Bill Hartzer

Schema.org Use May Infringe Upon Search Engine Patents

As you probably know by now, Google, Bing, and Yahoo! got together recently and formed Schema.Org, that will help you, as a webmaster, web designer, or search engine marketer, standardize your html code. Standardization is good. However, I have to admit that I became a bit concerned and flustered about the terms of service that have been posted on the Schema.org website.

Take a look at some of the language being used in the Terms of Service:

…patent claims that are necessarily infringed by including markup of structured data in a webpage…

By using the code that the search engines–collectively–are recommending that you use, you may be a patent infringer. You may be infringing on the patents that are owned by particular search engines.

Overall, I am really glad that the search engines are doing this–to help us standardize the code we use when creating web pages. Standards are definitely needed. But, I am kind of leery about the fact that the Schema.org is telling us–in their Terms of Service.

However, I have to admit that I became a bit concerned and flustered about the terms of service that have been posted on the Schema.org website. Here is the section that I have an issue with:

In addition, if the Sponsors have patent claims that are necessarily infringed by including markup of structured data in a webpage, where the markup is based on and strictly complies with the Schema, they grant an option to receive a license under reasonable and non-discriminatory terms without royalty, solely for the purpose of including markup of structured data in a webpage, where the markup is based on and strictly complies with the Schema. The license may be conditioned on reciprocity, defensive termination, defensive suspension, and/or other reasonable terms. In some cases, this website may indicate that some but not all of the Sponsors have recognized a particular extension to the Schema; in those cases, as to that extension, the above rights are granted by only those recognizing Sponsors.

The terms of service goes on to say that “The license may be conditioned on reciprocity, defensive termination, defensive suspension, and/or other reasonable terms.” Does this mean that at some point one of the patent owners, Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo!, decides that they don’t want us to use certain code on our website (which may be unlikely), that they can tell us to remove it and stop using it? Even worse (which may be unlikely), does this allow them to potentially sue us for infringing upon their patents?

We are, though, granted a license to use the code on Schema.org under Creative Commons. But really, is that enough?

What if some website owner or webmaster comes up with the idea for a type of website and uses some of this code as part of their site. And that site at some point becomes a competitor of Google, Yahoo!, or Bing. Would one of these patent owners have the right to sue? From what I can tell, they do acknowledge that using code in referenced by Schema.org could make you a patent-infringer.

Let’s say, for example, a site like Facebook uses code from Schema.org that is patented. Although we are granted a Creative Commons license, if a site like Facebook infringes upon the search engines’ patent, they could potentially be a target. Especially if they are a competitor.

At this point, I still highly recommend use of Schema.org and it’s contents–it’s a great step in the right direction towards standardization. But, just so you’re aware, there is code there that is patented.

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