As the “father of the Internet,” Tim Berners-Lee, got onto a plane to head to the burgeoning tech center of Tyler, Texas (all sarcasm intended), he must have wondered how he found himself in this position. Berners-Lee is testifying at a court case of a patent holder who is suing Google, Amazon, and others regarding the viability of a patent claiming intellectual property ownership over the “interactive web.”
At issue is whether or not the patent should have been issued in the first place. At its core, a patent claim is one which is made in an item or process which is new, novel, and never been done before. Yes, the redundancy is intentional. It is up to the patent examiner to look at previous patents to determine whether or not what is being claimed for a patent actually existed prior to the patent claim being made.
If you think about the typical tools of the search trade, you think of, first and foremost, the search box. People type in terms in a search box and results come out. Depending on the effectiveness of the underlying search engine and its relevancy algorithm, most of those results are at least somewhat related to what the search term was.
What happens, then, when you’re trying to disprove that something exists? How do you go about that search? Do you type in the term and hope for zero results? Do you go through every list of synonyms that you can think of to try to eliminate its existence? In logic, proving something is a much simpler task than disproving something. The inability to prove the existence of a deity compared to the inability to disprove a deity’s existence is the fodder of many religious debates. Proving existence is accomplished through induction. To disprove something only requires proof of the existence of one value for which the statement is not true (e.g. my dog’s bone does not exist; oh, wait, there’s his bone…statement disproved).
In this instance, patent examiners try to disprove by finding prior art. However, there’s not really a setting in a search engine to make a disproving search versus a finding search. If there was, then many patent trolls would be uttering a long bellow of anguish and going back under the bridges where they were hiding.
In a forthcoming article, we will show how you can use Solr to use search to disprove the existence of something.
In the meantime, we can hope that the courts come to their senses and don’t let the trolls win.