Google Seeks Patent for Process to Scour Documents for Illegal Conduct

Google's "Policy Violation Checker" would allow documents to be scanned and red-flagged for phrases that break laws or violate corporate or other policies.

Google is seeking to patent a technology that would allow electronic documents, including email, to be scanned for phrases or words that refer to illegal or improper conduct so that the offending language could be red-flagged for some kind of punitive action.

In a May 2 application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, Google seeks to patent a "Policy Violation Checker" that would provide "methods and systems for identifying problematic phrases in an electronic document," according to the records. "A context of an electronic document may be detected. A textual phrase entered by a user is captured. The textual phrase is compared against a database of phrases previously identified as being problematic phrases. If the textual phrase matches a phrase in the database, the user is alerted via an in-line notification, based on the detected context of the electronic document."

The application was originally filed in August 2012, according to the records.

So what is Google thinking about this patent application?

"Electronic communication is now the primary way most business employees communicate with one another," the company wrote in its application. "Text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and electronic mail (email) allow users to communicate and collaborate without the delay imposed by traditional paper-based communication. However, emails and other communications between employees can implicate potential violations of company policy or local, state or federal law that can go unchecked by attorneys or other legal personnel."

That's where the idea for the Policy Violation Checker can come into play.

"It is in the best interest of companies to prevent violations of company policy or laws before they occur," stated the application. "As businesses grow, the number of documents in a business rises exponentially, and the potential that a particular document may implicate a violation of law or company policy grows. Business employees often knowingly or unknowingly discuss actions that could potentially lead to violations of company policy, such as a confidentiality policy, or run afoul of the law."

The system could be implemented using software, firmware, hardware or in combination, according to the application. It could run on almost any kind of device, including a computer, distributed computing system, embedded system, stand-alone electronic device, networked device, mobile device, set-top box or television.

"It is in a company's best interest to minimize or eliminate policy violations and/or situations that could give rise to legal liability," the application stated.