In a move that seems to be confusing many in the blogosphere, Google has moved to purchase visual search engine Like.com (which has search tools and several properties) for a reported $100 million. TechCrunch broke the story followed by several others who jumped in to put in their two cents.
The main reason Google would buy a property like Like.com is solely for the patents. Google has experimented with visual search in the past, as have a lot of other companies. It turns out, though, Like.com has a patent on using visual search in e-commerce. They’ve actively enforced that patent against startups in the past, such as the now-defunct Modista.
In the industry, buying a company merely to get their patents is called a “land grab.” It’s common practice and, in the case of many “paper only” startups (which Like.com doesn’t appear to be), it’s their sole reason for existence. A paper-only startup is one that exists merely to own and enforce a patent. They’ll start the company with some idea, but instead of creating technology around it (beyond a rudimentary level, in order to qualify for a patent), they’ll instead file for a patent and carry that along as their sole reason for being, using it to bash all those who infringe upon it.
As I said, Like.com appears to have been really using their technology, however. They have several properties that surround the Like.com core and its visual search, embedding themselves in nearly every type of ecommerce out there. While none of their sites are popular, they are all legitimate.
So it’s obvious to me that Google purchased a patent here, not a visual search algorithm. Given their investment in Pixazza, it’s even more obvious that this is what they’re doing.