Northeastern and Local Startup Say They Invented A Key to Google Searches—Hit Search Giant With Lawsuit

Behind every great database search is, no doubt, a patent (or series of patents). Google is the champion of searching vast databases—such as its index of billions of Web pages. And it has lots of patents. Only now, according to a report in today’s Boston Globe by Hiawatha Bray, Northeastern University and a Waltham, MA, startup called Jarg say the key technology Google uses to conjure up search results was patented by them.

According to the Globe account, Northeastern and Jarg, which was co-founded by an NU associate professor, say their technology—a means for parceling up database queries into allotments that can be processed by different computers—was patented back in 1997, a year before Google was even incorporated. They’ve filed a patent infringement suit against the world’s most popular search company to prove it, and they’ve filed it in U.S. District Court in Marshall, TX, where patent plaintiffs win more than three-quarters of the time. (This court, for the Eastern District of Texas, is of course also known as a favorite venue for patent trolls.)

It’s hardly a tale of patent watchdogs at Northeastern and Jarg scouring the world for possible infringers of their patent. They apparently stumbled onto the issue two and a half years ago, when an unnamed representative of a local law firm told Jarg president Michael Belanger of seeing a Google presentation about its Web search architecture that sounded remarkably similar to Jarg’s. “When a law firm tells us that it’s very likely that the Google architecture is the fundamental architecture on which our company is founded, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our investors to do something,” Belanger told the Globe.

But cash for paying lawyers was hard to find. It took Jarg and Northeastern all this time to find a lawyer who would take the case on a contingency basis (I can’t help but wonder here, doesn’t Northeastern have lawyers and a technology licensing office who could have got this going sooner? I mean, this is Google—if the case is so compelling, wouldn’t you move on this right away?). In any event, the lawsuit is now filed. Belanger told the Globe he isn’t trying to bring Google to a halt or anything like that. If he’s victorious, he said, “We expect them to be generous enough to pay a normal royalty.”

A Google spokesman professed to be undaunted. “We are aware of the complaint and believe it to be without merit based upon our initial investigation,” he’s quoted as saying.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and chairman. You can email him at [email protected] Follow @bbuderi

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