Google co-founder Sergey Brin and three others on April 11 were granted a U.S. patent for technology to let the human voice command Internet search engines.
In essence, rather than type in an Internet search query, youd literally be able to phone one in, or say it out loud toward a nearby personal computer, writes Ken Fisher, one of several people commenting on the patent news.
Alexander Franz, a Google employee, and Brian Milch, two of the patent applications authors, wrote of just such an interface in a 2002 academic paper, here in PDF form, "Searching The Web by Voice".
In that paper, the authors described a system to improve the accuracy of commercially available speech recognition software.
Brin and others actually filed for the patent in 2001. Since then, Google briefly made the voice search feature available through Google Labs, where it typically makes available newly hatched ideas, according to the paper by Milch and Franz.
The relative inaction suggests the Mountain View, Calif.-based firm wont put the patented technology to use, according to a source close to Google speaking on condition of anonymity.
But it certainly could, and with some pretty good results, according to Fisher.
For one, Google could use the patented technology to improve its current cell phone search feature, which now relies on users entering text queries on their phones cramped telephone keypad.
Google could also use the voice recognition feature to launch a competitive 411-style telephone number finder.
"Googles [looking] to leap frog," the 411 providers, Fisher writes.
The patented technology also hints at another Google application to come: being able to search the content of phone calls just as you do the Internet.
While a long ways off, the patents do describe the technology that would be part of just such an enterprise.
When asked, via e-mail, for a comment on the patent grant, a Google representative wrote: "Like many companies, we file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees may come up with."
"Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some dont. Prospective product announcements should not be inferred from our patent applications."