In May 2008, Vuestar sent invoices to Singapore websites asking for licensing fees for use of the “Vuestar System”. The “License fee” demanded appeared to depend on web traffic and “extent of image hyperlinking”.

For example, according to Wikipedia, was sent an invoice for S$5,350. As might be expected, the actions of Vuestar caused considerable outrage on Internet.

According to a number of posts on the Internet, the patent was widely thought to cover “visual image searching” or even <IMG> hyperlinks!

However, the truth - as with many of these things - is possibly a little more mundane.

The Vuestar Patent

Singapore Patent 95940 “Method of Locating Web-Pages by Utilising Visual Images” was granted 27 October 2003. The renewal fee was paid 22 September 2008, so the patent is alive at the time of this writing.

Under patent law, there is liability only if the patent is infringed. In order to assess infringement, one must assess scope of patent by “looking to the end” i.e., the claims.

For example, many of the claims appear to specify that the search results include should include “contact information”. The specification of the patent describes such “contact information” as including telephone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses.

If a search engine does not return any such contact information, there is a good argument that such a website is not actually covered by the patent. A patent attorney, who is both technically and legally trained and has passed the necessary patent examinations, will be able to help you assess whether your website falls under the Vuestar patent and whether you should be paying the license fees demanded.

For more information, please contact Cantab IP.

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