Insight into AOL’s Patent Portfolio

In light of AOL’s recent announcement to shop its patent portfolio, Envision IP reviews over 700 patents assigned to AOL to determine what areas the company has obtained proprietary technologies in.


Maulin V. Shah

March 28, 2012

AOL Inc. has reportedly retained Evercore Partners Inc. to shop its patent portfolio and explore strategic options that would allow it to monetize and leverage its patents.

Envision IP reviewed over 700 patents assigned to AOL to determine what areas the company has obtained proprietary technologies in.

Not surprisingly, about 140 patents relate to online communications, with the majority of these patents focused on instant messaging and email technology.  These patents cover many features that are now standard in online chat, mobile messaging, and social in-network messaging applications.  For example, AOL has  patents covering contact list management, status indicators and visibility settings, group messaging, the use of avatars and icons associated with chat profiles, as well as interoperability technology between various online messaging platforms.

Regarding email technology, AOL has a number of patents related to spam filtering, group message opt-in systems, and unified messaging (i.e., conversion of email to text and audio).  AOL has also patented technologies for cross-language communications, both via email and online messaging.

AOL owns 81 patents related to browser technologies and user interfaces.  These patents cover automatic form population, cache optimization, multilingual browser support, RSS feed technology, and webpage rendering.  AOL also owns a handful of patents related to cookie tracking using a toolbar that date back to 2000.

Next, AOL owns 77 patents related to search engine technologies.  These patents cover semantic searching, grouping related websites based on content, querying metadata, and searching disparate data sources using a single interface.  Many of these patents have priority dates between 1995 and 2001, possibly giving AOL proprietary technology that dates back to the formative years of Internet development, and more specifically, search engine technology development.

The next category is multimedia, with 74 patents.  AOL has numerous patents related to audio and video data compression that optimize bandwidth and improve streaming quality and transfer rates.  These patents also include playlist management, audio and video editing tools, and on-demand and remote multimedia access. Again, as with search engine technology patents, the majority of these multimedia patents have priority dates in the mid-to-late 1990’s.

AOL owns 58 patents related to network hardware and routing.  These patents cover client/server architecture, including multitier architecture, as well as packet routing and load balancing for efficient bandwidth use.

To complement its proprietary networking patents, AOL also owns 52 patents related to network security.  These patents cover encryption technology, remote authentication (via authentication servers), password access and management (such as, for example, single sign on), parental controls, and data validation.

Next, to bolster its suite of online communication technologies, AOL also owns 41 patents for voice communication, many of which are related to Voice-Over-IP (VoIP).  These patents cover traditional phone features implemented for internet telephony systems,  such as call screening, busy notifications and routing, conference calling, and call waiting.  Many of these internet telephony patents have priority dates between 2000 and 2002.

The voice communication patents also include a number of voice messaging/voicemail patents, as well as technologies for call center routing and management.

AOL owns 29 patents that could be applied to social networking systems.  These patents cover online forum moderation, access controls and privileges in online communities, and publishing content to a community based on interests.  Specifically, we identified the following patents that relate to determining online relationships that date back to 2003:

US 7949759 and US 7945674 describe using a sender’s degree of separation from a recipient to aid in spam filtering or to otherwise handle a communication.

Similarly, US 7613776 and US 7603417 describe determining if a user knows, or is associated with, another user, and then determining various actions such as displaying emails or instant messages of only known persons.

AOL also owns 24 patents related to wireless technologies.  Many of these patents relate to mesh networks, wireless user tracking, and home gateway networking. While we did identify one patent, US 6965564, related to transmission of data packets over a network layer such as SMS or User Datagram Protocol (UDP),  we did not identify any AOL patents that would likely be considered essential to wireless standards.

The remaining AOL patents relate to online advertising technologies, travel planning systems, remote file services (similar to current cloud-based file systems), location based services, e-commerce processing, calendar technology, and software.

In summary, AOL’s patent portfolio includes numerous patents with priority dates from the mid-1990’s to early 2000’s.  Many of these patents relate to fundamental online communication technologies, stemming from AOL’s early dominance in the instant messaging and email markets.  In addition, AOL has a large number of early patents related to cache optimization, webpage rendering, search engine technologies, and multimedia compression and transmission.

While AOL does not seem to have any patents that could be deemed essential to wireless standards, it certainly owns many technologies that are fundamental to electronic and voice messaging, Internet user experience, multimedia sharing, and web-based data retrieval, technologies that have become common place in today’s online world.