Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) confirmed it has purchased seven search patent applications of Cuil, the failed search startup that set out to defeat the search engine giant when it was launched more than three years ago.
Financial terms of the patent purchase were not disclosed. A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the company's plans for the seven patents, which are pending approval by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
The patent documents, uncovered by SEO By The Sea patent watcher Bill Slawski in the USPTO assignment database, cover user interface technology and formats for search.
For example, one patent application is for a graphical user interface that includes tabs representative of different classes of search results.
The tabs are rendered in response to the processing of a query. Search results in this UI group content by meaning, "such that a query term with different meanings produces different classes of search results with different meanings," according to the patent applications.
Another of the patent applications includes a GUI that sports a "scroll area" that shows off search results along with a permanently displayed anchored area.
Yet another pertains to a GUI that includes a document retrieved by processing a query. This GUI also hosts an advertisement, which could surface as text, an image or an icon, which is automatically generated based on the content in the document.
As Slawski noted, the patent applications are not what most people would have expected Google to acquire from Cuil, which offered unique methods of indexing search results.
Cuil was created by former Google employees Tom Costello and his wife, Anna Patterson, who left the company because they felt limited by the constraints of its traditional link analysis and traffic ranking, which picks the 10 most popular links.
Cuil's technology analyzed the context of each page and the concepts behind each query. It then organized any similar search results into groups and sorts them by category in three columns across the page in magazine-style fashion. The results included thumbnail images.
Cuil's marketing pitch was that it would dethrone Google by indexing three times as many Web pages, including some 120 billion Web pages, compared with 40 billion on Google. Cuil also promised to afford users greater privacy than the incumbent by vowing not to collect IP addresses or search histories.
Yet when the Website launched to great fanfare on July 28, 2008, it crashed repeatedly as millions of people pinged the search engine to run queries on the erstwhile Google-killer.
Clashes among Cuil's executive team erupted and festered. Cuil shut down in September 2010, with Patterson returning to Google in a research capacity soon after.
Little had been heard of Cuil since, until Slawski's scoop.