S'pore firm claims patent to image search

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.