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Siri possibly threatened by old Excite patents?

Posted: , by Scott H.

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Siri possibly threatened by old Excite patents?
For all of you youngsters reading this, you should know that there were in fact search engines before Google. Obviously Google ended up dominating a “survival of the fittest” battle in the ecosystem, but the battle left quite a few search-engine carcasses along the way. More important to the story at hand, those companies also had their own intellectual property, and sometimes patents have a way of becoming useful for things other than their original intended purpose.

This is what Robert Cringely believes has happened to Siri, Apple’s new virtual assistance. While reading how Siri parses sentences into different “domains of expertise” to decipher your wish, he realized that the process sounded almost identical to how now-defunct search engine Excite used to process requests. According to Cringely:

“Here’s how the ArchiText (later Excite) search engine worked. Every query was stripped to its significant words — subjects, objects, verbs and adjectives — then each query became a vector in a multidimensional space with each unique word being a dimension.  “How do space rockets stay in orbit when they are flying through space?” would become a vector string one unit long for each of those words but two units long for the word “space.”  This bit of semantic DNA was then mapped against an index of millions of web pages that had all been similarly converted to multidimensional vectors.”

Cringely goes on to claim that Excite's process sounds “darned similar” to the method that Siri uses to interpret queries. Cringley has something of a mixed track record on these issues, but in the end it wouldn’t be surprising if search engine patents and Siri's technology were to overlap – they are in essence doing the same thing as they try to take a limited about of input and figure out what the user wants from an almost unlimited number of possible answers.

That’s not to blame Apple – it’s pretty much impossible to make anything in this day and age without violating several patents. It’s also impossible to know which patents are valid and which ones aren’t without a court fight. But given that there are court fights aplenty in the mobile space right now, those old Excite patents might make a handsome trophy for the Apples, Microsofts, and Google’s of the world.

It’s quite possible that the companies that now own those patents might find themselves quite a bit richer in the near future.

source: I, Cringely via 9TO5Mac

12 Comments
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posted on 16 Jan 2012, 13:15 1

1. theBankRobber (Posts: 648; Member since: 22 Sep 2011)


Well Apple bought out Siri if im not mistaken, wasn't it a app on the app store before it was built into the iPhone 4s? Might not have been called siri but I thought that's what I read somewheres. Well ether way this is another pataint problem that was overlooked.

posted on 16 Jan 2012, 13:44 2

5. remixfa (Posts: 13973; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


yes, it was an app, then apple bought nuance and removed the app so they could make it an exclusive ios5 app.

If there is truth to this, things could get interesting really quick.. especially if whoever owns that patent now refuses to settle and takes them to court and wins.

posted on 16 Jan 2012, 14:16 2

6. tacohunter (Posts: 408; Member since: 06 Nov 2011)


They did more to Siri then you could possibly imagine.

posted on 16 Jan 2012, 14:59 8

8. remixfa (Posts: 13973; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


apple didnt do jack to siri. nuance continued to work on it even after apple bought them.

posted on 18 Jan 2012, 08:02 1

11. Soulmanager11 (Posts: 26; Member since: 04 May 2011)


Correction: Apple didn't bough Nuance. They license the speech technology for Siri from them.

posted on 16 Jan 2012, 13:18 5

2. 9_HeLLs_oF_DrOid (Posts: 124; Member since: 02 Jan 2012)


Oh hell no... Apple INNOVATED that technology. They innovate a lot of things. They are the world leader in INNOVATION.

posted on 16 Jan 2012, 13:32 5

3. Abdul92 (Posts: 43; Member since: 23 Aug 2011)


Well Siri was developed by Nuance Communications. So...

posted on 18 Jan 2012, 08:16 1

12. Soulmanager11 (Posts: 26; Member since: 04 May 2011)


Siri was developed as an offshoot of the SRI International AI Center from a DARPA funded project, described as the largest artificial-intelligence project ever launched. Siri was acquired by Apple around April 28 2010.

posted on 16 Jan 2012, 13:37 3

4. tigermcm (Posts: 732; Member since: 02 Sep 2009)


woooooooow EXCITE!? geez i think i had an email address with them in 5th grade!!!!!

posted on 16 Jan 2012, 14:31 2

7. Carlitos (Posts: 337; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)


Well, that didnt last long.

posted on 16 Jan 2012, 16:48 6

9. Cwebb (Posts: 501; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)


If Apple loses the one thing that makes people buy their new phones due to a patent I would die of laughter. Its irony at its finest!

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