Local.com’s Patents Reviewed

Picture 2This past week Local.com announced that it was awarded a patent for Enhanced Directory Assistance, tied to advertising services. The press release summarizes the patent this way:

[T]he patent describes a system and method for maintaining a dynamic index for a telephone directory assistance system. The system enables advertisers to dynamically control whether a listing – and/or one or more of a keyword index, a localization index, and a position control index – associated with the advertiser is included in an EDA request, and in what position the associated listing is returned in response to the request.

This is associated with another ad-supported directory assistance-related patent previously issued in 2007 to Local.com (“methods and system for enhanced directory assistance using wireless messaging protocols”).

Despite some bullish predictions, the ad-supported directory assistance model has failed to live up to its promise. However the traditional DA business is in decline and carriers are seeking to squeeze more revenues from it. Accordingly there may be another round of effort to monetize conventional DA that may fall within the orbit of these Local.com patents.

Somewhat ironically carriers initially set up ad-supported competitors to their own DA businesses (i.e., Verizon’s 800-THE-INFO, AT&T’s 800-Yellowpages) but they have largely failed to promote them — due to their own corporate ambivalence about “cannibalizing” traditional DA. (See also this discussion of the impact of smartphones on 411 usage.)

In addition to the above, Local.com received a much broader patent regarding local search (“indexing web pages of a web site for geographical searchine based on user location”) but that “art” appears to be on a collision course with several others making similar, sweeping claims. At some point there will be litigation, but for now Local.com is building its portfolio and could, if successful, develop a healthy IP licensing business over time. The company is already licensing its IP to a number of companies. There are many “ifs” between here and there of course.


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