Are Any Of The Patents Google Got With Motorola Mobility Any Good?

from the does-it-even-matter? dept

With all of the attention Google bought for buying Motorola Mobility for its patents, one question that not too many people asked was whether or not those patents were any good. Of course, when you're dealing with 17,000 patents and the fact that Google has shown no signs of planning to go on the offensive with patent fights, it seems clear that the point of getting this patent portfolio was very much about quantity over quality -- mainly to ward off lawsuits from other big companies, with the recognition that somewhere in those 17,000 patents was probably something that the other company infringed upon.

Still, the folks at M-CAM decided to put the Motorola Mobility patent portfolio to the test by using a variety of scoring techniques, and believes that the portfolio isn't all that valuable, both in the aggregate and at the specific level. It basically found that about 48% of the patents are probably worthless. At the specific level, the company looked at the 18 patents that Motorola Mobility had asserted against Apple, suggesting that these particular patents may be the "stars" of the bunch -- but, again, found that nine of those patents were "impaired," and were unlikely to be very strong or valuable.

The report notes that buying and maintaining dubious patents probably isn't a particularly good value by itself:
Google is paying $12.5 billion for alleged assets that include a 17,000 patent portfolio, of which close to half appear to serve as deterrent value alone. The cost of maintaining patents of dubious quality will be an ongoing and potentially unnecessary liability to Google and its shareholders. Regrettably, close to half of the portfolio deemed "best" based on previous assertions have substantial weaknesses. Google’s patent stockpiling initiative appears to be focused entirely on deterrent value rather than on acquiring quality assets. Google shareholders may take some small solace in the adoption of a multi pronged defensive strategy, but may want to demand higher quality standards for the assets and liabilities acquired in future transactions.
Of course, if Google's goal is longer term, it's possible that this isn't such a crazy deal. Already, we've seen that this acquisition alone has been a key driving force in getting lots of people (and especially the press) to admit that the patent system is clearly broken. Spending that much to get that kind of widespread awareness may be worth it... if it leads to real reform (which is still a big question mark). On top of that, if the quantity of patents has a deterrent value, no matter the quality of the overall bunch, it's likely that Google will still find it "worth it." However, the fact that it now needs to maintain these 17,000 patents, where approximately half may have no direct commercial value, really demonstrates (yet again) the massive "tax" of bad patents on companies.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    BearGriz72 (profile), Aug 31st, 2011 @ 10:51pm

    Raised Hand...

    Just out of curiosity, just what is involved in "maintaining patents". I have not to my recollection previously encountered the concept. I thought that once the patent was approved that was it, it was yours until it expired, unless there was some sort of challenge/suit involved.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2011 @ 11:16pm

    m-cam seems patently anti-patent.

     

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  3.  
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    The eejit (profile), Aug 31st, 2011 @ 11:58pm

    Re: Raised Hand...

    I think it's a Gladiator-style legal challenge, only with less lion and more vulture.

     

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  4.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 1:06am

    Wrong Measure

    The question is, can a crack platoon of lawyers use these patents to scare the shit out of other companies? Remember, it doesn’t matter whether the case will stand up in court or not, the sheer cost and hassle of getting that far will deter all but the most iron-stomached opponents.

    Most of Microsoft’s patents are probably equally worthless. Most of Apple’s patents are almost certainly equally worthless. Doesn’t matter if the gun can only fire blanks; the fact that it looks like a big gun is threat enough.

     

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  5.  
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    NotMyRealName (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 2:25am

    Re: Wrong Measure

    a 17,000 lawsuit-per-minute gatling cannon. with concrete in the barrels.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 2:28am

    Re: Raised Hand...

    There are challenges and there is anual fees that must be paid and there are dates for renewing, expanding, appending and all of those things cost money.

    17 thousands patents can cost up to hundreds of millions of dollar a year to maintain.

     

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  7.  
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    FuzzyDuck, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 2:39am

    Re: Wrong Measure

    Also, even worthless patents are often upheld in the courts, so there's always a risk involved for the defending party.

    This means that volume matters, if an x% of patents can stick in court, regardless of their real quality, then the more you have the better. And the party with the larger stack wins.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 2:48am

    Re: Raised Hand...

    Maintain Your Patent
    http://www.uspto.gov/patents/process/maintain.jsp
    Expired Patents for Failure to Pay Maintenance Fees
    http://www.uspto.gov/patents/process/expform.jsp

    http://www.the-business-of-patents.com/pat ent-maintenance-fees.html

    Only the big boys can afford huge patent portfolios maybe that is why almost all garbage patents only have a life span of 12 years because nobody wants to pay the 5 thousand dollar fee that comes with it.
    http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2010/06/patent-maintenance-fee-data.html

    Now why copyright doesn't work like that every 3 years you should have to renew your copyright.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Spade, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 4:58am

    Re: Wrong Measure

    Considering that Microsoft and Apple were already suing Motorola Mobility prior to the acquisition, it doesn't seem very likely that Google got much patent protection in this deal. And with CEO Sanjay Jha making very public statements about how they were going to use their patents to go after other Android handset makers, it seems more likely that Google was forced into this deal:

    I don’t think it’s curious at all why Google didn’t simply license Motorola’s patents. Motorola held out for a full acquisition at a premium far above the company’s actual value, and threatened to go after its sibling Android partners if Google didn’t acquiesce. Thus the public threats from Jha and Icahn. Thus the high price. Thus the lack of a simpler, cheaper licensing agreement. Thus the unusual $2.5 billion reverse breakup fee.

    In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that Google had no intention of doing any kind of deal with Motorola at all, until they forced Google's hand with their threats. Others see the deal as Google wanting to exert stronger control over Android, and wanting to prevent Motorola Mobility from settling with Microsoft or Apple on terms unfavorable to Android's long-term future. Though it still may not prevent Google from embarrassment if those cases don't go in their favor:

    If regulatory scrutiny delays the closing of the acquisition, Google could end up buying a company that is formally enjoined from importing Android-based devices into the United States. That would be a really awkward situation. In that kind of scenario, Google might come under pressure from its own shareholders to consider paying the huge $2.5 billion break-up fee. Such an outcome could also raise serious questions about the strength of MMI's portfolio.

    ...which fits with the overall lack of patent strength noted by M-CAM, further reinforcing my conviction that it's a mistake to focus on the patent angle of the Google-Motorola Mobility deal.

     

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  10.  
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    radjin, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 5:04am

    Just more money to waste...

    Google does not get it. They want so bad to be in the hardware business, yet they have no clue. They need to dump the crap, quit spending money that serves no pourpose and focus on what they do best, search and advertising, or in ten years they are going to be a memory.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Spade, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 5:16am

    Re: Re: Wrong Measure

    ...a mistake to focus on the patent angle as the reason for the Google-Motorola Mobility deal, I meant.

     

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  12.  
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    abc gum, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 5:21am

    "Are Any Of The Patents Google Got With Motorola Mobility Any Good?"

    The terms patent & good are mutually exclusive.

     

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  13.  
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    btrussell (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 5:26am

    Re: Re: Raised Hand...

    Can you now answer why they have to maintain all of them? If they decide half are garbage, why do they have to maintain the garbage ones?

    "One mans garbage is another mans gold"

     

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  14.  
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    btrussell (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 5:45am

    "Are Any Of The Patents Google Got With Motorola Mobility Any Good?"

    Does it matter?


    This reminds me of the guy who always says "you should have told me, I could have got you one for half that."

    After being told that, people ask me if I think it is true and did they waste their money? To which I reply, "were you happy with the agreement when it was made? Then (you got a good deal!)(why did you agree?)

     

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  15.  
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    btrussell (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 5:50am

    Re:

    And then this in the very next article:

    "The crux of a strong market system is that it enables transactions where all parties are happy with the results, and all parties feel they came out better off."

    If I had read newest to oldest, I could have saved myself some pecking.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    David Martin, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 6:21am

    Anti-patent

    Far from it. M-CAM has a long history of promoting patents which are issued in compliance with U.S. and international law. We are opposed to plagiarisms being passed off as patents and opposed to a system in which over 60% of patents, when subjected to second review, are held invalid.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 6:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Raised Hand...

    Short answer: No!

    For that I would have to look at each and every patent to see what they are about.

    Only after that, hopefully one would have a picture of what is or not worth it or could be worth it in the future.

    Also without understanding for what is good or having no way to know what could be in the future it may trigger the hoarding mentality, just keep hoping it could be useful in the future.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 7:21am

    It basically found that about 48% of the patents are probably worthless.

    So, better than average for patents overall, right?

     

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  19.  
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    Old Fool (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 7:21am

    The answer may be simply Google has much more money than sense, its not the first purchase they have made which has left me scratching my head and wondering.... What! Er, Why?

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 7:28am

    Re: Raised Hand...

    For almost 200 years once a patent issued it remained in full force until its entire term had passed.

    In the 1980's someone happened to notice that in Europe patentees were periodically required to pay what are known as "maintenance fees". Every few years a patentee had to pony up money to keep his/her patent in force. Failure to do so meant that the patent would lapse.

    Not to be outdone in its quest for tax dollars, Congress took note and decided "Hey, let's get on that gravy train as well". The motivation? For decades Congress has been taking away from the USPTO money collected by the USPTO, thus having more money to play with. In fact, this has been a sore point given that the USPTO is supposed to be self-supporting, and it is a bit difficult to keep up with an increasing workload when Congress dips into the money pot and takes away the USPTO's ability to hire needed staff, resources to better research and discover relevant prior art, etc.

    Thus, in the 1980's the "maintenance fee" concept was added to US law, the law requiring three payments (on an escalating fee basis, of course) over the life of a patent if a patentee wanted to enjoy the full term of the patent.

     

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  21.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 7:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Raised Hand...

    Because, even if they are garbage today, does not mean they will be garbage tomorrow when a competitor files a patent suit against them.

     

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  22.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 7:32am

    Re: Re: Raised Hand...

    Hey, that sounds an awful lot like other government programs, FICA, Social Security etc etc. Why let good tax money just sit around waiting to be used when it can be used today in unrelated fields and the difference be made up in debt later.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Stuart, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 7:37am

    Re: Just more money to waste...

    For a company that just "does not get it" they seem to be doing REALLY WELL.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    M-CAM Inc., Sep 1st, 2011 @ 8:20am

    Re:

    We are most definitely not anti-patent. We are pro patents as long as they novel, non-obvious, and reduced to practice. We want to bring more value to the intangible asset class and the only way that can be done is by only granted patents which are truly innovations and not people trying to copy innovation to then get the exclusive rights.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Howard the Duck, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 11:02am

    Re: Just more money to waste...

    "This acquisition will not change our commitment to run Android as an open platform. Motorola will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. We will run Motorola as a separate business. Many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success and we look forward to continuing to work with all of them to deliver outstanding user experiences."

    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/supercharging-android-google-to-acquire.html

    Google didn't buy the patents to only protect themselves. They are protecting the entire Android ecosystem.

     

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  26.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 12:04pm

    MAD and Inflatable Fake Tanks

    It's about quantity. Remember, this is a Mutually Assured Destruction scenario, not an actual patent lawsuit. The way to win in a "cold war" is not to have the most/best weapons, but SIMPLY TO CONVINCE THE ENEMY THAT YOU DO.

    Thus, we have military 'game theory' strategies like inflatable tanks, which look like real tanks from satellite or airborne surveillance. The message, don't attack us on this flank, because we've got tanks up the wazoo.

    For nukes, you don't actually need all the nukes. You just need a few highly visible nuclear tests, then you build missile compounds with visible terrestrial surface features. You don't really even need to dig the subterranean components. The 'bad guys' will think you've got ICBMs with nuke warheads down there, and will not launch their fake missiles because if they did, you would fake bomb the shit outta them.

    In some 17,000 patents, nobody is expected to take the time to find out if there is a "real bomb". All it takes is one, and everyone just assumes that among 17k, there probably is one that is ticking.

     

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  27.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 12:17pm

    Re: Re: Wrong Measure

    Have you factored in the reality that there is NO other valid reason?

    - Build your own custom phones:
    Nope, Google can already do this. Remember the 3 Nexus models?Also, a pretty telling example is Apple, that does not make the iPhone. It is outsourced to Foxconn. That Apple doesn't build the iPhone makes it pretty hard to argue that Google needs to buy an OEM to make a special, customized phone.

    - Channel conflict:
    The one thing that Google certainly gets with MMI is actually a negative. They scare off their OEM partners who don't like the fact that Motorola is likely to get preferred status.

    So, go ahead and argue that it was a BAD patent purchase if you want, but there is no other reason for the MMI acquisition that holds up to even light scrutiny.

     

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  28.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 12:18pm

    Re: Re: Just more money to waste...

    Correct.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Sergey Brin, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 12:45pm

    It was working just fine as a deterrent factor until this report came out...

    Thanks a million. Or should I say, "Thanks 12.5 Billion"

    Regards,
    Sergey

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Jeff (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 1:08pm

    So?

    Since when has having an "impaired" patent on something ever stopped an entity from using it to sue the shit out of someone?

     

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  31.  
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    heyidiot (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 1:17pm

    Pure Gold

    Of course the patents that Google bought are good. Google bought them, so they are good - Q.E.D.

    Has it not been proven over and over that Google's s--- don't stink?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Jon L, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 1:56pm

    To put this in perspective, for 12.5b Google could have hired 10,000 emplyees at an average salary of $75k a year plus benefits and payroll taxes and kept them working for 12 years.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 2:13pm

    Re: Wrong Measure

    Spade:

    Considering that Microsoft and Apple were already suing Motorola Mobility prior to the acquisition, it doesn't seem very likely that Google got much patent protection in this deal.


    As I said, it doesn’t matter how much “protection” the patents really offer, the point is what you do with them. If Google were to use them more aggressively than Motorola, that would make all the difference.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Roland, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 2:44pm

    it's a smokescreen

    Here's "The real reason Google bought Motorola
    Patents are nice, but lovely tax losses are worth more"

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/01/google_buys_tax_breaks_along_with_mobility/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    another mike (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 5:12pm

    Re: it's a smokescreen

    came in here to say this.

    So now Google's got a whole package set: a dedicated manufacturing and marketing channel, a decent sized if not decent quality patent portfolio, and the tax breaks of a company operating at a loss to balance out their huge profits. I think Google knows what their doing and they're going to come out way ahead.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Sep 1st, 2011 @ 10:10pm

    Re: Re: it's a smokescreen

    There was about $3 in short-term cash assets, too.

    You're right. All in all, the parts of the deal add up to more than $12.5B. It was a good deal.

    But, the STRATEGIC value is the patents. That's the motivator.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    icon
    PeterCao (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 10:17pm

    Schmidt in debt

    In [ http://read.bi/ericoutofcontrol ]Eric Schmidt on Sep 2, 4:02 AM said:

    @Peter Cao: Peter. It's me, Eric. I thought we already talked about this. I am going to squash you like a bug if you keep posting on this comment board. What you don't know (but surely suspected) is that the video cameras I installed in your house are allowing me to track everything you do. In fact, I am live streaming your pathetic life, including all the insane searches you do about my home address and love interests, to all my friends on the Stanford faculty. Next I will bring in my mafia-like dark killing power to bear.

    ===========================================================
    Eric, be you real or not Schmidt, so finally, your psychological defense was broken, now that your mind became insane.

    Didn't I defeat you globally wherever you go? You still don't understand, that's because your deeds, killing the innocent and threatening the victim, would not be tolerated anywhere on this planet. Anyone would be alerted of this case when you assisted a Stanford Computer Science faculty Sebastian Thrun to counter Stanford ruling against him and to threatening me from fighting against your crimes, by threatening me with the real murder case of
    Stanford student May Zhou; in fact, police investigation had confirmed it is people on you (Schmidt) and Thrun's side who murdered May Zhou, before I would post the case on the web. Quite a scandal unheard of in history of college education.

    I clearly aware your side is closely watching me though I am a powerless victim on the other side of the earth, because you fear me of my speech to the public about your crimes, crimes you dare not deny, but would drive you insane as you are now. I never search your address or personal issues, other than posting your deeds on the web, this time you are really irritated and finally displayed the evil you to the public.

    Have some manners please. That's not going to save you of your fate as a loser ... You still have to explain to the public of your crimes behind May Zhou's case and plotted murder on me, which got you removed from your CEO position, and so You still have to face the legal conseqences. [ http://bit.ly/mayzhoucase ]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    icon
    PeterCao (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 10:18pm

    Schmidt lost grounds

    In [ http://read.bi/ericoutofcontrol ]Eric Schmidt on Sep 2, 4:02 AM said:

    @Peter Cao: Peter. It's me, Eric. I thought we already talked about this. I am going to squash you like a bug if you keep posting on this comment board. What you don't know (but surely suspected) is that the video cameras I installed in your house are allowing me to track everything you do. In fact, I am live streaming your pathetic life, including all the insane searches you do about my home address and love interests, to all my friends on the Stanford faculty. Next I will bring in my mafia-like dark killing power to bear.

    ===========================================================
    Eric, be you real or not Schmidt, so finally, your psychological defense was broken, now that your mind became insane.

    Didn't I defeat you globally wherever you go? You still don't understand, that's because your deeds, killing the innocent and threatening the victim, would not be tolerated anywhere on this planet. Anyone would be alerted of this case when you assisted a Stanford Computer Science faculty Sebastian Thrun to counter Stanford ruling against him and to threatening me from fighting against your crimes, by threatening me with the real murder case of
    Stanford student May Zhou; in fact, police investigation had confirmed it is people on you (Schmidt) and Thrun's side who murdered May Zhou, before I would post the case on the web. Quite a scandal unheard of in history of college education.

    I clearly aware your side is closely watching me though I am a powerless victim on the other side of the earth, because you fear me of my speech to the public about your crimes, crimes you dare not deny, but would drive you insane as you are now. I never search your address or personal issues, other than posting your deeds on the web, this time you are really irritated and finally displayed the evil you to the public.

    Have some manners please. That's not going to save you of your fate as a loser ... You still have to explain to the public of your crimes behind May Zhou's case and plotted murder on me, which got you removed from your CEO position, and so You still have to face the legal conseqences. [ http://bit.ly/mayzhoucase ]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Tony Vitale, Sep 3rd, 2011 @ 2:45am

    Re: Raised Hand...

    One expense is constant monitoring other companies that may be infringing on those patents. The courts view a companies lack of enforcement of it's patents as a negative and proof that a particular suit is not justified. This forces companies to employ a boat load of attorneys to monitor a wide amount of companies in a wide amount of fields looking for and warning against possible violations.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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