You are probably aware of Google Sidewiki Google’s web annotation service, which allows users of Google Toolbar to leave comments on any website. Google wasn’t the first web annotation service, but by virtue of the popularity of the Google Toolbar, it almost instantly became the most popular one.
A web annotation startup called Reframe It is now claiming that Google Sidewiki is a blatant plagiarisation of their own web annotation tool. Reframe It alleges that, the similarities are too many and too close to be coincidental.
Reframe It and Google Sidewiki aren’t the only annotation tools in the market. Wikipedia lists about a dozen web annotation tools. However, what makes Reframe It CEO and co-founder Bobby Fishkin uncomfortable is that The interface, the layout, the look and feel, look extremely similar.
Google Watch has an in-depth side by side comparison of Reframe It and Google Sidewiki. The similarities are uncanny to say the least. Reframe It’s intellectual property patent application is currently pending. If accepted, Google could end up in some major trouble for intellectual property theft. Since, the patent hasn’t yet been accepted, Reframe It also has the opportunity to adjust their patent application and include additional aspects to cover Google’s alleged transgressions. Reframe It can also sue Google for copyright violations, in which case Google will have to prove that their source code is drastically different from Reframe It’s.
According to Bobby Fishkin, apart from the obvious similarities between the two products, there were other incidents which solidified his suspicion. More than a year ago, Reframe It advisory board member Terry Winograd met with a senior Google Executive and encouraged him/her to take a look at Reframe It. Impressed with what he/she saw, the executive promised to pass it along to the team. A few months later, at least half a dozen Google employees signed up with Reframe It. Not only that, two days before launching Sidewiki, Google tried to hire Reframe It co-founder and Lead Engineer Ben Taitelbaum.
Google it yet to issue a direct response to the allegations. Instead this is what they told eWeek:
“The variety of existing products in this space and the increasing number of sites that enable user generated content shows that there is growing demand for allowing users to contribute to the Web. We are very excited by users’ response to Sidewiki and will continue to use their feedback to iterate more on the product.”
It is not uncommon for developers to be inspired by competitor’s product. In fact this is what drives genuine innovation. However, the question that needs to be asked here is how much is too much? What do you think? Is Google Sidewiki a rip-off? If it is indeed a rip-off, is it serious enough to be considered a copyright violation and (potential) IP theft?