Augmenting the millions of different types of data Google now searches, it's just added  a new feature to its sidebar: The ability to search patents. It's a powerful tweak, especially given the huge number of patent lawsuits going on.
For some time now, Google has allowed you to quickly skim through the full body of the U.S. patents by visiting its Patents Search  page. But from now on if you want to find a particular piece of data in the patent files, you merely have to click on an icon in the sidebar. This puts patents searches on the same user experience level as "news," "places," and "blogs."
This tweak is notionally pretty subtle, since Google hasn't changed the mechanisms it uses to search patents or other data. But it could be a sign that Google is trying to bring its different services into more prominence. And it also prompts the question of why Google is bringing patent searches into the spotlight?
Perhaps there's some mileage in considering news  that Samsung is bringing its hotly contested patent battle with Apple to the U.S., and has filed a new suit alleging Apple violates 10 U.S. patents--one of these is particularly prominent, as it covers using the web during a call on smartphones (something Apple has proudly promoted). Samsung is carefully targeting many of Apple's products, it seems, and the patent body it's drawn attention to covers devices like the iPhone 4, iPhone 3G, iPod Touch, and the iPad.
Searching for "Samsung patents" alone using Google's main search engine returns over 4 million results. Patents are hot news, and companies like Apple and its peers are using them as weapons, and tools for defensive posturing. Google, for its part, has realized that money can be made from this. Will it enhance patent trolling, or call attention to the weaknesses in the current patent system? These are questions every tech firm--and, indeed, the rest of us, too--is clearly interested in.