S'pore firm claims patent to image search

S'pore firm claims patent to image search

Summary: Singapore company says it owns patent to technology used by millions of online sites worldwide to link graphics and pictures to other Web pages.


SINGAPORE--A local company has laid claims to a technology that Web sites across the globe deploy to link images to other Web pages, and sent out notification letters to several companies demanding to be paid licensing fees.

Dubbing itself "pioneers of visual search technology", Vuestar Technologies said it owns the patent to the technology that enables "Internet searching via visual images".

In sum, the company implied that any Web site that uses pictures and graphics to link to another site or Web page will need a license from Vuestar.

"Those who use visual images which hyperlink to other Web pages or Web sites...whether on the first page or subsequent pages of a Web site require a Vuestar 'license of use'," the company said on its site.

Singapore law firm Keystone Law issued a note to its clients Tuesday, urging those that intend to take up a licensing agreement with companies such as Vuestar, to "carefully examine the terms of such licenses and the claims of the licensors".

Bryan Tan, director at Keystone Law, said in an e-mail interview: "Always examine such claims carefully and take legal advice if you are not familiar [with the company's claims]. Even if you decide to settle a claim, make sure you know what 'rights' you are paying for." Keystone specializes in technology law.

In his note to the firm's clients, Tan added: "We understand that Vuestar has sent invoices for around S$5,000 (US$3,676) to various parties in Singapore asking them to enter into such license agreements, or to cease allowing images on a parties' Web site to be downloaded or used in Singapore."

"We believe that this development would have a wide-ranging impact on the Internet community in Singapore, given the wide claims made by Vuestar on the intellectual property covered by the patents," he said. "Parties operating Web sites, offering Web services or developing Web-based and WAP-based products and services need to be especially careful."

Vuestar said it does not intend to claim licensing fees from charities and government agencies. The company added that its patent extends beyond Singapore and to "several parts of the world".

According to Tan, Vuestar's patent--tagged under publication number 95940--appears also to have been granted in Australia, New Zealand and United States.

It is not clear how the company's patent will impact other visual search technology companies such as Like.com, which claims to have developed the "first true visual search engine".

Established in August 2004, Like.com also said it owns almost 12 patents in the areas of visual recognition and search.

Topics: CXO, Browser, Legal, IT Employment, SMBs


Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 16 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings.

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  • Microsoft Subsidiary?

    Hmmmm...sounds like Singapore has been bought out by Bill Gates. Or are they merely following his example?
  • This Is Crazy

    What's that date on this patent? I had a picture link to another page
    on my web site in 1996. I'm thinking that's one of a million examples
    of what may be prior art. Plus, when HTML allowed you to put an
    Anchor tag around an Image tag didn't the author (Burners-Lee?
    Andreesen?) "invent" this innovation at that point?
  • Prior art invalidates the patent.

    Here's the patent:

    The earliest date on it is October 3, 2000. There's plenty of prior art, so the patent is obviously invalid on its face.
  • Look to the Back

    "In sum, the company implied that any Web site that uses pictures and graphics to link to another site or Web page will need a license from Vuestar."

    If that's what they are saying in their letter, then this does not seem to be borne out by the patent. The patent is directed to web searching, not pure hypertext linking. The claims of the Singapore patent appear to cover web searches whose results display a visual image in addition to a hyperlink to the target.

    Most of the independent claims also require the entries of the search results list to display "contact information for an organisation" as a component. This is defined in the specification as the "organisation's telephone, e-mail or facsimile contact information".

    So the patent, as far as these claims are concerned, would appear to cover web searches which display visual content and contact information.

    Does your website do this?

    [Note that Claim 34 does not appear to have this limitation]

    This is just a quick analysis of the patent done in 10 minutes. It is not to be construed as legal advice. You should neither act or refrain from acting on the basis of this posting.

    Contact your patent attorney for more information, preferably a technically qualified patent attorney.

    Disclosure: I am a patent attorney. I have no connection with any of the parties mentioned in the article. I am acting as an interested member of the public.
  • Invalid patent: no non-obvious or inventive step

    I would say that combining an anchor with any other HTML element is quite an obvious use ... nothing novel here.

    First, this little company needs to be taken to task. Perhaps a class-action lawsuit by website owners and developers?

    And then, the idiots who issued this patent need to be tarred and feathered.
  • so stupid

    it's just super ridiculously stupid and dumb...


    some ppl just wan money until siao...
  • Do US sites know about this?

    If patent also applies to US, then famous sites like http://www.alexa.com/search?q=simonth will have to pay for legal rights? We are looking at big money here.
  • Keystone Law

    Hmmm.. a quick check of Keystone Law shows that there are no patent attorneys in that firm.
  • like.com hahahah

    the best part is how like.com is supposedly the first image search engine, looks like just another store that has nothing to do with searching anything but their products. what a joke
  • Ridiculous.

    How can this little company put a patent on something like that? This can't possibly be effective in America as well. I don't understand this... because like.com was established in 1995.
  • Vuestar to be sued

    Their patent was filed in 2000. I have been useing hyperlinked images for years before that, so they therefore STOLE the technology and wrongfully claimed it as their own. I will sue these idiots for 10times the amount they claim for each and every case they put forward. Scum like this deserve to suffer.
  • dont be concerned about it

    I've seen s*** like this before with copyright claims. They just try it on and hope maybe 1 in every 500 letters they send out scares some idiot into paying them without questioning it. If you ignore it, or reply and tell them to go f*** themselves, you wont hear from them again. I know, I've been on the receiving end of this kind of attempted extortion before. Eventually some large company with in-house lawyers will counter-sue, and this bunch of a**hats will disappear with what money they've managed to scam, and just set themselves up under another name and do it again. If you get a letter from them, I'd considering taking a dump on it and sending it back to them.
  • end copyright

    I suggest we end copyright...period

    Oh, these guys are just "Patent Fraud" operators, but they can take people to court and sue them and they face little if any consequences for their actions. This is thanks to the RIAA fighting so hard to protect their bland garbage from the few who truly appreciate it.

    But I suggest we end copyright laws to punish this whole deck of jokers. The music industry itself is nothing but theft. Once it became possible to record and mass produce music, they ruined 95% of all musicians, as printing did the artist and movies did the actor. If they themselves lose their livelihoods because technology out paces THEM, it will only be fair.
  • B**ches

    Screw Vuestar. They are just a load of bull**** on their **** website. I am not going to pay $5000 just to use a little bit of HTML to show an image on the internet. Also HTML tags shouldn't be able to be patented. I will sue them also if they try to claim **** from me using "their" (Note the sarcasm) technology on my website.
  • Canada?

    Does it apply to canada?
  • End of the internet?

    If this successfully goes through, every website is gonna look like **** and ppl would start copyright internet text and the internet would collapse.