Google claims the patent system is broken. That’s the latest news following the company’s failed attempt to purchase Nortel patents at auction. The latest statement from Google’s legal team is either an example of Google calling it like it is or throwing a tantrum, depending on your point of view. It’s impossible to view the statement from Google without examining the recent history and present reality of the company.
While Android occupies 43 percent of the smart phone market, Apple, Microsoft and Oracle claim this dominance comes on the back of stolen patents. Oracle hauled Google into court, while Microsoft and Apple seek injunctions. In a climate of near constant patent war, it’s hard to tell who’s just clogging up the courts to stick it to their competitors. Perhaps Google’s behavior provides some clue, however. While irreverence is always fun -- and to be fair, we’ve all come to expect a bit of whimsy from Google -- Big G’s behavior has been anything but serious at patent auctions.
When it becomes clear Google won’t be winning, they resort to childish stunts like bidding pi or logarithmic factors. While it might be amusing, it doesn’t win Google any allies. When Google complains about an unfair patent environment, it would do well to lead by example, taking the high road at all times. While Google’s successfully purchased Motorola patents, it famously failed to seal the deal on Nortel. Keep in mind Google’s failure to secure these patents comes a mere six months before it declares the patent system “broken.”
While it’s hard to tell, there seems to be some merit to the idea that when Google says “broken” what it means is “we are expected to pay for IP, and often times can’t afford it.” It’s not just Google’s bidding practices providing evidence for this hypothesis. It’s also their relationship with the broader tech world.
The search engine giant refused to partner with Microsoft and Apple to buy Nortel and Norvell patents that would then be held in common. While not a smoking gun by any means, this, like silly bids and “broken patent system” comments, read a lot like Google taking its ball and going home when the game gets tough.
The patent system may well be broken, but Google doesn’t appear to want to do anything for the sake of fixing it. Google is certainly not to blame for the IP wars in tech. Indeed, Google’s dismissive attitude might well stem from frustration with the process. Still, it is clear that Google is not part of the solution, despite its posturing.
That the patent law system is broken isn’t the most controversial statement in the world of IP. However, one wonders if the broken system is a result of the patent wars -- not its cause. “Frivolous lawsuit” generally brings to mind personal injury. In 2011, however, it increasingly calls to mind the petty disputes between one tech firm and another in an attempt to use the courts as a weapon in the market.