• Boolean IP Team

IP Leakages from Search Engines

Recently, the world witnessed its first proposal for considering Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a patent inventor that was later rejected on the merit of current patent laws requiring an inventor to be a natural person. Although, people have claimed to have secured patents for AI-generated inventions since at least the 1980s, but no one has ever disclosed an AI’s role in such a patent application. AI’s revolutionary technologies are mostly common buzzwords, like “natural language processing,” “deep learning,” and “predictive analytics.” These are cutting-edge technologies that enable computer systems to understand the meaning of human language, learn from experience, and make predictions, respectively. AI development has come a long way now to creating a machine capable of mimicking the many thoughts a human has when originating a novel invention.


Now, how does AI impact your internet searching abilities? Search engines have huge databases that the only way they are able to sort and screen through all of their potential results to show you the best results for your search is with AI. Although this is a great feature, the only catch is that Google, Bing, Yahoo, and most other search engines collect and store records of your search queries that are further processed (again by AI) to improve their services and provide you with relevant personalized service proposals.


This aspect of search engines seems great at a first glimpse. However, if the substance of certain queries became known, particularly queries concerning intellectual property and legal matters, it might cause significant problems for searchers. For example, a trademark must be maintained and “in use” in order to remain valid. If a competitor were alerted that someone was inquiring about their trademark, they could quickly renew it and put it back in use. Similarly, in patent searching, one could really find out quite a lot about a proposed invention by examining the search strategy, particularly within the science and in technical fields. The information thus revealed might even give the idea away completely or at least allow others to start developments along the same path.


Most inventors perform searches related to their novel ideas on free search engines such as Google that clearly mentions in its privacy policy that they store your personal information and search records. Some inventors and patent searchers even use free specialized patent databases such as Espacenet, lens.org, USPTO or Google patent etc. Most of these free patent databases do mention in their website privacy policy or usage terms that they do not store search queries in their databases, inspect logs to inform their own patenting strategies and maintain confidentiality, and not disclose any information to third parties. The validity of these asseverations can only be ascertained by reliable means such as a thorough source code analysis, eDiscovery, etc. Though, there have been incidents in the past when these assertions have been found to be breached.


For an inventor or a patent searcher, privacy and data security is of profound concern. Maintaining the confidentiality of search terms used during searching becomes particularly important in patent and intellectual property searches. In these searches, just the questions asked could give away competitive advantages. We discuss below some of the search privacy tips. They range from straightforward steps that offer a little protection to more complicated measures that offer near-complete safety.


Use Paid Search Engines, Whenever Possible

Search services based on subscriber-based revenues have financial incentives to keep customer information and queries confidential, since users will take their business elsewhere if they do not get the privacy they expect. Apart from that, paid search engines allow its users many other features and advantages over free search providers.


Do Not Use Search Terms Exactly Describing Novelty of the Invention/Idea

The best way to hide from your search engine is to confuse your search engine. If you are conducting a search for a patentability, never use keywords that exactly describe the novelty of your invention. Instead, you can try searching for keywords that describe the purpose of the novelty of the invention. The idea is to get closer to the novelty while conducting the search and not exactly look for the novelty of your invention during search. Of course, you may find many references that you will have to review, but your novelty element will stay secured.


Use a Private Search Engine

The simplest way to search the web privately is to use a private search engine. This lets you search without being tracked or getting followed around with targeted ads. You can take steps to confuse the major search engines that do not have privacy protection built in, but private search engines do this for you. You could use a VPN, a private browser and tracker blockers and a normal search engine, and they could still track you. Tracking has grown much more complex as websites have figured out ways to get around people’s efforts to stop tracking. Another benefit of private search engine is that they provide more neutral and objective search results.


Use Encryption

Encryption is the method by which information is converted into a secret code that hides the information’s true meaning. Encryption is widely used to protect different kinds of data stored and transferred online, in order to protect malicious actors from revealing the information encrypted. You can do Google searches anonymously with encrypted search. This means that your search queries are not passed to the Google’s analysis service. Encrypted search is based on SSL encryption. Other parts of the search are handled through a protected site “https:” so that no information can be passed on.


Use a Search Engine That Does Not Search You Over

All the big search engines track your search history and build profiles on you to serve you personalized results based on your search history. Like many other Internet portals and sites, many Internet search engines are funded by advertising revenue. These sites get more money if they can attract more people to view the ads, and even tailor those ads to their user’s interests, which are often revealed by the search terms requested. Have you ever noticed a banner ad on a search site change to reflect a theme similar to the subject you are searching? If you want to escape from this "filter bubble" you need to switch to a search engine that does not track your inquiries. The most obvious one is the bizarrely named but quite effective DuckDuckGo.


Do not Login to Your Search Engine or Related Tools

Some search engines give you an opportunity to create a personal account and login. In addition, many engines are affiliated with other services, e.g., Google with Gmail and Google Meet; Microsoft with Hotmail and Skype; and so on. When you log into the search engine or one of those other services, your searches can be linked to each other and to your personal account. So, if you have accounts with services like Google Gmail or Hotmail, do not search through the corresponding search engine (Google or Bing Search, respectively), especially not while logged in. For the same reason, avoid using smart phones for idea/invention searching. Instead, you can install two different web browsers to separate your search activities from your other accounts with the search provider.


Do not Login to Your Browser

Another issue with searching privately is using Google Chrome as your browser. The latest versions of Chrome prompt users to login to their Google account in the browser for password, payment, and other data storage. This lets Google track all of your browsing data (not just your searches). If you prefer Chrome’s functionality and feel, then using Chromium (which is built on the same framework as Google Chrome, without Google features built-in) is a good option for more private browsing. Another browser that privacy experts recommend is Mozilla Firefox. Mozilla is an advocate for privacy and security on the internet, and as such their Firefox browser is widely respected.


Block "Cookies" From Your Search Engine

Cookies are small chunks of information that websites can put on your computer when you visit them. Among other things, cookies enable websites to link all of your visits and activities at the site. Since cookies are stored on your computer, they can let sites track you even when you are using different Internet connections in different locations. But when you use a different computer, your cookies do not come with you. From a privacy-protection perspective, it would be best to block all cookies. However, because cookies are necessary for accessing many websites, it may be more convenient (though less privacy-protective) to allow short-lived "session" cookies. These cookies last only as long as your browser is open; therefore, if you quit your browser, re-open it, and then go back to your search engine, your search provider will not be able to connect your current searches with previous ones via your cookies.


Often Change Your IP Address

Whenever you are connected to the internet, your ISP (internet service provider) gives your device an IP address. Search engines and other websites use IP addresses to determine the approximate location of your device. Depending on your ISP, you may be assigned a dynamic IP address. This means that you are given a different IP address every so often. If you use a work network that has hundreds of devices on a single IP address, this is less of a priority. But if you mostly browse from a home Wi-Fi network and have a “dynamic” IP address, you can turn your modem off and back on regularly to assign a new IP. On the other hand, if you have an unchanging, "static" IP address, you will certainly need to use anonymizing software to keep your address private.


Privacy Policy - Read Them Often

While some websites still lack a posted privacy policy, an increasing number of sites have them. It is important to read the policy carefully, so that you can be sure you agree with it. Some privacy policies can be unclear, ambiguous, hard to understand, or may refer to unspecified relationships with unspecified companies. You may also need to read the “Terms and Conditions,” User/Subscriber/Service Agreements, or equivalents, since these may modify the privacy policy. For example, the privacy policy at one website stated clearly that no information would be shared without user permission, but the accompanying subscriber agreement declared that by subscribing, users automatically gave permission for their information to be shared.


Conclusion

Although the proposal to include AI in the legal definition for an inventor has been denied for now, there have been few support statements that say patent protection should be available for AI-generated works because it will incentivize innovation. With the rapidly developing AI and the AI developing itself, humans may soon have to compete with AI to mark their presence. Whether or not AI gets to be listed as an inventor, a genuine inventor must not lose the credit for her/his invention to AI (or the owner of AI) just because he innocently leaked her/his idea to a search engine’s AI based search query analyzer while conducting a search.


It must be noted that the above discussed measures do not provide a bulletproof protection, but they do provide a strong protection against the most common and likely means of intruding your privacy via your search queries on search engines.

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