Can Microsoft use AltaVista without buying Yahoo?

Though FAST owns the AltaVista Toolkit, Yahoo owns the underlying intellectual property

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced its intentions to acquire Yahoo. Although Yahoo has since announced it plans to fight Microsoft's takeover and court other suitors, most notably Google, there is an element of shared search technology that neither Microsoft nor Yahoo can easily dismiss because of Microsoft's earlier 2008 announcement to acquire FAST Search and Transfer.

The FAST Search and Transfer engine already supports thousands of applications -- more notable ones include the Autonomy/Zantaz product line, CommVault's Simpana software suite and Symantec's Enterprise Vault, through FAST's OEM licensing model. However, there are differences in which version of the FAST search engine is used by these companies. CommVault utilizes FAST's most up-to-date search engine, and Autonomy/Zantaz and Symantec use FAST's older AltaVista Toolkit to power their archiving searches.

Here is where it gets interesting. Though FAST owns the AltaVista Toolkit, Yahoo owns the underlying intellectual property, the AltaVista enterprise search engine. Yahoo acquired this when it purchased Overture in 2003, which had previously acquired the AltaVista intellectual property from Digital Equipment.

So when it announced plans to acquire FAST, Microsoft put itself on a collision course with Yahoo since Microsoft gained access to key intellectual property owned by Yahoo.

The question is can Microsoft continue to use AltaVista's search technology once the acquisition of FAST is completed without acquiring Yahoo? At this point, no one really knows, though FAST seems to indicate the existing agreements would survive intact.

The future of corporate search is unfolding as Microsoft and Yahoo jockey over common intellectual property that Microsoft needs to make its FAST acquisition seamless. While a Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo would probably resolve the whole matter -- if Yahoo evades acquisition -- it would leave users of some archiving software that employ FAST's underlying AltaVista technology pondering their product's search future.

Jerome Wendt is the president and lead analyst at DCIG. He may be reached at (Joshua Konkle, DCIG's vice president of archiving and e-mail, contributed to this.)

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