Back in 2004 Google submitted a single illustration of their Google.com homepage, of which the main component is a search box with two submit buttons below it, and a few text links.
On September 1, 2009 Google received their search page patent from the United States Patent Office. Technically Google has patented their homepage as a web "graphical user interface," for which they now have a patent to exclusively use that design. Google also submitted an application for the design of their search results in 2004, and that patent was issued in 2006. It would seem Google intended to license out the use of their patent to other search engines, namely Yahoo, but just ahead of the patent license approval some search engines have change their design to steer clear of the infringing on Google’s patent.
There is a long history behind the story of Google’s design patent filings. It all begins with Overture.
Overture Inc. was a paid search company that pioneered the paid bid-for-placement technology. In July 2001, the US patent office issued Overture a patent for the technology. Patent 6,269,361; also known as the 361 patent, essentially covered all AdWords like business models. Google needed access to the 361 patent in order to use AdWords, but it never managed to negotiate a licensing agreement with Overture. Consequently, in April 2002 Overture sued Google over patent infringement.
In July 2003 Yahoo acquired Overture in a mostly stock deal valued at $1.63 billion. This was an expensive deal as Yahoo’s stock was not flying very high at the time. Also, Overture did not have anything valuable apart from the 361 patent. Yahoo and Microsoft counted for the bulk of Overture’s revenue, and were it not for the 361 patent, Microsoft would have certainly walked away. The deal was very bad news for Google as Yahoo was now in a position to get just about anything they wanted from Google at the bargaining table. Yahoo is still dancing with Microsoft, since Yahoo announced they will now be using the Bing search engine technology for Yahoo search, but will deliver it in a slightly different way.
Google and Yahoo settled the 361 patent dispute in August 2004, which also happens to be when Google submitted their design patent applications that were approved in 2006, and September 1, 2009. Google disclosed the patent dispute settlement with Yahoo in a SEC filing just before its initial public offering (IPO). The relevant excerpt from Google’s SEC filing states:
Overture will dismiss its patent lawsuit against us and has granted us a fully-paid, perpetual license to the patent that was the subject of the lawsuit and several related patent applications held by Overture. The parties also mutually released any claims against each other concerning the warrant dispute. In connection with the settlement of these two disputes, we issued to Yahoo 2,700,000 shares of Class A common stock.
At the time of the patent settlement disclosure, 2.7 million shares of Google represented roughly 1 percent of the company.
It seems that just as Google was tidying up loose ends in their legal and commercial dominance of the search industry, they had plans to put their competitors in the uncomfortable position of having to answer to Google for design patent infringement. Knowing the incredible brain power that exists at Google, they are likely to have been working on all sorts of other ways to insure they will become an all powerful company, that might seem "evil" to some who Google chooses not to do business with.
At one point it seemed only a matter of time before Google owned Yahoo, but now it seems that Microsoft will own Yahoo, since Google will have enough control over the search industry to attract the scrutiny of antitrust regulators.