commit: fb200d8 - #595 (2014-04-14 00:44:57 -0400)
To echo the words of the World Intellectual Property Organization, patents can be used by patent owners to exclude others from using the technology that the patent covers, but they can't exclude anyone from learning from the patents. That's part of the tradeoff that comes with patenting something.
Matt is right in that no one should take anything Google patents as gospel, and that we shouldn't automatically assume that just because there's a patent, that means that Google is currently using the technology described.
But they may have in the past, and they might in the future.
Patents can be useful in terms of the perspective they share about search, searchers, search engines, marketers, and the Web. They let us know about assumptions search engineers make on a lot of different topics, teach about ranking, about privacy concerns, about how people might try to manipulate search results, and provide a lot of good questions and topics to explore.
A statement like "Google must be doing this right now because they have a patent on it," isn't something that you should be saying, but a statement like, "Google has explored this topic and has worked on ways to address it, and that can be seen in the patent or patents they've pursued," can be helpful as part of an educated discussion on an issue.