Google Inc. (GOOG), perhaps not satisfied with the efforts of existing patent aggregators and patent troll opponents, announced on Monday an “experimental marketplace” for purchasing patents to keep them out of the hands of trolls.
The initiative called the Patent Purchase Promotion has received a mixed reaction from the patent monetization industry with most describing it as a self-motivated publicity stunt.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Google itself is a member of RPX Corp. (RPXC), the San Francisco-based patent aggregator that uses its members money to buy patents and reduce the patent troll problem. RPX earlier this year agreed to pay $900 million to buy a portfolio of patents from the Rockstar Consortium.
The knock on RPX has always been that it is part of the patent troll problem because its business model depends on purchasing patents from patent trolls. The same now can perhaps be said about Google.
In an answer to a frequently asked question on its website for the Patent Purchase Promotion, Google says "any patent purchased by Google through this program 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, etc.)"
As such, Google concedes it will have the same rights as the trolls it complains about.
RPX CEO John Amster said on a conference call today that Google's initiative "is an indication of something different going on with our clients coming around to the evangelism we've been doing for seven years for more transparency in the patent business. It's pretty strong validation of our efforts. We think it's terrific to have someone of Google's stature embrace transparency."
Tim Quillin, an analyst at Stephens Inc., who follows RPX, said Amster "made the subtle point that this will be done by Google for Google." He agreed that the initiative was validation of the need for more transparency and added that "it's good to see a big tech company embrace that notion."
Quillin added that Google and other tech companies must do many different things to reduce their patent costs beasue they're such a meaningful expense. "There's no single silver bullet. They need to look for a lot of potential solutions."
The initiative was announced in a blog post Monday by Allen Lo, deputy general counsel of patents at Google. Google officials said he wasn’t available for comment.
“We invite you to sell us your patents,” Lo said in the blog post.
Lo said the promotion is an “experimental marketplace for patents that’s simple, easy to use, and fast.”
Under the program, patent owners will be able to submit their patents to Google for consideration between May 8 and May 23.
Google will review the submission between May 23 and June 26. Google will notify parties of its tentative interest in patents on June 26 and will give them until July 8 to supply further information.
The company said it will review this information by July 22 and if interested provide a fully executed agreement to purchase the patents within 10 days. Payment will be completed within 30 days.
Throughout the processes Google reserves the right to not purchase patents for any reason.
“We’re always looking at ways that can help improve the patent landscape and make the patent system work better for everyone,” Lo said in his blog post. “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 participants.
“Unfortunately, the usual patent marketplace can sometimes be challenging, especially for smaller participants who sometimes end up working with patent trolls,” Lo said on his blog post. “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.
Google said it hopes the simplified process “will translate into better experiences for sellers, and remove the complications of working with entities such as patent trolls.”
The timing of the announcement comes as Congress is considering several pieces of legislation in the House and the Senate aimed at making it harder for so-called patent trolls to sue companies for infringement. Among other things patent reform legislation would mandate the awarding of attorney fees to the prevailing party, allow those financing litigation to be held liable for such fees, require higher pleading standards and limit discovery until after claims construction.
Some patent market observers have expressed concern that lobbying for more patent reform by big tech companies like Google in Congress may be eroding confidence in the patent market. Such reforms could have unintended consequences down the line including hurting innovation by inventors and smaller companies who hope to monetize their IP. As such putting limits on non-practicing entities may stifle innovation in much the same way Google complains NPEs do.
Google is perhaps signaling that such concerns are unwarranted and that operating companies may serve to foster innovation by inventors and smaller companies.
Some in the industry appear to wish Google well in its effort.
“Allen Lo is a very credible individual and I take him at his word—this is an experiment by Google to see what kind/quality of assets they can acquire through their portal,” said Erich Spangenberg, founder of IP navigation Group in an email.
Spangenberg conceded the PR aspect to the promotion, but asserted that if Google is to be successful it will require PR.
“Whether one likes Google or not, it would be a mistake not to recognize the fact that they attract wicked smart people and Google is a wicked smart organization.”
Another industry watcher, who requested anonymity, said “it’s PR.”
Another industry watcher who also requested anonymity, said the promotion was "a cheap way for them to close down some of the market and take advantage of less sophisticated sellers plus their terms and conditions are not acceptable.”
Google also may be opening up "a nice IPR pool" for third parties to invalidate patents, the person said.
“Long may the pilot last because it won’t have legs,” the person said. “Google is not smart.”
To reach the reporter responsible for this story please contact Dan Lonkevich at 707 318-7899 or at firstname.lastname@example.org