Siri possibly threatened by old Excite patents?

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

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12 Comments

1. theBankRobber

Posts: 682; Member since: Sep 22, 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.

5. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 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.

6. tacohunter

Posts: 408; Member since: Nov 06, 2011

They did more to Siri then you could possibly imagine.

8. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

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

11. Soulmanager11

Posts: 26; Member since: May 04, 2011

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

2. 9_HeLLs_oF_DrOid

Posts: 127; Member since: Jan 02, 2012

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

3. Abdul92

Posts: 43; Member since: Aug 23, 2011

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

12. Soulmanager11

Posts: 26; Member since: May 04, 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.

4. tigermcm

Posts: 861; Member since: Sep 02, 2009

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

7. Carlitos

Posts: 668; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

Well, that didnt last long.

9. Cwebb

Posts: 501; Member since: Oct 05, 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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