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Google Acquires Over 1,000 IBM Patents (seobythesea.com)
142 points by rmrm on July 29, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

At this point software patents are broken beyond repair. The express purpose of patents is to encourage innovation. They're being used only to dampen innovation now. Why is that? The main reason is that patents, when created, are absurdly broad and often obvious and still accepted. Well over 90% of the existing software patents should have been denied as they're obvious ideas. There's a patent on backing up data online for heaven's sake. It's now to the point that anything you do on a computer will violate a patent somewhere.

What's even worse than stupid patents is the money being paid for them. A collection of patents, most of which are useless, being bought for billions of dollars is stupid. That money could have gone into R&D, employee salary, etc any of which would have been better. And the worst part? The reason you should be able to buy a patent is so that you can produce new technology and software with the unique idea contained in it. Unfortunately, the patents don't see the light of day as software because they're bought; nothing in those patents is new to google. They're simple a defense against other patents.

In the US the patent system is one of the most stupid and broken systems still functioning. Either patents need to be done in with altogether for software or the acceptance of them needs to only happen after significantly stricter review.

And not only is it broken, but the US government insists on trying to spread the poison to other countries via the wonder of trade agreements.

No, what's even worse is that when a company pays billions of dollars for patents, they have to use them otherwise the investment is worthless.

Google may have a no-evil policy on patents for the time being, but the future will be quite different. Microsoft also used to acquire patents for defensive purposes only. Look at them now.

Not necessarily. It's impossible to measure things like lawsuits that didn't happen as a result of buying a patent portfolio, but that doesn't mean the investment is worthless.

Good for them. As much as I hate the software patent system, until it is fixed or eliminated it is a necessary evil for a large tech corporation. Tech patents are the nuclear arsenal of big tech business. I have my stockpile, you have your stockpile, and if we're relatively balanced we'll all just sit here because it's too dangerous to start throwing heat around. Google just picked up a nice set of silos for their defense.

And bad for everyone without them. It would be good to see Google putting some serious coin towards software patent reform. I'm sure that it would cost them less over the long term to get software patents abolished than to build up an expensive / extensive patent portfolio.

Well, Google is a business and I'm sure that their decision to stockpile patents is a business one. I doubt that Google can reform the law by itself - it will be against every major software-producing entity.

Not to mention going against the "USPTO cash cow" in which the U.S. government has a vested interest: http://www.osnews.com/story/24987/Microsoft_s_Android_Shaked...

I got the impression from last week's This American Life that a lot of large tech companies are buying defensive arsenals of patents. And that Google lost out on the Nortel patents because a group of other companies (including Microsoft and Apple) paid even more for them.

It seems that there are a lot of companies that would benefit from incremental but substantive patent reform, and lobbying for it could be cheaper than the billions wasted on patent defense now.

Until one of them stops doing so well with customers...

oh so it's good if Google's buying the patents?

the hypocrisy.

It was never about buying patents but about how a company uses those patents.

To my knowledge, Google was never in the offensive with their patents. They are stocking up to defend themselves.

They'll turn eventually. Google is great at the moment and will continue to be such for some time I think, but once a company gets big enough lawyers and HR types start to infect the organization and the clock starts ticking.

And when they do, they'll have all these patents!

edit: To clarify, I think it was a good idea they got these patents, but as for being used offensively I think the question is "how long until" rather than "if".

"They'll turn eventually."

IBM, with over 45,000 patents, could easily and completely shut down every single aspect of the technology industry if they wanted. The fact that they haven't in its 100 years is a testament to the clearly more superior way of competing in the market to win out.

IBM has a history of using patents to extort money:


To the tune, if memory serves, of about $1b a year in the late 1990s. Though that number is challenged (estimated at closer to $135m/year): http://www.iam-magazine.com/blog/Detail.aspx?g=9be3f156-79b1...

And on the other hand Intellectual Ventures set out to provide a mechanism for preventing patent abuse by letting small companies use IVs patents to protect themselves yes have turned out to be the biggest trolls going.

It's all supposing and it could go either way but early intentions only count for so much.

I'd like it if Google held their principals but it's hard to look at them and not see their principals eroding just a little bit over time and wonder if this might be one of them.

After all, they have a relatively weak portfolio right now and you could argue that their lack of offensive action to date is as much a case of them bringing a knife to a gun fight as a matter of principal.

I think you mean principle - an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct. Principal means leader/most important.


Call me an optimist, but I don't see it happening with Larry in charge. Sure, they'll countersue Apple/Oracle/whoever, but I honestly don't see a Larry-run Google attacking competitors with patents outside of countersuits.

Sun never offensively used patents, despite having an impressive pile of them. Then they got bought, and Oracle started suing.

I like Google, and I see that they need this deterrence, but let's not pretend that bad stuff can't happen.

We could surely use something like GPL for patents.

To put on the Devil advocate's horns:

Those patents will be used to protect Google from a company suing them, when Google arguably copied their product (iPhone, iPad) which was totally new under the sun.

Yes, the patent system is fscked but there must be some protection for companies inventing new ways of doing things.

"... (iPhone, iPad) which was totally new under the sun."

No, the iPhone and iPad and all of Apple's products have been built upon ideas and inventions created by others outside of Apple. If I was made of time and money, I'd wander through the patents held by Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, Intellectual Ventures, Nortel (Apple only recently got rights to their patents), HP, HTC, Samsung, Nokia, and the hundreds of other companies (trolls and product companies alike) and document the thousands upon thousands of patents that cover aspects of the Phone and IP

Then I would go through all the public records and and to the best of my ability guess how many of these patents were actually licensed by Apple prior to selling the IPhone and IPad.

My guess? (It is nothing but a guess, but still) I'd expect Apple incorporates 100,000's of thousands of patented features. And I would be shocked if they licensed anything over 50 percent of these patents.

Why do I think their license rate would be that high? I would guess they have a cross license agreement with IBM, TI, and Microsoft, which might cover nearly that many of the infringing patents.

Anyway, I had to respond when someone claims these products were "totally new under the sun".

>>No, the iPhone and iPad and all of Apple's products have been built upon ideas and inventions created by others outside of Apple.

They also incorporated steel -- an invention centuries (millennia?) old...

Point was, they did something new with the iPhone. The same thing with the iPad, when they invented a way to make tablets which people would pay money to use.

>>I had to respond when someone claims these products were "totally new under the sun".

You really didn't get the point...?

Apple did not invent the tablet computer. Tablet computer's existed even before the iPad. Even a start up by the name Fusion Garage launched joojoo before Apple launched the iPad. Just because Apple's tablet has succeeded in cornering a large part of the market doesn't mean they were the first at it. In fact, Apple has no manufacturing capacity. It outsources all of its manufacturing. It is just a marketing and retailing company.

Ideas are worth nothing. Execution is. Touchscreen phones were nothing new, it was just that Apple built the first one that was actually fun to use. And as their reward they've made quite a bit of money.

There must be some form of intellectual protection for books, painters and user interfaces.

Every manufacturer had failed for many years to build something really good -- and the ones without internal problems (Nokia, Microsoft) copied Apple's ideas to compete. So ideas aren't "worthless".

The ones doing the copying might end up eating Apple's lunch.

You can make an argument for that real innovation (not moving libraries from IE into the operating system) should have some form of protection.

(-: I'm doing a Devil's advocate here, thanks for the down votes, people... :-)

Again, iPhone is a great example on how execution matters. It was introduced in 2007, and only now other companies are starting to catch up.

Not having a monopoly means Apple also has to keep improving their stuff.

To my knowledge Google has never used a patent offensively.

I assume that your comment is referencing things like the recent nortel patents with Apple and Microsoft.

Well, you can't even remotely say that those companies haven't used patents offensively.

I really don't think it's hypocrisy until Google starts behaving like Apple and Microsoft when it comes to patents.

Do you really not believe there to be a difference?

If they go through a rough patch and get acquired or there is a change of management, it could happen. Patent reform is what we need, NOT anti-competitive patent stockpiling.

The Google Trio holds over 50% of the voting stocks.

No. I'm not referring to the Nortel Patents. Google already owns patents and none of them was used offensively.

My comment is a reply to chocopuff, not you.

Neither has MS, until their backs were against the wall.

How was MS had a back against a wall? They went after Android phones for patent infringement. They extorted money from Amazon for Kindle. And now they suing Barnes & Noble as well. And they have spread FUD about the Linux kernel violating their patents but have so far refused to be specific about what patents they are talking about.

It seems to me that MS is as much predator as prey.

Their share price has been going badly. Employee stock options are no longer an effective way to retain people, and they are losing long term employees to the likes of FB and G.

Thanks. And please forgive me the quality of my posting (I wrote it before getting my morning caffeine).

no offense taken. This is the problem with defensive patents. A company would be remiss to their shareholders if they didn't deploy it offensively when things don't go their way.

I might get some down votes for that, but I really wonder when people will realize that Google is just a company, not a religion of sorts. (same applies to everyone else btw)

I don't think people are taking them as a religion (at least I hope not). It is more along the lines that it seems the people at Google are still mostly trying to make the Internet and technology a better place rather than only worrying about profits.

Of course, they do care about profits, but it isn't their only agenda. This is why Google owning the patents isn't a major deal. There is no history of using the patents to get rid of competitors or to make a quick buck. They pull them out of the closet to defend themselves from other patent lawsuits. I am certain that if Google started going after various companies over mundane patents, the view of them will change very quickly and you wouldn't see very many people defending them.

" It is more along the lines that it seems the people at Google are still mostly trying to make the Internet and technology a better place rather than only worrying about profits."

I'd rephrase that slightly: Google's has interests that are aligned with an open, diverse, and free Internet. They'll make the most money if the Internet thrives. Companies like Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft would make more money if they had a controlled walled garden under their control.

That's why Google is different, IMO.

Google, Apple & MS have all done good and bad. I'm still wondering why Google sided with Verizon against net neutrality. It certainly didn't seem like they were looking out for the best interests of the consumer.

These companies are still businesses and, when faced with the choice of what is better for them or for the greater good, I expect them to choose themselves.

>I'm still wondering why Google sided with Verizon against net neutrality.

They didn't. They got Verizon to agree to a compromise position on net neutrality.

I didn't take it as much of a compromise on Verizon's part and very few, if any, did at the time. Looking at the effects of this legislation today, the only winner has been the carriers.

In fact what Google and Vrizon put forward was only a proposal far from being a binding agreement. Their joint proposal was intended to bring more clarity in the area of net neutrality as opposed to void in the absence of any law in that respect.

It's not about whether Google is good or bad, or doing good or bad things.

In the US, patents are allowed for the sole purpose of encouraging innovation. In the case of Android, Google's work is in danger of being halted, and in a way that does not clearly make it easier for their competitors to innovate more with less competition. Thus, the software patents being used against Google are likely to have the opposite of their intended effect, unless Google can force a stalemate by gathering their own patent war chest.

If we didn't have all these software patents, all the money going to litigation could be invested in the real business of making products, which would be a net win as long as there are market forces spurring innovation.

(Another way of looking at it is that software is cheap enough to develop that companies don't need decades of market exclusivity to recoup their costs. The fundamental computer science R&D needed for a cell phone software platform is negligible compared to the QA costs of making it production-ready, and those QA costs are already well-protected by copyright.)

Has Google filed any offensive patent lawsuits yet? If so, I missed it.

This is huge for them, and also explains why they chose to stop bidding on the Nortel patents. This gives them big leverage against Oracle, who probably violate quite some patents with their hardware and also database business now, so cross licensing becomes possible. Same for Apple. IBM is happy to give some weapons to the Google "underdog" so that the "small" companies are busy fighting amongst themselves, while they themselves can't lose much.

As others have noted, the patent system still sucks. But it is nice to see someone score a point who doesn't abuse it for maximum monetary gain and market share protection (hello Oracle, Apple).

Not much they could have done after that Nortel incident.

I do appreciate their sentiment:

“We buy companies all the time — for both people and interesting technologies. This would have been north of $4 billion for none of those things. We were bidding on the right to stop people from innovating"

Anything in there acquired to defend themselves against Oracle?

You fail to understand.

Patents are a mass weapon.

You pursue an infringement claim against some small random sampling of patents in your portfolio.

Challengee has the option of 1) paying your fee or 2) challenging the patents.

Your average patent case cost is $3-$10 million. http://www.inventionstatistics.com/Patent_Litigation_Costs.h...

Supposing you can invalidate the patents, challenger returns with another random sampling of patents....

Eventually you 1) go broke or 2) pay up.

If the companies are evenly matched (or at least sufficiently that they could drain one another bloodless), they enter into a cross-licensing agreement.

I don't see any mention of what Google paid for the 1000 patents, but this suggests a very friendly relationship between Mountain View and Armonk.

And Apple, and Microsoft. I also see a couple things that could affect IDEs (Xcode and VS), SharePoint, Bing...

"Now, Microsoft, about that racket you are running against Android phone manufacturers..."

Those object oriented programming and relational database ones perhaps.

Or perhaps Apple.

sigh Inevitable, of course, but I've always secretly hoped that Google would try to take the more risky high road and work to invalidate the whole software patent system, or at least hugely correct it (e.g. 2-year patent lifespan, or something).

Maybe they still will, but their impetus to do so is diminished with every patent they acquire.

Am I correctly remembering that (prior to this) Google had something like 900 patents?

If so, this more than doubling their patent portfolio, which sounds significant (though naturally patent quality from both technical and legal perspectives plays a much bigger role than the raw number of patents regardless).

For reference, IBM was awarded almost 6000 patents. In 2010.


"that has me wondering if Google has an interest in pursuing some new interests and innovations."

The author should have presented some more compelling examples, then. The patents listed are incredibly far from new innovations, but rather just the same overly-broad and generic defensive fare.

everyone knows patent reform will -likely- not happen/is not easy.

sooo here's a _naive_ idea... why doesn't google take these patents, and offer them up for FREE to ANYONE as long as they are used IN DEFENSE of a patent attack? ...with the hope of others contributing patents to this pool for the same purpose? i would donate/license the patents i have to this pool... over time there could be enough patents in the pool to deter against almost any aggressor, effectively rendering the patent system useless and "reformed".

Is this acquisition related to Oracle's Java suit against Google?

The answer to that question would almost certainly be "yes".

Or: duh.

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