It wasn't bad enough that Google tried to copy all the dusty books in all the research libraries in all the world.
Or that it photographed your swimming pool from space. Or snapped pictures of your home or devised a scary car that drives itself.
Now the giant, omnivorous, all-aspiring, engine of search has patented doodling.
Does this mean that next time you put pen to paper you'll need to call California and ask permission first? Not exactly.
This week the Patent Office awarded Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder and head of technology with Patent # 7,912, 915 for what's known as the doodle.
On Google's home page, for those from Mars, near the top sits a single word, regal and immutable: 'Google.'
But while the word itself remains constant, its appearance varies, depending on the date, on world events, on historical anniversaries, or on the whim and humor of Google's half-dozen full time artist/doodlers.
Is today Thomas Edison's birthday? Then the letters that make up Google may be formed out of little light bulbs or other Edison's inventions. There might be animation. If you click on the word Google, you might hear Edison's voice. The whole thing is considered a Doodle.
It's this method for "enticing" (Google's word) users to access its site—and the enticement possible—is what the company has patented.
Marie Conroy of San Francisco, an inveterate searcher, uses Google all the time and gets a kick out of these doodles. Her favorites, she says, have included one celebrating John Lennon's birthday (a drawing that drew itself and evolved as the viewer watched) and a tribute to cartoonist Rube Goldberg (a whimsical machine that on every viewing grew more and more complicated).
Cute and clever Doodles may be. But are they patentable? The idea strikes some tech-watchers as preposterous. "Absurd" one pundit calls it. Another accuses the Patent Office, in having granted the patent, "of smoking something they shouldn't be."
Patent attorney Kenneth Bressler, a partner at Manhattan law firm Blank Rome LLP, says of the Doodle patent, "I'm not sure it's justified." Were it enforceable (which he doesn't think it is), it would prevent "Macy's from having a picture of a turkey on its website at Thanksgiving."
Making something by adding enticing artwork or other enhancements—even ones that vary according to season or circumstance--is not new, he argues. And the technique is obvious. Only things non-obvious can be patented.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Kenneth Sherman strongly disagrees.
Sherman, who has shepherded dozens of patents successfully through the approval process, has a new one pending for an enhancement of the online- and e-book reading experience called "Magic Reader." Everything is obvious, he says, after it's been invented. Today's obvious was yesterday's unimagined.
Sherman finds several facts about the Google patent impressive:
First, it was filed more than 10 years ago, when few people envisioned all-singing, all-dancing home page logos. Second, it was filed by Brin alone -- not by a group of inventors. That Brin was sole inventor, says Sherman, is a testament to Brin's foresight and creativity.
Richard Siegel, CEO of Internet technology provider Archbridge, Inc., shares Sherman's view: "For having been filed ten years ago, this is brilliant -- the idea that a logo can be exciting. It doesn't have to be a standard rubber stamp, but can instead be used as a way to enhance people's enjoyment of what they're viewing. This shows me Google was on the ball even back in 2001."
As to whether the technique is non-obvious: "The Patent Office had ten years to go over that carefully. I would defer to the patent examiner on that."
Author Ken Auletta, who covers media for the New Yorker, analyzed Google's co-founders and their corporate culture in his 2009 book "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It." He thinks the patent speaks volumes.
It's typical of Brin to have been sole inventor, says Auletta. "That Sergey would create a doddle and then patent it is not inconsistent. These two guys [Brin and co-founder Larry Page] aren't absentee landlords. They're personally involved in every detail. They like making jokes. There's a certain lightness about their approach, which is part of why they've been successful."
There were a lot of other search engines already on the scene in 1998, when Google came along. But Brin and Page "decided to have fun with the home page -- not to run any ads on it, just to have a little Doodle and some print."
By doing that, says Auletta, "They won the trust and good humor of searchers."