In a scenario a bit reminiscent of the infamous Amazon.com single-click patent, a Google researcher has filed a patent application for technology that would allow mobile phone users to single click on an advertisement on a Web page and be connected via a voice call to the advertiser.
While services are already available that allow mobile phone users to click on a link to make a phone call, Google's application could be specific enough to win a patent, said Aaron Chatterjee, a patent attorney at Foley and Lardner. "I think they have a chance," he said.
Some mobile phone services currently let users wirelessly search an online database for a nearby business and then click on a link on the results page to automatically call the business. But Google's application is specific to clicking on advertisements and by narrowing the click-to-call parameters, Google could win a patent, Chatterjee said.
However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is notoriously strict in issuing business methods patents, the category under which this application would fall, he said. Only about one in 10 such applications are approved, he said.
Recently, a growing chorus of experts has called for patent reform that might eliminate the award of simple or broad patents on techniques that have already been widely used. The controversy surrounding the Amazon.com case is a well-known example of the uproar caused by some types of patents. Amazon.com was awarded a patent for the technique that allows repeat visitors to its site to single click on a link to purchase an item. While single-clicking is commonly used across the Web, Amazon.com won the patent for just one particular application of the single click. Amazon.com sued Barnesandnoble.com for using the technique and the companies settled the case.
"From a policy perspective, whether such patents are good or not, that will have to be settled in the legislative arena," Chatterjee said. "There is certainly controversy over the business method patent arena but given the U.S. leadership in this area, I would be surprised if at least technology business method patents are curtailed in any way."
Earlier this week, a group of companies led by IBM unveiled a new program along with the USPTO aimed at improving the quality of patents.
The Google patent was filed in June 2004 and published by the patent office on Jan. 5. The inventor of the patent is named as Shumeet Baluja, a senior research scientist at Google. Google could not be reached for comment.