Google to Purchase Patents

Google has become a world renowned thought leader that has their finger on the pulse of the next big ideas that end up revolutionizing technology and everyday life. Following their normal pattern, Google is now offering to purchase patents in an act that many see as altruistic and others see as suspicious.

Google got
straight to the point when
announcing its Patent Purchase Promotion in a blog post

this week. “We invite you to sell us your patents,” began Allen
Lo, its deputy general counsel (right).

Lo explained that Google was announcing the promotion “as an
experiment to remove friction from the patent market”.

He elaborated: “Patent owners sell patents for numerous
reasons (such as the need to raise money or changes in a
company’s business direction). Unfortunately, the
usual patent marketplace can sometimes be challenging,
especially for smaller participants who sometimes end up
working with patent trolls. Then bad things happen, like
lawsuits, lots of wasted effort, and generally bad karma.
Rarely does this provide any meaningful benefit to the original
patent owner.”

The process for the promotion is simple. From May 8 to May
22, Google will open a streamlined portal for you to tell it
about patents you are willing to sell and at what price. It
will review all submissions and reply with a simple yes or no,
with no negotiation over price allowed. Everyone who it takes
up on their offer will be paid by late August.

So far, so commendable. But the promotion provokes more
questions than it answers at this stage.

Google put details of the programme on its Patent
, including the purchase agreement, which you can
. Google also posted
an FAQ

Google was not forthcoming with much detail about what
happens once it owns the patents or how many it was targeting.
It said it did not know how much money it would spend.

The big question is what it will do with the patents.

noted by technology blog Gizmodo
, this FAQ included the
clarification: “Google maintains a large patent portfolio. Any
patents purchased by Google through this programme will join
our portfolio and can be used by Google in all the normal ways
that patents can be used (e.g., we can license them to others,

Google’s motto is
‘Don’t be evil’, but
don’t be unprofitable is also up there in its

Sellers retain a non-exclusive licence to patents they
sell. Google makes no promises that other companies will not be
asked to license the patent. Gizmodo drew the conclusion that:
“This doesn’t sound like an effort to defeat
patent trolls – it sounds like an effort to compete
with them.”

Even taking a more charitable view of Google’s
intentions does not remove all uneasiness about the promotion.
The company certainly has the financial clout to take many
nuisance patents out of the system. Google’s motto
is ‘Don’t be evil’, but
don’t be unprofitable is also up there in its
aims. If successful, this promotion would boost the potential
strength of its patent portfolio. Why wouldn’t it
try and leverage it for licensing revenue?

Patent licensing company IP Nav is certainly sceptical. In
a blog post
, it said the promotion means you would have to
trust Google to not “misuse” your patent.

“Google makes no assurances that it won’t use your
patent in an aggressive fashion against others. Google has
certainly sued others for patent infringement,” IP Nav

IP Nav noted Google’s comment that any purchased
patents could be used in all then normal ways.

“Not mentioned is that suing people is one of the normal ways
that patents can be used,” said IP Nav, “Google is not making
this offer as a ‘public service.’ The patents that
Google chooses to buy will no doubt be patents that are of
commercial interest to Google: either as a defensive move so
that someone else can’t sue them with those
patents, or as a way to block competitors.”

The take-it-or-leave approach to pricing the patents also means
sellers may not be able to negotiate the best price. IP Nav
advised potential patent sellers to talk to a variety of types
of buyers before submitting a price, noting Google is sitting
on $18 billion in case and $46 billion in short-term

“There’s really only one reason to sell your
patent to Google: they offer you more money than anyone else.
And if they do that, there’s certainly no reason
NOT to sell to Google,” said IP Nav.

Google also did not give much detail on the types of patents it
would target, other than saying they had to be US patents and
it would not buy design patents.

Lo concluded: “We’re always looking at ways
that can help improve the patent landscape and make the patent
system work better for everyone. We ask everyone to remember
that this program is an experiment (think of it like a 20
percent project
for Google’s patent lawyers),
but we hope that it proves useful and delivers great results to

The choice now is for patent owners to decide if they want
to be a participant or not.