Our Broken Patent System: Company That Does Nothing May Get Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars From Google
from the that's-not-innovation dept
The patent system is completely broken. Towards the end of 2012, we wrote about how a patent troll named Vringo, using some patents (6,314,420 and 6,775,664), had won a lawsuit against Google. Vringo was a failed ringtone company that had bought those highly questionable patents from the failed search engine Lycos and then sued basically everyone who ran a search engine. Microsoft agreed to settle (with a bizarre stipulation promising to pay 5% of whatever Google finally had to pay), while Google agreed to indemnify a bunch of the others that were all using Google’s search under their own. The jury found that Google’s AdWords product infringed, and gave an award much lower than what Vringo had asked for.
However, there was a further dispute about how much Google should have to pay for “ongoing” infringement. Google had argued that it had changed the way AdWords worked to avoid infringement, but Vringo disagreed. A judge not only agreed with Vringo, but has now awarded Vringo effectively 1.36% of all AdWords revenue — which represents the majority of Google’s revenue. No one’s exactly sure how much, but it’s probably in the range of $250 million per year until the patent expires in 2016.
This is silly. There’s nothing in the patent that was key to Google doing what it does. There was nothing in the patent that taught anyone anything. In fact, Vringo flat out concedes that Google didn’t “copy” anything. It just built its own product in a manner that best served its users. And Vringo, which did nothing at all, may now cash in for hundreds of millions of dollars. For doing nothing.
In a true capitalist system, when a company fails it goes out of business. Patents like this are a joke on the free market. They allow failed companies to sue those who succeed and get hundreds of millions of dollars out of them. They let companies that failed cash in for doing nothing — for failing in the market place. It’s a tax on companies that build something consumers want, paid to companies that could never correctly figure out what the market wanted. It means the companies that improve the world have to pay off the companies that have done nothing to improve the world. How is that possibly a fair or reasonable result?
I’m honestly curious for the usual crew of patent system defenders to explain how Vringo deserves ~$250 million a year for not doing anything at all to improve search.