Google Hairspray is Patently Puzzling

A Monthlong Magnification of Google: the Company, the Technologies, and the Extracurricular Activities

How do SEO professionals keep their hair from falling out of place while heroically rescuing a homepage from a dangerous slide down a SERP?

How can PPC experts control their perfectly curly locks while furiously adjusting ad copy and strong-arming landing pages?

Why do webmasters always flaunt dapper and date-ready hairdos, even when they’re digging neck-deep in code?

What’s their secret sauce, you ask? Google Hairspray, of course!

Yes, I’m joking, but my jest is based in truth. In October of 2005, Google acquired an interest in a patent from L’Oreal for an aerosol styling composition that provides a “supple and long-lasting hold”(1).

As you may have already guessed, we’re continuing our Monthlong Magnification of Google with a look at Google’s patents, patent applications, and patent transfers – even the ones that seem a bit absurd, which is the case for my Google Hairspray example.

Like many a large company in the tech sector, Google has a growing list of patents. Here’s the breakdown:

Google Patent Information (as of 4/14/2008)(2)

  • Patents: 77
  • Patent Apps/Patents Pending: 84
  • Patent Title Transfers: 666

Now let’s compare these numbers to Yahoo and Microsoft.

Yahoo! Patent Information (as of 4/14/2008)(3)

  • Patents: 109
  • Patent Apps/Patents Pending: 402
  • Patent Title Transfers: 35

Microsoft Patent Information (as of 4/14/2008)(4)

  • Patents: 8,499
  • Patent Apps/Patents Pending: 12,351
  • Patent Title Transfers: 658

By looking at the numbers, Google’s 77 original patents, which are primarily search related, are a respectable amount but far from what you would expect from a corporation the size of Google. The majority of Google’s patents, such as its aerosol styling composition, come from assignments, which are essentially patent title transfers by sale or other ownership transfer. Google even outnumbers Microsoft in number of transferred patent titles.

Hence, the patent that may one day become Google Hairspray, which, by the way, provides “satisfactory hold that is resistant to the usual movements of the head and the hair and to gusts of wind”(5), found itself in Google’s back pocket following an assignment.

My question is, what does Google want with my hair?

Food for Thought

What opportunities do Google’s acquired patents create when it comes to user data collection? As we have seen, it is likely that Google’s largest and most valuable asset is the immense amount of user data it has collected. Could new technologies offer new opportunities to gather information about what we do on the internet, at home, or in a doctor’s office?

Update: This was our most popular blog post for the week of April 14th. Listen to the author discuss this topic on the StraightUpSearch Podcast.

1. U.S. Patent Application No. 10/229,285, Aerosol styling composition based on carboxyalkylcellulose (filed Aug. 28, 2002).

2. United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”), Electronic Business Center, (April 14, 2008).

3. United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”), Electronic Business Center, (April 14, 2008).

4. United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”), Electronic Business Center, (April 14, 2008).

5. U.S. Patent Application No. 10/229,285, Aerosol styling composition based on carboxyalkylcellulose (filed Aug. 28, 2002).