Google has acquired more than 1,000 patents from IBM in order to pad its portfolio, in a move patent experts have interpreted as an attempt to defend against further litigation like the lawsuit brought by Oracle over the company's use of Java patents.
Patents represent an exclusive right to exploit a unique process or innovative product, or the right to license that innovation to others under terms of your own choosing. However, technology patents have come in for criticism, often being seen as vague and over-reaching. Companies file patents that are ambiguous enough that they can be applied to virtually anything in the event of an infringement lawsuit, or the need to defend against one.
Google's general counsel, Kent Walker, 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. Walker claimed that as 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.
"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," says Florian Mueller, a technology patent and intellectual property analyst. "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 catch 22 situation. The patent system is broken, he claims, 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.
"Any major change would inevitably come with substantial collateral damage and screaming protest from those who see themselves affected by any such proposal," Mueller states.
Google's acquisition of such a vast number of patents could signal preparation for further legal issues.