specific to that profile. You can customize your profile and maybe save it in a list or you can use a standard one, but the results you get are the ones you intended to get.

A few examples, if you will: the "I want to download free stuff" profile would prioritize blogs and free sites and filter out commercial sites that contain words like "purchase", "buy", "trial", "shareware", etc; it would remove Amazon and other online shops from the result list and prioritize ThePirateBay, for example. Some of the smarter and tech savy Googlers are using the "-" filter to remove such words, but they are still getting the most commercially available sites there are. A search profile like this would try to analyse the site, see if it fits the "commercial" category and then filter it out. Now, you might think that sites will adapt and try to trick the engine into thinking they are not commercial in nature. No, they won't, because then the "I want to buy something" profile would not find them. Of course, they will adapt somehow and create two versions of the site, one that would seem commercial and one that would not. But the extra effort would remove from their profit margin. Or try a search profile like "long tail", where the stories that get most coverage and are reproduced in a lot of sites would get filtered out, allowing one to access new information as it comes in.

Bottom line is, I need such a service, but at the moment I am unwilling to invest in making one. First of all it would be a waste of time if it didn't work. Second of all it would get stolen and copied immediately by people with more money than me if it did work. Guess what? It's in my free blog. If anyone does it, they can't patent it, they can only use it because it is a good idea and they should make it really nice and usable before other people make it better.