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1. (WO2001088662) ANSWERING NATURAL LANGUAGE QUERIES
Note: Text based on automatic Optical Character Recognition processes. Please use the PDF version for legal matters

Claims
1. A method comprising
receiving segments of text, each segment having elements, inferring implicit references from the elements of the 5 segments,
receiving a query, and
in response to the query, identifying one or more segments as relevant to the query based at least in part on the implicit references.
o 2. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit references are inferred prior to the time when the query is received.
3. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit references are stored as entries in a searchable index, each entry including a pointer to one of the segments from which the reference was 5 inferred.
4. The method of claim 1 in which the segments comprise sentences.
5. The method of claim 1 further comprising
selecting one or more of the identified segments for 0 presentation to a user.
6. The method of claim 5 in which the segments that are presented to the user are determined based on scoring.
7. The method of claim 5 in which only one segment is displayed.
5 8. The method of claim 5 in which only a single segment from a given source is displayed.
9. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit references comprise generalizations of specializations represented by the elements contained in the segments.

10. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit reference comprises a name variation that refers to an element.
11. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit reference comprises an indirect reference to an element.
5 12. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit reference comprises a pronoun.
13. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit reference comprises a definite noun phrase.
14. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit reference o comprises a null reference.
15. The method of claim 1 in which antecedents of the implicit reference are found in a title.
16. The method of claim 1 in which antecedents of the implicit reference are found in a heading.
5 17. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit reference comprises a generalization and the element to which the implicit reference refers comprises a specialization.
18. The method of claim 1 in which an antecedent may be a pattern of characters and the pattern is referred to by a
0 generalization.
19. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit reference comprises a proper name and the element to which the reference refers comprises a noun or noun phrase.
20. The method of claim 1 in which the implicit reference 5 comprises a pronoun, definite noun phrase, or name variant.
21. The method of claim 1 in which the identifying comprises scoring.

22. The method of claim 21 in which the scoring is based on a matching of elements in a question with elements in an index file that contains information about the inferred implicit references.

23. The method of claim 1 in which responding to the query includes identifying implicit references between the query and a previous query.
24. A method comprising
receiving segments of text, each segment having elements, inferring implicit references from the elements of the segments, and
storing an index file based on the implicit references for later use in responding to a query.
25. A method comprising
receiving a query, and
in response to the query, identifying one or more segments of text as relevant to the query based at least in part on implicit references that were pre-stored in an index file.
26. A method comprising
receiving a question in the form of natural language speech from a source,
automatically recognizing the speech,
feeding the recognized speech to a natural language query engine operating on information accessible through a web site to generate a text answer to the question,
synthesizing a spoken response to the question based on the answer, and
playing the spoken response back to the source of the question.

27. The method of claim 26 also including
receiving commands in the form of natural language speech from a source,
automatically recognizing the speech,
5 determining the commands using natural language processing, and
acting on the speech by controlling navigation in the web site.
28. The method of claim 26 in which the natural language o query engine operates by
receiving segments of text, each segment having elements, inferring implicit references from the elements of the segments,
receiving a query, and
5 in response to the query, identifying one or more segments as relevant to the query based at least in part on the implicit references.
29. A method comprising
speaking a natural language question to a web site, and 0 receiving a natural language spoken answer to the question back from the website.
30. A method comprising
receiving a question in the form of natural language from a source,
5 feeding the question to a natural language query engine operating on information accessible through a web site to generate a text answer to the question,
returning the text answer to the source of the question.

31. A method comprising
receiving a natural language question from a user,
deriving information about the user from the question, selecting promotional information based on the infoπnation about the user,
generating an answer to the question using a natural language query engine, and
returning the answer to the user together with the promotional information.
32. The method of claim 31 in which the information about the user includes preferences suggested by the question.
33. The method of claim 31 in which the promotional information comprises advertising.
34. The method of claim 31 also including generating advertising tags for use in selecting the promotional information. 35. The method of claim 31 in which the natural language query engine operates by
receiving segments of text, each segment having elements, inferring implicit references from the elements of the segments,
receiving a query, and
in response to the query, identifying one or more segments as relevant to the query based at least in part on the implicit references.
36. A method comprising
receiving page information contained in a web page that is being viewed by a user,
deriving user information about the user from the page information using a natural language query engine, selecting promotional information based on the user information,
displaying the promotional information to the user while the user is viewing the web page.
37. The method of claim 36 in which the information about the user includes preferences suggested by the web page that is being viewed.
38. The method of claim 36 in which the promotional information comprises advertising.
39. The method of claim 36 also including generating advertising tags for use in selecting the promotional information.

40. The method of claim 36 in which the natural language query engine operates by
receiving segments of text, each segment having elements, inferring implicit references from the elements of the segments,
receiving a query, and
in response to the query, identifying one or more segments as relevant to the query based at least in part on the implicit references.
41. A method comprising
receiving a question or command from a user,
deriving information about the user from the question or command,
selecting promotional infoπnation based on the infoπnation about the user,
generating an answer to the question or command using a natural language query engine, and retorting the answer to the user together with the promotional information.
42. A method comprising
receiving a natural language question from a user, 5 deriving information about the user from the question,
selecting available information that is related to the question,
generating an answer to the question using a natural language query engine, and
o returning the answer to the user together with the available information.
43. The method of claim 42 in which the information about the user includes preferences suggested by the question.
44. The method of claim 42 in which the information related to 5 the question comprises articles.
45. The method of claim 42 also including generating advertising tags for use in selecting the information.
46. The method of claim 42 in which the natural language query engine operates by
0 receiving segments of text, each segment having elements, inferring implicit references from the elements of the segments,
receiving a query, and
in response to the query, identifying one or more segments 5 as relevant to the query based at least in part on the implicit references.
47. A method comprising
receiving natural language questions from a user, using a natural language query engine to provide natural language answers to the questions,
enabling the user to take steps through a user interface after questions are received or answers are provided,
5 generating a log of information about the questions, answers, and steps of the user,
in real-time or in batch mode, updating a user profile based on the log,
using natural language processing to extract meaning from o the questions asked, answers provided and actions taken by the user based on each question and answer pair, and
selecting content for web pages that are served to the user based on the user profile.
48. A method comprising
5 receiving natural language questions from a user,
using a natural language query engine to provide natural language answers to the questions,
enabling the user to take steps through a user interface after questions are received or answers are provided,
0 generating a log of information about the questions, answers, and steps of the user,
analyzing the log using natural language processing to generate reports.
49. The method of claim 48 in which the log is analyzed with 5 respect to subjects of the questions, frequencies, time stamps, users, and whether answers were given.
50. The method of claim 48 in which the log is analyzed with respect to subject of the questions, frequencies, users, answers or lack thereof, and reports are summarized by categories specified by the users. Natural language processing is used to map categories to types of data in the log. For example, if the users requests a summary of all questions (or answers) that relate to "system crashing", natural language processing identifies all questions (or answers) that contain phrases or words that are synonymous to "system crashing".
51. The method of claim 48 in which the log is analyzed with respect to the meanings that can be extracted from questions, the frequency of questions, question types, time of the questions, and users.
52. A method comprising
receiving a natural language command from a user,
deriving information about the user from the command, selecting available information that is related to the command,
generating an answer to the command using a natural language query engine, and
returning the answer to the user together with the available information.
53. A method comprising
receiving natural language commands from a user,
using a natural language query engine to provide natural language answers to the commands,
enabling the user to take steps through a user interface after commands are received or answers are provided,
generating a log of information about the questions, answers, and steps of the user,
in real-time or in batch mode, updating a user profile based on the log, using natural language processing to extract meaning from the commands, answers provided and actions taken by the user based on each command and answer pair, and
selecting content for web pages that are served to the user based on the user profile.
54. A method comprising
receiving natural language commands from a user,
using a natural language query engine to provide natural language answers to the commands,
enabling the user to take steps through a user interface after commands are received or answers are provided,
generating a log of information about the commands, answers, and steps of the user,
analyzing the log using natural language processing to generate reports.
55. A method comprising
entering a natural language question or command on a wireless personal electronic device,
generating a natural language answer to the question or command using a natural language query engine, and
presenting the natural language answer to a user.
56. The method of claim 55 in which the question or command is entered through a keyboard.
57. The method of claim 55 in which the answer is presented through an interface of the device.
58. The method of claim 55 in which the natural language query engine operates by
receiving segments of text, each segment having elements, inferring implicit references from the elements of the segments,
receiving a query, and
in response to the query, identifying one or more segments 5 as relevant to the query based at least in part on the implicit references.
59. A method comprising
presenting to a user web page that comprises a shopping cart,
o displaying on the shopping cart an identification of an item for purchase,
providing a mechanism that enables the user, without leaving the shopping cart, to enter a natural language question or command, and
5 providing an answer to the natural language question or command.
60. The method of claim 59 in which the mechanism comprises a dialog box displayed over the shopping cart web page.
61. The method of claim 59 in which the dialog box is
0 displayed in association with the identification of the item for purchase.
62. The method of claim 59 in which the answer comprises information about the item for purchase.
63. The method of claim 59 in which the user takes a step in 5 response to the answer and completes a transaction on the shopping cart web page.
64. The method of claim 59 in which the answer is provided from a natural language query engine.

65. The method of claim 59 in which the mechanism is provided by an agent that watches items being added to the shopping cart.
66. A method comprising
receiving natural language questions or commands about products,
selecting product information using a natural language query engine based on the questions or commands, and
serving the product information from a web server to a user.
67. The method of claim 66 in which the user responds to the web server by buying one of the products.
68. The method of claim 66 in which the questions identify desired characteristics of the products.
69. The method of claim 66 in which the natural language query engine operates by
receiving segments of text, each segment having elements, inferring implicit references from the elements of the segments,
receiving a query, and
in response to the query, identifying one or more segments as relevant to the query based at least in part on the implicit references.
70. A method comprising
receiving from a user, over an electronic network, an electronic mail message containing a written natural language query,
identifying the written natural language query in the electronic mail message, using a natural language query engine to apply the natural language query to a body of information, to generate information responsive to the query, and
talcing an action based on the responsive information. 5 71. The method of claim 70 in which taking an action includes sending an electronic mail message containing the responsive information to the user over the publicly accessible electronic network.
72. The method of claim 70 in which the query includes a o question to be answered and the responsive information includes an answer to the question.
73. The method of claim 70 in which the query includes a request for an action or service and taking an action includes providing the action or service in response to the request.
5 74. The method of claim 70 in which the body of information includes textual content.
75. The method of claim 70 in which the body of information includes commercial information.
76. The method of claim 70 in which the action includes filling 0 an order for a product or service.
77. The method of claim 70 in which the natural language query is identified based on an indicator arranged by the user.

78. The method of claim 77 in which the indicator comprises a position of the query within the electronic mail message.
5 79. The method of claim 78 in which the position is within a subject field of the electronic mail message.

80. The method of claim 70 in which the electronic mail message is directed to an address that is prearranged to
automatically receive and respond to the natural language query.

81. A method comprising
5 receiving from a user, over a publicly accessible electronic network, an electronic mail message containing a written natural language query in a subject field of the message, the message being received at an address that is prearranged to automatically receive and respond to the natural language query,
o automatically obtaining the natural language query from the subject field,
using a natural language query engine to apply the natural language queiy to a body of infoπnation, to generate information responsive to the query, and
5 taking an action based on the responsive information.
82. Apparatus comprising
an electronic mail message server connected to receive electronic mail messages containing natural language queries from an electronic network and to send electromc mail messages 0 containing responses to the natural language queries to the
electronic network,
software adapted to identify written natural language queries in electronic mail messages received at the server and to provide information responsive to the natural language queries as 5 electronic mail messages to the server for delivery, and a natural language query engine connected to receive the natural language queries from the electromc mail message server and to apply them to a body of information to obtain the responsive information.
5 83. A method comprising
automatically stripping natural language queries from
electronic mail messages, and
automatically applying the queries to a natural language search engine to generate responsive information, and
o automatically taking action based on the responsive
information.
84. The method of claim 70 in which the written natural
language query is derived by recognition of a spoken natural
language query.
5 85. A method comprising
receiving from a user, over an electronic network, a spoken electronic mail message containing a natural language query,
identifying the natural language query in the spoken
electronic mail message,
0 using a natural language query engine to apply the natural language query to a body of information, to generate information responsive to the query, and
taking an action based on the responsive information.

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