The Patent and Trademark Office has now made clear that its newly developed position on patentable subject matter will invalidate many and perhaps most software patents, including pioneering patent claims to such innovators as Google, Inc.
In a series of cases including In re Nuijten, In re Comiskey and In re Bilski, the Patent and Trademark Office has argued in favor of imposing new restrictions on the scope of patentable subject matter set forth by Congress in § 101 of the Patent Act. In the most recent of these three—the currently pending en banc Bilski appeal—the Office takes the position that process inventions generally are unpatentable unless they “result in a physical transformation of an article” or are “tied to a particular machine.” Perhaps, the agency has conceded, some “new, unforeseen technology” might warrant an “exception” to this formalistic test, but in the agency’s view, no such technology has yet emerged so there is no reason currently to use a more inclusive standard.
I wonder if that would make that much of a difference - Google has patents on all sorts of relevancy-related topics, but because Yahoo/MSN and the like don't publish information on how they rank their results I'm sure they're using many of those techniques already.
Would this actually change anything?
The advantages for open source etc. might be more interesting.
PageRank is not actually Google's patent but Stanford's (I think), in any case this is a really good well overdue development - patents of algorithms and business methods (like one click) is completely wrong. Well maybe if this was done for 3-5 years max then it would be okay, but not the current long period of patents validity.
What Google use now is certainly not a vanilla PageRank - most likely their implementation is not even covered by that patent as it is substantially different.