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Google's general position on software patents is unclear.

In the brief they submitted to the US Supreme Court for the 2009 Bilski case, they argued against business method patents and made negative, but ambiguous, comments about software patents. They have also contributed significantly to a possible solution to the thicket of audio-video patents, by funding the WebM video format and publishing an implementation as free software.

(They clearly support the Patent Reform Act in the USA, but this act does not propose excluding software from patentability, so it's of little interest.)

Stockpiling software patents

Google has applied for, and has been granted, a large number of software patents.

Can you help? When did they start getting patents? Dan Ravicher says in his 2007 presentation 1h03:00 that people invested in Google before Google had patents

The PageRank algorithm

(This section doesn't have a point yet. It's just gathering data for later research.)

Bilski v. Kappos brief excerpts

For the 2009 Bilski v. Kappos case in the US Supreme Court, Google co-submitted a brief along with six banking institutions: 08-964_RespondentAmCu7FinancialCorps.pdf

The brief was clearly against business method patents and "abstract" software patents, but it is unclear if this is a reference to all software patents being abstract, or if they only want to criticise a subset of software patents which are wrongly granted because they're too abstract.[1]

Interest Of Amici Curiae

Patents on methods of doing business and abstract software processes significantly affect the financial services and information technology industries because, rather than encouraging innovation, they monopolize the very mental processes and ideas that are the building blocks of innovation.

Summary Of Argument

Bilski's patent is just an abstract idea:

Distilled to its essence, petitioners’ patent application claims nothing more than the idea of hedging against the weather. [...] That process is no less an abstract idea—and no more patentable—than one comprising the familiar morning ritual of consulting the newspaper to determine the weather forecast, mentally identifying whether an umbrella or sunglasses would best hedge against the risk of weather-related discomfort, and performing the post-solution step of carrying the chosen accessory to work.

"Conventional use" of a computer shouldn't be patentable (but no definition of "conventional use"):

[...] this Court has long asked whether the claimed process results in a physical transformation or is necessarily tied to a particular machine or apparatus in a non-conventional way. The conventional use of a machine or conventional post-solution activity is not sufficient to render an otherwise unpatentable idea patent-eligible.

Business method patents are bad for innovation and are like a tax:

As amici can well attest, the recent surge in patents on abstract ideas such as how to run a business or software that merely implements such methods has not promoted innovation in the financial services or information technology fields—to the contrary, such patents create a drag on innovation. [...] Studies of lawsuits involving business and software patents held by small entities have suggested that “the primary role played by them is the collecting of royalties from other firms.” Hall, at 13.

This paragraph would be good except that it's hard to see what is meant by "these kinds of ... software":

This experience confirms the wisdom of settled precedent, under which these kinds of business methods and software are not patent-eligible. Expanding the interpretation of “process” in Section 101, as petitioners urge the Court to do, would only serve to aggravate these drags on innovation and would thus contravene the core purpose of the Patent Act.


By Google

No known cases. (right?)

Against Google

In 2004, Google settled with Yahoo and agreed to pay them licence fees for US6,269,361.[2]

In June 2009, Google was sued by Bedrock Computer Technologies for infringement of patent US5,893,120. (See Bedrock v. Google (2011, USA))

In August 2010, Google was sued by Oracle for infringement of seven Java patents. (See Oracle v. Google (2010, USA))

In August 2010, Google won against a suit filed by Bright Response, claiming infringement of a "Firepond/Polaris" patent.[3]

Between January 2007 and February 2010, Google was sued 45 times for patent infringement.[4] Another source says Google has faced "more than 50 patent suits since 2007 [in August 2010]".[5]

According to Google's Head of Patents and Patent Strategy, in March 2009:

Of the 20 patent lawsuits filed against Google since late 2007, all but two have been filed by plaintiffs who don’t make or sell any real product or service — in other words, by non-practicing entities or “patent trolls.”[6]

Skyhook filed suit against Google in September 2010 over location detection software.[7][8][9]

Patent-free video contributions

Supporting Ogg Theora

Google helped fund an optimised port of the Ogg Theora playing software to low-power ARM chips.[10]

On2's VP8 and WebM

(See On2 VP8)

On2 is the company that wrote the VP3 video format, on which Ogg Theora is based. Since then, On2 went on to write VP8. In late 2009, Google bought On2, and in May 2010, Google released the VP8 video format as free software and announced a consortium supporting a new audio-video format "WebM", based on VP8 (plus the Ogg Vorbis audio format and the Matroska container format).

EU lobbying

Google took part in the final stages of the EU software patents directive, but only in minor ways and never publicly. One example of their participation is the mention of their Mrs. Moll lobbying for an interoperability exception (instead of software patent abolition) in July 2005.[11]

Other related info

Google is a licensee of Open Invention Network.[12]

Related pages on ESP Wiki

  • Apple v. HTC (2010, USA) - although Google is not a party, they have an interest because some of the claimed infringements seem to involve Google's Android software

External links