Google’s misstep with Patents

Google has been in the news a lot recently related patents. Why? Well, I think they’ve managed their intellectual property in a naive way. Not an incorrect way. Just one that wasn’t keeping up with the behavior of competitors and trolls in the market place. To date Google has 782 patents, for a company that has produced as many innovative products as it has, this is not very many. Google has been around for 13 years now, founding in 1998. Comparing Google to Apple, looking at patents filed after 1998, is not a good comparison. Apple has filed and received 2600 patents. Sure they’ve been busy working on products and had an established market already. The iPod had already come out by then. Regardless, this indicates that Google has made a major misstep in regard to patents.

I fully applaud Google’s efforts to minimize the number of patents they own. It’s clear from a glance at the patents, they have focused their patents on the ability to search for data as well as data management. They are sorely lacking when it comes to most software. This is most likely why Google has licensing agreements with companies like Intellectual Ventures. To combat the growing web of lawsuits surrounding it’s handset manufacturers and developers Google has been on a spree of both purchasing patents (1,000 from IBM and 12,000 with the purchase of Motorola Mobile) and propaganda against software patents.

Motorola will give Google the patent expertise and experience at defending its patent claims as well as a huge number of patents it will need to defend. I believe this will create a great change in the way that Google deals with intellectual property in general. I’m not entirely sure this is a good thing either. Google may take the route of IBM which both patents things specifically so that other companies can’t patent them and publishes technologies in obscure journals which can be later used to invalidate patents as a form of prior art. However, Google could easily take the route of Apple. This would be extremely bad in my opinion. The route where Google continues to invest in new technologies but patents everything and then makes it difficult for other companies to use that technology. Google has the innovative capabilities to become a huge patent troll.

I think the only good that would come out of that is if Google went after patent trolls.With open source technologies some of the problems with software patenting does go away. As anything with an open source license is technically released into the public and becomes part of the prior art. Unfortunately, that’s also a huge problem with open source. It would be impossible for a patent examiner, who typically has 3 days to approve a patent, to actually find a given software technology which is already being used as open source.

Overall, I think Google is currently attempting to address its misstep with patents. I think that Google will push for patent reform for software patents. I think that with a large enough group of people, including billionaires like Mark Cuban, there could be a significant change in the manner in which software patents are issued. Gaming companies, search engines, and software developers need to work together to address this issue though.

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