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Cisco Files to Patent to Enter the Search Engine Business

One of the limitations of search engines such as Google (GOOG) or Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing that crawl the web looking for links is that they can only tell you about what they've finally come upon. That still leaves vast amounts of material as yet to be "discovered." A patent application from Cisco (CSCO) suggests a clever way to help update the engines -- and to make a manufacturer of network equipment an important part of yet another industry.

In June 2008, Cisco filed a patent application yet to be granted but published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on December 17, 2009. The title is Seeding search engine crawlers using intercepted network traffic. As the application notes, a web-crawling search engine has a basic limitation: it cannot index sites of which it doesn't yet know. Furthermore, it may never be able to reach pages that have not been introduced, either by direct input or by being connected to its existing structure of web pages, known as a web-graph.

And yet, people still use these pages. Cisco's claimed invention is to have network equipment such as "routers, multilayer switches or any other suitable device" examine data packets for HTTP requests that appear when a network user is looking to reach a resource on the web. The devices would strip out the URLs and pass them to the search engine, which would now know about the page and be able to add the new-to-it site to the web-graph.

This seems like an elegant solution, because any page receiving any amount of traffic would seem to be one whose location should be known. Users going to those pages automatically provide the raw material that the engine needs.

From a business view, this could help open yet another network-connected industry to Cisco, whose desire for growth apparently knows no grounds. Given the ubiquity of its equipment, the company could become a critical source of the information that drives the ability of the search industry to ultimately make money. Of course, the possibilities come with potential issues. For example, to what degree could the company design equipment to deliver URL information to a given search engine company? What sorts of arrangements would it have to make with the organizations whose networks it helps power? Nevertheless, it seems like Cisco may have found yet another outlet for growth.

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