Google has acquired more than 1000 patents from IBM in order to pad its portfolio. Patent litigation is a theater of the absurd in most cases, but it has evolved into a standard business practice among tech companies, and Google needs more fodder to defend itself.
Once upon a time, a patent had a purpose. Someone who creates a unique process, or innovative product should be rewarded for his or her efforts, and that accomplishment should be safeguarded from simply being copied or stolen by rivals.
When it comes to patents today, though, is any of it really unique or innovative anymore? Tech patents seem to be predominantly vague and over-reaching. The intent is to be ambiguous enough in defining what exactly the patent is that you can apply it to virtually anything in the event that you choose to instigate a patent infringement lawsuit, or end up needing to defend yourself against one.
Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, recognizes that patent litigation is absurd. He recently stated that the plague of patent infringement lawsuits is stifling innovation, and that companies are using their patent portfolios to bully rivals and prevent products or services from competing.
Of course, Walker finished that argument by using it as a justification for why Google has to get in on the patent portfolio game. Google is a relative new kid on the block compared with its major rivals, and it doesn’t have the depth of patents necessary to adequately defend itself from companies like Apple or Microsoft.
Florian Mueller, a technology patent and intellectual property analyst, shared with me via email, “In my opinion the root cause of the problem is that politicians believe larger numbers of patents granted by a patent office correspond to more innovation. If the economy or even just the tech sector had grown at a rate anywhere near the rate at which the numbers of patent applications and grants increased over the last 10 to 15 years, we’d be living in a period of unprecedented growth.”
Mueller explains that it is a complex catch-22. The patent system is broken to some extent, but drafting a solution that can somehow differentiate between desirable or undesirable patents in a way that patent examiners, judges, or juries can easily understand and apply consistently is virtually impossible. He sums up with, “Any major change would inevitably come with substantial collateral damage and screaming protest from those who see themselves affected by any such proposal.”
So, we are left with this system where the content of the patent is almost less important than the number of patents. It is a sort of nuclear arms race for software and technology companies. He with the most patents wins.
Now, Google has 1000 more patents in its arsenal and it is that much more prepared for PatentGeddon.