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Microsoft Has the World's Biggest Patent Troll, But What's Up with Google?

Nathan Myhrvold



Summary: Intellectual Ventures exposed for what it really is about; Google patents its homepage

EARLIER TODAY WE HIGHLIGHTED THE LATEST report about Microsoft's patent troll, Intellectual Ventures.



Blog reports about this are numerous and they may have been sort of derived from this article (published on Tuesday).

Patent-hoarding giant Intellectual Ventures has long beat the drum that it doesn't file lawsuits.

But now Intellectual Ventures has started selling some of its 27,000 patents to people who aren't afraid to sue -- and in some cases IV will get a share of the prize. It's a scary scenario for tech companies that may end up in the legal crosshairs, but industry observers say it was only a matter of time.

[...]

It's a new phase for Intellectual Ventures, which was founded in 2001 by Microsoft Corp.'s top tech guys, Nathan Myhrvold and Edward Jung. At first, the company took investments (about $5 billion) and bought up patents (now up to 27,000). In more recent years, IV has been cutting licensing deals with big tech companies that are apparently infringing on some of IV's intellectual property. Intuit Inc., the financial software firm, agreed to pay $120 million for a license in May. Detkin says that IV has brought in about $1 billion in revenue this way. And he and others at IV like to point out that they've never once used the cudgel of a patent infringement lawsuit to get a deal done.

With its new practice of selling off patents to third parties, litigation is much more likely. It's similar to the "catch and release" model used for some time by other patent-holding companies. That's a friendly sounding name for a threat that goes like this: Take a license because we're going to sell the patent on the open market -- and you never know what unscrupulous and lawsuit-prone troll is going to buy it.


This is the sort of business plan which was conceived by and came about after consultation with Bill Gates, who has his own share in this game. Bernard Swiss describes it as a situation of: "We'll feed the problem -- and profit from it... But we'll foist the actual risk on to others"

Microsoft's patent strategy must not be ignored, but the main news today is actually not about Microsoft's patent hoarding and trolling; it's about Google's latest bizarre patent.

In early 2004, Google's lawyers didn't have nearly enough to do. A patent on the design of Google's homepage (AKA its "[g]raphical user interface for a display screen of a communications terminal") that they applied for at that time was granted this week.


FFII's president opines that "There is a need for more patent trolls against Google. They have too much money, and they have too stupid patent agents." He links to this article which makes is clear that it's trouble for all in the search market.

As one person puts it, "these new guidelines of the USPTO are apparently still very generous, as the PTO has just granted what seems to be patent on Google's homepage."

Over at TechDirt, we find that "look and feel" can now be guarded too using intellectual monopolies. It's just like that Google homepage patent, where the 'novelty' of centering a search box is seen as patent worthy.

There are already concerns over the fact that software can be covered by both copyright and patents, but why not add trade dress to the mix? Via Michael Scott we learn that Fidelity is suing a competing company because its software looks like Fidelity's, and that the basic look and feel of Fidelity's software is protected by trade dress.


Where does it ever stop? The double-click is a patent, one-click shopping is a patent, and the progress bar too is a patent. As these two videos show [1, 2], Google does not oppose patents; It is even a member of OIN, which is about countering patents with more patents.

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