Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One of Ancestry's patents

There was an intriguing post on the APG mailing list today - about Patent 7,249,129 issued 24 July 2007 to The Generations Network for "Correlating genealogy records systems and methods." The patent abstract reads:

"A method of consolidating genealogy records includes partitioning the records using at least one index file to form one or more partitions, sorting the records in a partition based on a data element in the records, comparing records within a sort range, based on the comparison, identifying same person records, consolidating information in the same person records, receiving a request from a user to view at least a portion of the consolidated information for a particular group of same person records, and sending a file that includes the portion to the user. "

The background, description and claims are very detailed with a high "fog factor" - it is difficult to understand exactly what they mean without being able to see the figures (the Images didn't show for me when I clicked on the link).

My summation is "what you see on Ancestry.com when you do a search is obtained by what they describe in this patent." The patent describes the methods used to interrogate a number of databases, determine that certain entries meet the search criteria, and then present the information to the requestor.

Having patented this particular "correlation process," will TGN now legally go after other database providers if they use the same record correlation methods? How will they determine that the methods are the same as what they have patented?

The two comments (so far) to the APG post lament that what TGN has patented is "logic" and is what researchers have been doing for many years with pencil and paper. They may be right, but TGN took it a step further and defined it step-by-step as part of a computer program, and now have a patent on it. You and I can still apply all the logic we want in our searches - we just can't create a correlation system using the same methods that TGN has described and use it to make money unless we have a license from TGN to do it. I wonder what a license would cost?

Some may see this as a "big brother" thing where the "genealogy bully" is stomping on the little guys. In reality, it is a sound business decision taken to protect intellectual property. I wonder what else they've patented?

Hugh Watkins posted about this here and Dick Eastman posted it here (there are many comments).

1 comment:

Greg said...

Patenting database technology is not uncommon. Google has been a frequent target of patent infringement, most recently by a professor from a university in New England who claim to have patented some search method that Google uses.