The Latest Patent Suit Against Google

from the just-noticed,-huh? dept

One thing you can be sure of in the technology world today is that if you’re even remotely successful, someone somewhere will attack you for patent infringement. Google has certainly been on the receiving end of more than its fair share of such cases, and the latest one seems particularly bizarre. Based on patents held by a computer science professor at Northeastern University, Kenneth Baclawski, the lawsuit claims that Google has been violating the patent pretty much for its entire existence. Northeastern owns the rights to the patents and is a part of the lawsuit with a company named Jarg, who has licensed the patents from the University. Baclawski claims to have 10 patents, which you can find here. The one that seems likely to be at the center of this lawsuit is on a distributed computer database system and method.

What’s odd, of course, is the fact that the lawsuit is just occurring now, so many years after Google has been widely known. The story that is being spun is that Baclawski and the president of Jarg, Michael Belanger, had no idea that Google might be infringing until an unnamed Boston patent attorney contacted them and pointed it out (after hearing a presentation on how Google works) in 2005. Of course, that was still quite a while ago, and the company explains that away by saying that they didn’t want to pay a lawyer upfront and it took all this time to find one who would sue (in Marshall, Texas, of course) on contingency. However, as one patent attorney notes: “I find it equally unbelievable that it took them 2.5 years to find a contingency lawyer to take the case. Unless the patent is really crappy….” Indeed, with the number of patent lawsuits being filed these days on contingency (many of which would appear much weaker than this one), it seems hard to believe it would take so long.

Either way, this is yet another perfectly good example of how the patent system is not supposed to work. No one is accusing Google of somehow “stealing” this idea by seeing the patent and building it themselves. No one even seems to be saying that this is central to the company’s success (the fact that the inventor himself didn’t even think Google was infringing until after a patent attorney pointed it out is pretty telling here). Yet, now Google is being sued for supposedly infringing. In other words, this is clearly a case where even if there is infringement (and that may be questioned) it’s quite clear that Google developed their own version independently, and Google’s success has nothing to do with Jarg or Baclawski. While independent invention is (for reasons that still don’t make any sense) not a valid defense to infringement claims, it still seems ridiculous to think that Google caused any kind of “damages” to this other firm (or Northeastern) at all. The patent system is supposed to spur innovation. Google clearly did innovate and did so in a big way totally independent of this patent. To then punish the company goes against the very principles of the patent system.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “The Latest Patent Suit Against Google”

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I like Mike says:

“While independent invention is (for reasons that still don’t make any sense) not a valid defense to infringement claims…”

Tell that to Apple when they sued M$ for infringement on Apple’s GUI. M$’s defense was that while it had the same ‘look & feel’ they independently developed their own GUI. Seems to me these guys will be hard pressed to prove Google ‘stole’ their patent. But then again, since the patent office lets you file an idea for an invention Google may just have to pay these guys to go away.

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