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    Verisign/NSI A Brief Analysis of the Sitefinder Patent
    posted by michael on Saturday September 20 2003, @08:12PM

    jberryhill writes "ICANN has referred the Sitefinder matter to the Security and Stability Committee. Looking at the composition of that committee, it is interesting to note that it includes two people from Verisign and one person from Yahoo! (which recently bought Overture, where the Sitefinder PPC advertisements come from). However, on the other side of things, the committee includes Paul Vixie, who has released the BIND patch to work around Sitefinder, and it also includes a person from Nominum.

    It will be very interesting to keep an eye on Nominum's behavior in response to Sitefinder, since the lead inventor on U.S. Pat. No. 6,332,158 is Chris Risley, the president of Nominum. It is not clear whether this patent is assigned to Nominum, but perhaps someone who knows the other two inventors, Richard Lamb and Eduard Guzovsky, might enlighten us.

    So, what is U.S. Pat. No. 6,332,158, and why is it interesting?"



    This patent, entitled "Domain Name System Lookup Allowing Intelligent Correction of Searches and Presentation of Auxiliary Information" appears to be a dead ringer for what Verisign is doing with Sitefinder. The patent is based on a filing originally made on December 3, 1998. Apparently, a few days later they had some additional information to add to the application, and they filed a second application on December 9, 1998 from which the patent ultimately issued in December 2001. For those who care about prior art, the conservative "critical date" to use would thus be December 3, 1997. The abstract reads as follows:
    "A domain name server assists user's in selecting desired domains in the Internet. A domain name query is sent from a resolver process, or equivalent process, when the user (or a process on the user's computer) wishes to obtain information. If the domain name exists, the domain name server provides the corresponding machine address back to the user's computer. However, when the domain name query uses a non-existent domain name then a machine address for a computer that executes a domain recommendation engine is returned instead of a machine address associated with the invalid domain. The domain recommendation engine assists the user (or process on the user's computer) in locating a desired domain name. The domain name recommendation engine can take into account numerous factors that assist in determining the intended domain, including common misspellings, phonetic errors, sub-domain errors, past statistics on website accessing by the present user and prior users. Auxiliary information is provided to the user along with information to assist in locating the intended domain. The auxiliary information can include sponsorship information, referrals, advertisements, educational or other information. The auxiliary information can be in the form of image, audio, database of other types of information"
    So far, so good, but what really matters are the claims - the numbered statements at the end of a patent which define the combination of features that is protected by the patent. The patent includes only one independent claim. Now, with your filing fee at the patent office, you automatically are entitled to file three independent claims, but most inventors pay too little attention to the claims they are getting for their money. In order to infringe this patent, then, you have to perform a method which includes each and every one of the steps as set forth in claim 1:
    1. A method for handling invalid domain name lookup requests in the Internet, the method executing in a domain name server system responsive to a target domain name request by a user computer, wherein the user computer is coupled to a display screen, the method comprising the following steps executed in the domain name server system

    receiving a target domain name lookup from a user computer;

    searching a master lookup table to determine a machine address associated with the domain name;

    determining that the target domain name does not exist within the lookup table;

    transmitting a machine address to the user computer, wherein the machine address maps to a web server;

    receiving a machine address request from the user computer based on the target domain name transmitted machine address to the user computer;

    in response to the received machine address, sending information to the user computer to assist in that user's selection of a most likely domain name that assumes a misspelling of the target domain name; and

    displaying an advertisement on the user computer's display screen.

    Of those seven steps, it is pretty clear that steps one through six are being performed by Sitefinder. The .com zone is queried for a target domain name, it is determined that the domain name is not there, the address of sitefinder is sent back to the user, the user's computer then queries sitefinder, and the user is sent information to assist in a most likely domain name that assumes a misspelling of the target domain name.

    The only question about whether Sitefinder falls within claim 1 of the Risley Patent is whether Sitefinder performs the seventh step of "displaying an advertisement on the user computer's display screen". Now, thus far, the Sitefinder page itself does not contain an "advertisement" in the sense that most people would think of one. Sitefinder does, however, include a list of category links which lead to paid search results that definitely are advertisements.

    A curious thing about patent claims, and where people often run aground in assessing infringement, is that you can do other things in addition to the claimed elements that seem different from what is in the patent, but you still infringe the patent as long as you perform the claimed steps. Hence, in answer to the question of whether Sitefinder performs step seven of the claim, I would say yes. Advertisements are indeed displayed on the user's screen when they click on one of the category links and receive the PPC search results. Those are definitely advertisements, and the fact that some additional things occur prior to the seventh step are not relevant to the fact that Sitefinder performs all six steps automatically, and then some intervening thing happens prior to performance of the seventh step. It is also not necessary for Sitefinder to perform all seven steps every time a user hits it. For infringement, it is sufficient for Sitefinder to perform the claimed method once.

    Now, this is a somewhat superficial analysis, in that I have not read the file history or delved deeply into the specification in order to determine whether there is some language that may have been made during prosecution that limits the claim to a particular meanining of any of the terms therein. As a first order pass, though, Chris Risley and his friends should certainly be contacting their attorney, in the event Verisign has not already licensed this patent (which is a possibility). Additionally, the Nominum representative on the Security and Stability Committee should not do anything that amounts to an endorsement of the Sitefinder system, by which consent to practice the patent might be imputed to Nominum (in the event this patent is owned by Nominum).

    As always, if you liked the trademark people, you'll love the patent people.

    Cheers."

     
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      Related Links  
    · VeriSign/NSI
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    · Also by michael
     
    This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.
    A Brief Analysis of the Sitefinder Patent | Log in/Create an Account | Top | 7 comments | Search Discussion
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    When does a domain name exist?
    by RFassett on Sunday September 21 2003, @06:45AM (#12267)
    User #3226 Info | http://www.enum.info
    "However, when the domain name query uses a non-existent domain name then a machine address for a computer that executes a domain recommendation engine is returned instead of a machine address associated with the invalid domain."

    It would be helpful if someone could define the exact point in time, and minimum actions that cause, a domain name in com/net to exist.

    How can an "invalid domain" return a machine address at all and still be invalid? What is an invalid domain name?

    Ray
    [ Reply to This | Parent ]
    Quibble
    by anotherblackhat on Monday September 22 2003, @12:28PM (#12275)
    User #3427 Info

    A curious thing about patent claims, and where people often run aground in assessing infringement, is that you can do other things in addition to the claimed elements ...


    Correct in this case, but not in all cases.
    Claims which say "comprising..." cover stuff that does at least that.

    Claims which say "consisting of ..." only cover stuff that does exactly that - no more, no less.

    Most patents use the broader "comprising" but not all. See;
          http://www.cambiaip.org/Tutorials/Tutorial_1/tut_1 claims.htm
    for a more complete explaination.

    [ Reply to This | Parent ]
    Security and Stability Advisory Committee responds
    by Adam on Tuesday September 23 2003, @01:41AM (#12286)
    User #2765 Info | http://www.too-much.tv/
    Well, the Security and Stability Advisory Committee has responded . It will continue to gather comments, but writes "VeriSign's change appears to have considerably weakened the stability of the Internet ..." etc.

    So now ICANN can (should/must) act. Not sure it could have done much more before without mission creep.

    Adam
    [ Reply to This | Parent ]
    Re:Great patent...
    by jberryhill on Sunday September 21 2003, @08:56AM (#12268)
    User #3013 Info
    "It is hard to argue that they are inventive and non-obvious"

    Whether a claim is novel or non-obvious is an objective question based on what was available in a patent or printed publication prior to December 3, 1997. Patents are presumed to be valid unless shown otherwise by clear and convincing evidence. So, no argument needs to be made that the claim is novel or non-obvious. What you need is an argument that they are not, based on more than "I don't think they are".
    [ Reply to This | Parent ]
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