Google Seeks Patent on YouTube Video Advertisements

Last week a US Patent Application No. 20100010893 published detailing an invention relating to digital advertising, and more particularly to creating video overlay advertisements suitable for use with digital videos. The owner is Google and the patent application was originally filed on July 9, 2008. It seems that the Internet giant and purveyor of the extraordinarily popular YouTube video sharing website, is attempting to make it easier to create multimedia advertisements.  The screen shots in the patent application show that YouTube video is, in fact, what Google has in mind.  Just what we need, more advertising!  But advertising does pay the bills and allows individuals and businesses to create unique content for the Internet while making a living, thereby enabling for additional creation.  This, after all, is the justification for intellectual property rights.  Grant to businesses and individuals exclusive rights that they can monetize, if in fact there is a market.  Through monetization they can, hopefully, make enough to engage in further original creation, and so goes the cycle.

As much as we might not like it, advertising revenue is real, important and real important, at least if we want to maximize creativeness.  Even creative people and businesses have financial needs, so if we don’t want them to have to work a day job and would prefer they work creating and inventing, either the government pays, which is not an option as we see mounting debate for our grandchildren as DC pursues the “government does everything” agenda, we let the market decide and creative individuals reap the benefits of their creations, or we don’t get as much creativity as we would otherwise like.  I, for one, am glad that Thomas Edison could make a career as an inventor.  Imagining a world without Edison or the ability for Edison to exploit his intellectually property rights is not particularly fun.  Sure, we would have eventually invented the stuff, but where would we be now in our technological development?  Years, or decades, behind.

In any event, the patent application filed by Google explains that the use of digital videos has grown rapidly in recent years, and that it would be a great benefit to those wishing to advertise their products to be able to create multimedia advertisements capable of being displayed in conjunction with these videos. Google also believes that there is value to video hosting websites and/or the authors of the videos, both of whom could share in the revenues paid by the advertisers for displaying advertisements. So once again we see the omnipresent push to derive advertising revenue. With the advent of technologies such as the Digital Video Recorder, which allows you to easily record and fast forward through commercials in TV programs, the continued demise of newspapers and other real world information channels, ever more attempts are being made to monetize the Internet and convert traffic into a reliable advertising generated income stream.

The need for this invention is driven by the fact that conventional techniques for development of multimedia advertisements are complex, requiring resources beyond the means of many small to medium-sized organizations. For example, multimedia advertisements are typically created using technologies such as ADOBE FLASH, which necessitates the use of multimedia development tools that can be both costly and complex. The complexity of such tools further complicates matters and requires hiring, or at least relying upon, individuals possessing considerable development skill to use the necessary tools effectively. So not only is it not practical for most to do it on their own, but it can be expensive to hire people to provide these services. On top of that, as with any creative process, the business savvy and dedication to delivering projects in a timely manner can be lacking when creative individuals are involved. Moreover, as many businesses have learned there are many who claim to be able to provide creative technology services, but talking a good game is a far cry from delivering the goods. The almost ubiquitous pop-culture references to individuals who hired out the creation of a website, for example, only never to get anything back is funny because it is all to frequently the common experience. So a tool that is relatively idiot-proof and usable by the masses could find itself with a substantial demand.

According to the patent application, the invention enables the creation of video overlay advertisements in which the description of an advertisement is reduced to a small set of attributes easily specifiable via a convenient browser-based interface, and the resulting advertisement is stored within a remote advertisement database. In one embodiment, an advertisement creation server includes an advertisement creation module used to create an advertisement based on specified attributes, a template database having templates upon which the created advertisement is based, and an advertisement database storing the created advertisement. Values specifying attributes of a desired video overlay advertisement are entered via a browser-based user interface functioning on a client device and communicated to the advertisement creation server’s advertisement creation module. The advertisement creation server receives the values and in response creates and provides to the client device a video overlay advertisement having the desired attributes, which the client displays within the browser-based user interface. The browser-based user interface displays multiple advertisement segments, each segment having attributes representing the appearance of the advertisement at a particular point in time, and a set of transitions between the segments. The browser-based user interface includes controls for specifying the actions that are taken in response to selection of the advertisement.

If you didn’t get that, perhaps reference to the screen shots in the patent application will help. See below:

These illustrations show an advertisement creation user interface 200 for creating video overlay advertisements. The user interface 200 is provided by the web server and displayed within the browser of an end user. These particular figures each take up one full page in the patent application. For those who are going to be filing a patent application where you will want to include screen shots, you cannot simply include screen shots, not at least when you file a nonprovisional patent application. Drawing requirements, picky as they are, typically mandate that screen shots be broken down and cover two or more full pages of drawings. My advice is that if you want to include screen shots, which can be quite helpful, you really should obtain the assistance of a professional patent illustrator, preferably someone who has experience with screen shots.

In any event, it will be interesting to see what, if any, claims ultimately wind up being patentable. Claim 1 as published says:

1. A method for creating a video overlay advertisement for display with a digital video, the method comprising:providing a browser-based user interface to a client, the user interface including an advertisement viewing area and adapted to receive inputs specifying attribute values of a desired video overlay advertisement;receiving the specified attribute values from the client;creating a video overlay advertisement having the specified attribute values;storing the video overlay advertisement; and providing the video overlay advertisement to the client.

There will be many who will pick this claim apart, perhaps rightfully so, but doing so would require a patent search and/or knowledge of non-patent publications that could be used as prior art.  Merely concluding that this is known, which I know some will do, may feel good but is certainly not evidence.  In any event, just remember a couple things. For strategic reasons patent applications are frequently filed with extremely broad patent claims and then later narrowed during prosecution. The reality is that the doctrine of equivalents is dead, so for virtually all patent applicants there is no detriment to amending claims during prosecution, and that is done every day of the week. If you cannot afford to spend at least $50,000 (likely much, much more) on a patent application don’t even worry about the doctrine of equivalents and don’t worry about amending claims. If you have limitless funds and a bunch of high power inventors and your technology will be the foundation of what could be a mega-tech company, then you can worry about the doctrine of equivalents and file hundreds or thousands of claims. For the rest, chasing what is for all intents and purposes a dead infringement theory isn’t worth the headache and enormous expense.

The outcome of Bilski and the contents of the Supreme Court ruling, anticipated within several months, will all but certainly have a large impact on how broad any claims for this and similar patents will be, but this application already seems to be written with the Federal Circuit Bilski decision in mind.


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