marker-doodle.jpgOrange County – In 1998, to mark their attendance at the Burning Man festival, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided to include a stick figure drawing of the Burning Man behind the Google logo on the front page of their website.  This was the first of what would be many modified Google logos, called Google Doodles.  Clicking on these Doodles will bring up a search page for terms associated with the theme of the Doodle, such as a search for Sir Isaac Newton from clicking on a Doodle commemorating the birthday of the famous physicist.

While visual art normally falls outside the area of patentable subject matter, Google saw fit to attempt to patent its Doodles, framing its invention as “Systems and Methods for Enticing Users to Access a Web Site,” and filing a provisional application in May 2000, followed by the non-provisional application in April 2001. 

Eleven years later, after going through multiple rejections and appeals, a patent was finally granted on March 22, 2011.   

In addition to claiming a system with instructions to create a “special event logo” by modifying the standard logo and associating it with a search page that would display upon user input, the patent also discloses an embodiment where a series of modified logos are displayed over a specified period of time to show a story line.  The figures in the patent show an example of such a story line, one of aliens examining and then abducting the Google logo.

The patent does come with some interesting limitations, and the claims are narrow enough that it would appear that many Google Doodles actually fall outside the scope of the invention.  No doubt Google has had to modify and adjust its claims numerous times over the decade that the patent has been at the Patent Office, with these limitations as the result.  For example, the patent only claims systems where the “special event logo” has been modified from the standard logo with “one or more animated images.”  Since the first Google Doodle appeared to the public in 1998, and Google did not file a provisional application until 2000, the statutory bar would have prevented the issuing of a patent.  The limitation that the logos be modified with animated images would therefore take those early Doodles, as well as the many non-animated Doodles that appeared after 2000, outside the scope of the invention, allowing the invention to get around the statutory bar.

Considering that the patent has received an extension of over seven years (2,618 days, to be exact) for Patent Office delay, it will be around for a long time.  With the narrow claims and limitations in mind, it will be interesting to see if and how Google will attempt to enforce this patent over the coming years.