Google Doesn't Rely On Intellectual Property For Its Leadership Position

from the stop-saying-it dept

In the various debates we have on intellectual property, we often hear people insisting that Google’s dominance is based on intellectual property — even though there’s very little evidence to support this at all. The people who make this argument are guilty of the same mistake made in studies that count all things covered by intellectual property laws as if they only exist because of those laws. Entertainment industry lobbyists, like The Copyright Alliance, love to tout that “$1.52 trillion of the nation’s GDP” comes from intellectual property. But that’s both misleading and wrong. The number itself is exaggerated, but it also gives credit to intellectual property for anything that touches IP. For example, when we dug into the methodology, we saw that the study counts things that clearly were not because of IP law: such as furniture and jewelry. Are the Copyright Alliance and its entertainment backers really trying to suggest that without copyright law we would have no furniture or jewelry?

Similarly, Google often gets lumped into these discussions, with people insisting that its position in the market is due to copyright and patents. Google does, in fact, have a bunch of patents — but I watch the patent app filings and patent grants on a bunch of different companies each week, and Google tends to file significantly fewer patents than other comparable companies. Furthermore, I don’t know of a single case where Google even hinted at or threatened another company with a patent infringement suit (if there are any examples, please let me know). It appears that Google has focused very much on just using patents for defensive purposes, since it is regularly sued by others for infringement.

Matt Asay, over at, has now highlighted an even stronger example of how Google is showing that it’s not relying on intellectual property, but on execution, for its business position. The company recently open sourced its Closure tools, which it uses to build its web services (disclosure: I’m good friends with one of the folks involved in this project, and yes, he reads Techdirt regularly). As Asay puts it:

In many ways, Google is giving away the recipe to those that would like to build a Google clone.

The problem? Google is so much more than software.

In fact, one of the primary reasons that Google can write and open-source so much software is that it isn’t a software company. Not even remotely. I could have every line of Google’s software, both open source and proprietary, and I couldn’t hope to compete with Google.

Google is what Google does with the software, and not the software itself.

It’s the execution, not the idea. It’s the service, not the code.

In fact, this sort of activity confuses the hell out of companies that do rely on intellectual property. Again, Asay makes this clear:

Google and Red Hat have moved beyond software. Software enables their operations, but software doesn’t define such operations. Google, for its part, is open sourcing Microsoft, one line of code at a time, and Microsoft hasn’t a clue as to how to respond, because it only knows the old world: competition through better IP.

And that — right there — is the key point we keep trying to make around here. You don’t need to rely on intellectual property. And, if you do, you are opening yourself up wide to competition that doesn’t rely on IP and innovates in a way that simply cuts your legs out from under you. Yet… we’ll still hear stories for years about how all of Google’s billions are because of its intellectual property, even as it gives away more and more of it each and every day.

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Comments on “Google Doesn't Rely On Intellectual Property For Its Leadership Position”

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iNtrigued (profile) says:

Is this bad?

If someone told me tomorrow that Google is starting its own country, I would be like, “Well that makes sense. Good for them.” To me they define what a company should be.

Interesting side note, I remember a time not too long ago when my brother had an extra credit question on a quiz that asked to list two search engines. Guess what, the teach counted wrong. If they have been able to go from search engine nothingness to major innovator in less than 10 years, what are they going to be in another 10-20 years.

The last time we saw growth like this we got Micro$oft. But something tells me Google is heading in a completely different direction. The Anti-Microsoft? Time will tell I guess.

angry dude says:

Mikey is a moron

You are full of your usual shit, mikey-boy

Google started on a server side, with minimal exposure of their IP to competitors

netscape, on the other hand, was on a client side and tried to compete woth Mshit

Where is Netscape now, mikey-boy ?

You don’t remember the name ? because you were too young and pissing under your parent’s dinign table when all of this happened ?

Now Google can do to MShit whatever they want because they are HUGE and have loads of cash

JUst another clueless anti-patent PR rant from mikey

R. Miles (profile) says:

Re: Mikey is a moron

Where is Netscape now, mikey-boy ?
And you call Mike the moron? Incredible. Anyone with a history knowledge of browsers knows exactly what happened to Netscape, and quite a portion of this comes from Microsoft undermining Netscape’s business model to charge for its browser by offering its free version with every Windows purchase.


R. Miles (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Mikey is a moron

it’s not “free” IE that killed Netscape Navigator
Well, there’s also the fact internal company decisions also helped kill Netscape, but there’s absolute *NO* disputing that Microsoft’s bundling of IE (and everyone needs an OS, moron) into Windows helped its demise.

But given *you* were pissing under your parents dining table when all this occurred, it explains your position.

As well as your grammar.

Hell, I bet you don’t even know what IE stands for.

John Doe says:

Re: Mikey is a moron

How does exposing one’s IP (boy that sounds dirty) come to play here? Google may not have exposed their IP early on, but they sure weren’t out beating others into submission in the courts with it. Instead, they beat them in the market place. So the point here is, it didn’t take litigation to win, it took implementation to win. Exposing your IP or keeping it private wasn’t the point here.

In short, it is not the size of your IP that matters, it is how you use it. 😉

KevinJ (profile) says:

Re: Mikey is a moron

Where is Netscape now, mikey-boy ?

The browser Netscape is basically gone, but the people behind it aren’t. Versions 6 and 7 of Netscape were based on the Mozilla Suite. The Mozilla Suite is a cross-platform integrated internet suite built by the Mozilla Corporation. They are now focused on Firefox and Thunderbird. And with Firefox, they are maintaining or winning market share through open source coding and implementation rather than heavy handed use of IP. Hope that answers your question.

Anonymous Coward says:

Google makes their money off of other people’s work – they have discovered that getting in the middle of billions of transactions every day is the best way to make money. They are entirely dependant on IP – everyone else’s IP, that is.

As I have said before. The day everyone blocks Google on robots.txt is the day Google stops functioning. All the software in the world won’t change it.

John Doe says:

Re: Re:

Why would anyone do this? The relationship with google is a symbiotic one, they provide search results with ads that lead to your site. You get traffic from google and therefore not only allow google to crawl your site, you do everything in your power so that they will crawl your site and rank you near the top.

So in theory you are right, but that won’t happen in practice.

angry dude says:

Re: Re:

“They are entirely dependant on IP – everyone else’s IP, that is”

Exactly, dude

TO be more specific, Google depends on everyone else’s trademarks

Just like MIkey depends on on his shitty techdirt trademark

Abolish trademarks and google will collapse (with the rest of e-commerce)

Trademarks are form of IP

angry dude says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You are positively retarded, dude

when you search Google in order to buy some latest brand of penis enlarger or a male masturbation device Google comes back with some answers which are registered trademarks

YOu won’t buy some no-name penis enlarger from some dude on the internet, will you punky ?

John Doe says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Actually, I wouldn’t buy either of those kinds of devices but lets just go with your scenario since it seems to be one you can relate to (and quite likely have experience with). So what if other peoples products/trademarks show up in the results; many of those people pay to be in the search results. The ones that don’t pay do their best to get near the top of those results organically. Not harm done here and in reality both parties win.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nope, the day everyone stops buying a certain brand, that brand disappears.

Ask American Motors about that one!

Google isn’t the only player out there, just the biggest. But like the previous biggest players (like yahoo, excite, altavista, hotbot, etc) they all end up having a fall.

Google has set themselves up to be in a world of hurt if public opinion turns against them at all, as they are entirely dependant on people being nice to them.

iNtrigued (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Google has set themselves up to be in a world of hurt if public opinion turns against them at all, as they are entirely dependent on people being nice to them.”

Well that’s good, because have you seen the way they treat their employees? Pool tables, free cereal, $10,000 bonus for good ideas, etc. I wish my employer was that cool. Barring any huge mistakes, which so far doesn’t seem likely, they are in a position to succeed where others have failed because of their openness and business model. I don’t see public opinion turning anytime soon.

But a decade or so from now, we’ll have to see how things pan out.

Personally, between technological innovation and business innovation we live in some exciting times. And companies like Google & Mozilla are poised to be the big winners if they play their cards right.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Google has set themselves up to be in a world of hurt if public opinion turns against them at all, as they are entirely dependant on people being nice to them.(sic)

I don’t know about you, but this is *exactly* where I want all corporations to be. When they have a government grated monopoly to keep them in business regardless of public opinion, that’s when things go to shit.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

This is going just a bit too far. Before Google there was AltaVista, and before AltaVista there was Yahoo. Before that, the Internet was pretty well organized, although the World Wide Web was a bit of a no-man’s land. Google does it differently, probably better, but it was not the first to “cut through the noise and ma[ke] [the Internet] navigable.”

Not that angry dude is making any sense, but this isn’t why he’s crazy.

Comboman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Google makes their money off of other people’s work – they have discovered that getting in the middle of billions of transactions every day is the best way to make money. They are entirely dependant on IP – everyone else’s IP, that is.

Lots of companies make their money by getting in the middle of transactions. FedEx makes lots of money delivering products from producers to consumers. Should the producer get upset because FedEx is making money off his customers, with his products? Or should he be thankful that they supply a valuable service to him and his customers, allowing everyone to make more money?

The Cenobyte (profile) says:

Google sues for IP a lot...

For a company that doesn’t care about IP. I just didn’t a quick google search for ‘google sues’ and found dozens of suits filed by google over use of there IP and trademarks.

As to MS killing Netscape. Anyone that was around using the web at the time knows what killed Netscape. Netscape died because Netscape 4 sucked so bad no one was willing to use it. IE 4 however was twice as fast, loaded faster, loaded pages faster. (Please keep in mind that at this point both IE and Netscape where free to the public). If it had just been giving the browser away that had killed Netscape why didn’t it die when IE 3.5 came out, it was free to download and Netscape you still had to pay for. Why? Because IE 3.5 sucked and Netscape that the only product worth using. (I mean what where you going to use Lynx?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Google sues for IP a lot...

It sort of typical techduh stuff, re-write history to suit your purpose.

Netscape died because it failed to be the best, and the best was not only way better, but free. Heck, Mike should be all over it as a way to show the disruptive nature of free in a business.

But the story wouldn’t hang so well on that concept, so we get a little alternate history. Mike will say “I didn’t write the story” but in the end, he republished it and appears to be agreeing with the content.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Google sues for IP a lot...

As to Netscape – agreed. Netscape’s browser share died because its browser was bloated and sucked. IE was better. Now IE is bloated and sucks, but processors are so fast we hardly notice. MS has outstanding timing.

As to Google suing… that is more than a little misleading. Google has been involved in a number of lawsuits, but has only initiated a few. The ones it started are, for the most part, not IP suits. For instance, Google sued MS for antitrust. The exception I know of is the 2005 suit against Froogles (first hit if you google “google sues,” as you suggested). Given that Google had a product out called “Froogle” at the time, the lawsuit was probably well-advised (unlike most of the craptastic IP litigation out there from companies that think a lawsuit is their ticket to paradise).

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Google sues for IP a lot...

You can’t just lump copyrights and trademarks together, they’re completely different. If you’re going to conflate two of those three, you should say patent/copyright. Trademark is separate. Yes, Google has sued over trademarks, anti-trust matters, and fraud, but I couldn’t find any evidence of them filing suit about either patents or copyrights.

Anonymous Coward says:


Most successful companies, even those with a lot of patents such as IBM and Samsung, gained their position because they have good products. Patents helps them stay in that position by preventing the copycats from copying their IP faster than they can develop new IP.

As for Google, they sue over trademarks and domain names, but no suits over patents.

Nick says:

Google has threatened for IP infringement

Not patent, but copyright. Google very recently sent a cease and desist letter to the developer of the most popular modified Android OS distribution because he was re-distributing closed source apps like the Gmail client and Android Market client.

Sure, he was able to find a work-around, but he was still threatened for helping other people to have a better experience using Google’s services on Android handsets. The end result has been an extra hoop for people using his distribution to jump through.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Moderate the blog comments

“Nay” to more moderation.

The comments really only represent the blog reader’s musings, and are already moderated to an extent. Name calling is part of the political process as we have seen, and I think “punky abortion victim” is just as valid as “communist terrorist free america-hater” when it comes this practice.

I think angry dude actually adds value somewhat… but that’s just me.

Tyler (profile) says:

Hmm… someone said something about the day people stop driving cars, car companies will stop functioning. I recognize that it was sarcasm (and good sarcasm at that, I “lol’ed, out loud” to quote a friend of mine… anyway…)

I think that the smart car companies will simply stop functioning as car companies. According to their Wikipedia article, Studebaker is still around as a loan provider…. thought someone might be interested to know that…

evgen says:

Google would not exist without patent protection

It is obvious that this claim does not pass even the most basic sniff test. Open-sourcing trivialities like Closure is nice, but where is the open-sourced version of Google’s filesystem, analytics, etc. These are the magic bits that make money, not UI bells and whistles. Today their competitive advantage is in scale, but that was not always the case.

To bring this back to reality, I was involved in Yahoo’s incorporation of Google search results back in the day when Yahoo was huge and Google was a small, scrapy startup. Google made it very, VERY clear that they felt the PageRank patent was defensible and that they would sue if any attempt was made to duplicate it within Yahoo (and Yahoo legal agreed with them.) If it was not for the protection of the patent system, Yahoo would have copied and crushed Google by 2001 and they would have been lucky to get bought by Microsoft for maybe a billion or so.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Google would not exist without patent protection

Google made it very, VERY clear that they felt the PageRank patent was defensible and that they would sue if any attempt was made to duplicate it within Yahoo (and Yahoo legal agreed with them.) If it was not for the protection of the patent system, Yahoo would have copied and crushed Google by 2001 and they would have been lucky to get bought by Microsoft for maybe a billion or so.

That is the same that I heard in the trenches.

PageRank brought people to Google. Pay-per-click monetized the traffic.

The value of PageRank for the average user has sadly declined with fraud and over-zealous SEO. However, Pay-per-click is alive and well, and making Google (and a few others) plenty of money to keep them out of the “litigate for profit” business model.

Google did rely on IP to reach maturity, but they use an open business model to survive and thrive today.

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

wow.. did i stroll into a full moon or are people just not taking their meds tonight???

first, all successful *LARGE* businesses rely on IP somewhere at some point. maybe theirs, maybe someone elses… but thats NOT the point that was being made in the article to begin with.
the actual point being made is that google has been successful in out-maneuvering its competition (for the most part and/or just flat buying the competition when they couldnt compete very well) rather than tossing out a ton of shaky patents and suing the hell out of everyone who had an idea that even remotely sounded similar.

and while they were going that route, the patent trolls were suing everyone in sight for a bit of money now but nothing to keep them going in the long term… leaving them pretty much with no future.

you can sit here and toss out comparisons and argue points that have nothing to do with any of this all day long (i.e nutscrape vs intardnet exploder) but all you are doing is serving up a freakshow and proving that you have absolutely no idea what mike was talking about in the first place.

how bout some civility and sanity here… or even just some thorazine maybe…geezzee…

Allen (profile) says:

It really depends on what intellectual property is. Patents and Copyright might form a legal framework on which you can pretend that ideas can owned, but this blog highlights the problems with that distortion regularly.

But if you can accept the concept that ideas can be owned in the first place then trade secrets like the “secret sauce” to their page rank algorithm are as much “property” as ideas covered by patents are. From this it follows that Google are totally reliant on their IP. Without their page ranking technology they would be nothing.

On the other hand intellectual property is an oxymoron and any treatment of ideas as property is a distortion.

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