Google to curb patent trolls by offering them for free

26 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Google Offers To Give Away Patents To Startups In Its Push Against Patent Trolls.

Google said today it will give start-ups two patents for free, which they can keep, as long as they join the LOT network, a cross-company effort including firms like Dropbox, SAP and Canon, to fight patent trolls. As first reported by TechCrunch Google has opened the program only to the first 50 eligible start-ups, while eligibility requirements include that a company’s 2014 revenue has to be between $US500,000 and $US20 million. Today, the search and mobile giant is expanding that marketplace in the other direction: Google has started a program for startups to give away up to two non-organic patent families off Google, as well as potentially make offers to buy patents from it in the future. The first time many new companies even hear the word “patent” is when they’re being attacked by trolls, or once a prospective investor asks how they protect their ideas.

That it is breaking down is a sign of the success of an otherwise very dubious public relations campaign seeking to cast the idea of patent reform as a giveaway to corporate interests and the Chinese. From May 8, 2015 through May 22, 2015, Google opened a streamlined portal for patent holders to tell Google about patents they’re willing to sell at a price they set. Google said under its LOT program every company that participates grants a license to the other participants where the license becomes effective only when patents are transferred to non-participants. “At Google, we not only remember our roots, but we respect the start-up culture: the great ideas, the passion and the long hours that develop them, and the resulting innovation and The news follows a similar anti-patent troll push from Google in April, when it opened an experimental patent marketplace.

He quite literally can’t get them out of his head: In this world, most people have a digital device implanted in their brains that allows them to record and instantly replay every single memory they ever make, essentially canceling out the human ability to forget. In this framing, a secretive cabal of massive tech companies led by Apple and Google are seeking to increase their profit margins on the backs of small inventors, whose precious ideas they will steal unrepentantly. Liam’s escalating torment makes up the whole 45 minutes of “The Entire History of You,” one of the most memorable episodes of Channel 4’s dystopian tech drama Black Mirror. Don’t expect a do-over, though, if you’re not happy with the selected patents; due to the expected volume of interest, the company will not revisit its patent selection list with individual users. A patent troll is a person or company that attempts to enforce patent rights against accused infringers, when they either do not manufacture a product or supply a service related to that patent.

The term generally refers to people or companies who are purely in the business of litigation, or threatening litigation, as opposed to making or selling something. The company says that after you apply, if you meet the revenue requirement, it will send to you, within 30 days, a list of three to five families of patents, and you can select two of them. “Google will retain a broad, nonexclusive license to all divested assets,” the company notes.

Club noted that the most frightening thing about the episode is that it “centers around a piece of equipment that is horrifyingly easy to imagine catching on.” Well, here we are. But Kurt Brasch, senior patent licensing manager at Google, tells us that those non-organic patents could still be very central to Google’s business. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Google a patent this week for a digital camera that records live experiences and organizes them into a searchable database for later playback. Other conditions require all patents obtained through the program to be used only defensively, meaning the documents could be useful if you are sued or your products are accused of infringement. Securus Technologies, a Texas-based firm that makes its money by extorting dollars from the family and loved ones of people in the penal system, is a particularly vile example.

Specifically, Securus claims to own a patent on any and all video calling from prison, but so far has offered no explanation for why the “from prison” qualifier distinguishes this allegedly unique invention from regular old Facetime. The patent explains that this online index would be searchable through user queries, such as “Who were the people at the business lunch this afternoon?” or “How many books did I read in May?” One could even make queries for the histories of multiple users if they decided to share their memories with others—so a user would be able to ask the index, “Where were my friends last night?” Fans of the speculative British sci-fi show may find that all of this sounds awfully familiar, and awfully unappealing. Of course, Google’s hypothetical memory-storing product isn’t actually the intrusive, literally-embedded-in-your-brain technology with which Black Mirror is concerned.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the current lawsuit fight between Apple and Samsung, in which Apple claims that Samsung has infringed on its patents on concepts like smartphone shape. And while it’s important to remember that patents don’t always indicate exactly what a company is realistically working on, this kind of technology is right up Google’s alley: It’s famous for its quirky experiments with über-futuristic technologies that aim to make people’s lives both easier and cooler. Just last week, a new report indicated that the number of lawsuits filed by patent trolls, or non-practicing entities, reached about 2,075 in the first half of this year.

Household names like Google, Facebook, HP, and Dell have all resoundingly come out in favor of Samsung and called on courts to throw Apple’s lawsuit out. There are some 325,000 patent assets in the LOT database already, and the idea here is for Google to help the group get stronger, as a way of warding off patent trolls.

While membership usually costs between $1,500 and $20,000 per year (depending on company size), LOT is waiving the fees for two years for startups joining through this program. The Washington Post explains: Apple’s claim is based on what is known as the “total-profit rule.” That rule authorizes a court to assess the total profits earned by the defendant from the infringement of even a single design patent. The total-profit rule derives from an 1887 statute enacted by Congress to protect the makers of decorative items such as carpets and wallpaper, where the design itself forms the basis for all or most of a consumer’s decision to purchase the product. But “the reality for complex modern technologies,” the tech coalition argues, is that design, while a factor in consumer choice, ranks far below functional qualities including processor speed, memory and connectors. Those have directly gone into Google’s wider patent portfolio, becoming a part of the non-organic set that is now being offered in parts to interested startups.

First, it underscores Google’s bigger push in getting more tech companies to collectively act together to fight some of the negative aspects of intellectual property ownership, specifically around lawsuits that are less about safeguarding IP and more about making money. Google has been an outspoken and consistent critic of patent trolls, even if it has not been shy in building out its own patent assets and defending them in court.

In other words, Apple’s argument more or less boils down to the idea that if Samsung’s phones look at all like iPhones, or resemble the elements of an iPhone interface in even one respect, then all of Samsung’s profits are forfeit. And although the patent marketplace has been launched on a very limited basis so far, it seems like a good way of testing out features that could potentially be made more permanent in the long run. That they are not doing so speaks to the fact that for tech companies, the right to innovate trumps the right to profit from the legal system, however opportunistically.

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