Good 'ol Bowser, star engineer! yes, I think he is from around these parts, although the programme is called Scrapyard Challenge across here before it migrated......excellent show though!
The Alta patent situation is a difficult one though, I don't know whether to compare it to our main telco BT : "we own the right to hyperlinks" affair....I think that they are trying very hard to establish their authority over the other engines and I can't see it progressing but.....
What it does show us is that the net will eventually become both a legal and moral minefield in the future - I'll only really worry when us seo's are affected by what we can and can't promote in terms of names and rights.
Brett - you mention that a lot of the patents go back to the mid-nineties. However, a lot of the work on the indexing and querying of large scale file systems that was supposedly 'invented' around that time was in fact reinvented. A huge amount of important (well-documented) work exists from the 1970s from British (and probably American) universities. The academics in question found it quite bizarre when in the early/mid-nineties none of the new search-engines bothered to check if anyone had done similar work in the past. Until, of course, Google, but even they haven't implemented a great number of the ideas.
The old academics catch-phrase: "Everyone writes but no-one reads".