Does Google Have A Patent Problem… Or Does The Patent System Have A Google Problem?

from the oddities dept

If you follow patents in the tech world, a good site to watch is LatestPatents.com, which highlights a few big tech companies, listing out the number of patent applications published each week and patents granted each week. What always strikes me is the differences in numbers between the companies. For example, last week, Google had seven patent applications published and seven patents granted. Compare that to Microsoft, which had 35 patent applications published and 40 patents granted. Apple had 21 applications published and 21 patents granted. IBM is, of course, king of them all with 122 patent applications published and 118 patents granted last week alone.

The numbers are pretty consistent, really.

Anyway, Google’s patent policy is getting some attention as it’s announced that it’s bidding on Nortel’s patents almost entirely as an attempt to keep them out of the hands of patent trolls. As we noted last year, all that’s left of Nortel is a big patent portfolio, which we expected to end up with Intellectual Ventures or some other patent troll. However, Google is hoping to step in and explained its reasoning, noting that it would prefer real patent reform, but it recognizes that it may need to buy this portfolio as a defensive move to keep it from getting sued and hopes that it allows greater innovation.

Amazingly, patent supporters are interpreting this as being Google having to “catch up” on “patent ownership,” as if the company has made a huge mistake in not going patent crazy in its early years. That entire article seems to take the position that not patenting everything was a “mistake” on Google’s part, rather than a recognition that patents aren’t necessary for innovation, and actually may be a hindrance to innovation. Now that Google is being pushed to shell out close to a billion dollars just to get some patents it doesn’t really seem to want or need, shouldn’t that be evidence that the patent system has a Google problem, in that Google didn’t (and doesn’t) really need patents to innovate, rather than Google having a patent problem?

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Companies: google, nortel

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Comments on “Does Google Have A Patent Problem… Or Does The Patent System Have A Google Problem?”

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33 Comments
fogbugzd (profile) says:

Worse than the Nuclear Option

Supposedly one thing that keeps big companies from suing each other on patent issues is the threat of the “nuclear option” where the defendant counters with by suing the plaintiff for violations of its patent portfolio. This deterrent only works if the plaintiff is actually producing products and innovating; if it is just a patent troll it is relatively immune to the nuclear option retaliation.

Google has generally not chosen to go with the usual massive portfolio needed to make the threat of the nuclear option credible. Google is doing something worse than the nuclear option. They are actually defending themselves on the merits of the case. If you sue Google and press them too hard, they are likely to defend the patent by trying to invalidate your patent or limit its scope. In the worst (or best) case scenario they might try to fight the patent system itself and invalidate an entire class of patents such as software patents. This is a risky strategy, but it is a credible threat against trolls as well as producing companies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Worse than the Nuclear Option

The parallels with nuclear strategy are, indeed, uncanny.

Patents are like nuclear weapons. The practice of stocking up on patents is like the M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) strategy: if you fire all of your patents against me, I’ll fire all of my patents against you and nobody wins, so we are both better off not attacking.

If I have more/broader patents than you, I can strike when/where you least expect it, giving me First Strike capability.

Patent trolls are like “rogue states”. They have nothing to lose and everything to win, so they just fire patents at random, nuking everything on their path. They are the greatest threat to the “stability” of the patent system.

The only thing I am missing is where does Google fit in all this. Are they building a missile shield? Or perhaps working on a permanent patent disarmament treaty? Not sure yet.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Worse than the Nuclear Option

“they are likely to defend the patent by trying to invalidate your patent or limit its scope”

Unfortunately, that’s the more expensive route. They are looking at this billion dollar purchase as a bargain defense against patent litigation from practicing entities – remember, NPE’s have a lot less to lose in a patent battle.

That’s crazy. If the patent system really worked, INNOVATION would be the best defense. Instead, it means you routinely have to go the incredibly long and expensive route of getting a bad patent invalidated or defending your invention as unique enough. It’s cheaper to buy up a bunch of broad patents to threaten people with when they show up lookng for a handout.

I think our patent system is really a cleverly disguised protection scheme – probably being run secretly by the mafia.

Mike42 (profile) says:

Effects of patents on innovation

Hey, check this out! It’s called a Hypertree, a really cool way to view releated data: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbolic_tree

The only problem is, it’s patented by Xerox until at least 2016. So the only software using it is HP Openview and some European academic projects.

See, patents foster innovation! Just like the Obama administration fosters transparancy, and government cuts foster job creation.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you go bankrupt, your patents should be abolished. They shouldn’t be sold to pay debt, patents give no innovative incentive to use those patents to pay creditors more of what you owe in opposed to paying them less of what you owe since you’re going out of business regardless.

People don’t get patents in hopes that, if/when they go out of business, they will be able to pay more of what they owe in opposed to paying less of what they owe, and so they should get more patents to innovate. Heck, people who get patents for innovative purposes probably don’t exactly plan on going out of business to begin with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

and it’s not like giving your patent to someone else after going out of business helps that other person invent anything. According to IP maximists, the patent already invented it, so there is no need for the patent to be transferred or sold over to someone else so that they can get a monopoly on something that they didn’t innovate. It didn’t give them incentive to innovate, since the person buying the patent invented/innovated nothing, they merely bough monopoly privileges, which isn’t inventive or innovative. Better to give them incentive to invent/innovate by forcing them to get new patents on new inventions.

xs (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You must have some very wacky IP clauses in the non-compete agreement you signed. Non-compete are designed to stop people from taking confidential information belonging to Company A and use it at work for Company B. It has nothing to do with patents, ownership of patents, and transferability of patents.

If the IP was not developed by the scientist/engineer, then the change to IP’s transferability doesn’t impact him one way or the other.

If the IP was developed by the scientist/engineer, but owned by the company, then this change wouldn’t impact him one way or the other.

If the IP was developed by the scientist/engineer, and owned by him personally, then the IP rights just go with him when he changes job regardless of its transferability. so the change still doesn’t impact him one way or the other.

If the IP is jointly owned by scientis/engineer and the company, then they would still share the ownership of the IP after he changes job, still isn’t impacted by the change.

angry dude says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Punk,

you have no clue just like the rest of this stupid crowd

Patents are ALWAYS owned by inventors initially but get implicitly assigned to their corporate employers when an inventor signs an IP clause (usually on the very first day of employment)

This is a very standard practice in high-tech – there is no way to avoid it

IP clause can be very comprehensive, downright scary – they want to own you outright. THis is especially true with larger companies like Mshit, IBM etc.

That’s the reason I stay away from large tech companies – this way at least I can own things I do in my spare time, even if costs me money in terms of paycheck

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

While I believe that patents should largely be abolished or retracted, the above isn’t arguing that patents should be non- transferable (and it’s not arguing that they shouldn’t be). It’s merely arguing that allowing their transferability to exist when a company/debtor is going bankrupt/out of business as a means of paying your creditors makes no sense in light of the alleged purpose of patents, which is to promote the progress. They’re not a means to help pay debt, they’re a means to promote the progress, and the argument that using them to pay debt can incentivize a company that’s going out of business anyways makes no sense. They’re going out of business regardless, what do they care if they pay back $100 of what they owe or $1000 of what they do?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“PATENTS ARE PROPERTY”

If they’re property merely because you define them as such, then your arguments must take into consideration the distinction between property as defined by you and property as defined by others.

“Just like any other property”

Cars are buses, just like any other buses. Fine, lets define a car as a bus. There are differences and if I want to discuss buses and call them cars then my discussions need to make such distinctions where such distinctions apply.

“And property is the foundation of this capitalistic society”

If intellectual property is an important aspect of this capitalistic society, then you have to show that this capitalistic society can’t be replaced by a better capitalistic society without patents. I argue that it can.

angry dude says:

You are an idiot, Mikey

In the very beginning Google was almost entirely on the server-side, with no code exposed to the outside world:
Hence no need for patents to protect their technology and almost no exposure to patent threats

Contrast this to MShit or IBM with their heavy exposure on the client/equipment side of IT business

Still remember Netscape ?

I guess you don’t – you were still going under your parents table to piss when they vanisned

They had great tech (at the time) but no patents

staff says:

we?re not going to pay

Call it what you will…patent hoarder, patent troll, non-practicing entity, etc. It all means one thing: ?we?re using your invention and we?re not going to pay?. This is just dissembling by large infringers to kill any inventor support system. It is purely about legalizing theft.

Prior to eBay v Mercexchange, small entities had a viable chance at commercializing their inventions. If the defendant was found guilty, an injunction was most always issued. Then the inventor small entity could enjoy the exclusive use of his invention in commercializing it. Unfortunately, injunctions are often no longer available to small entity inventors because of the Supreme Court decision so we have no fair chance to compete with much larger entities who are now free to use our inventions. Worse yet, inability to commercialize means those same small entities will not be hiring new employees to roll out their products and services. And now some of those same parties who killed injunctions for small entities and thus blocked their chance at commercializing now complain that small entity inventors are not commercializing. They created the problem and now they want to blame small entities for it. What dissembling! If you don?t like this state of affairs (your unemployment is running out), tell your Congress member. Then maybe we can get some sense back in the patent system with injunctions fully enforceable on all infringers by all inventors, large and small.

For the truth about trolls, please see http://truereform.piausa.org.

patent litigation (user link) says:

"defensive"?

Since Intellectual Ventures started suing, I now completely disbelieve the claims of any business entity that it is buying up patents for “defensive purposes only.” However, even when it does inevitably start suing, Google will likely be able to evade the “patent troll” label (and thus take advantage of judicial preference for “practicing” entities over NPEs/PAEs), since it also engages in R&D. Clever.

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