As a way to combat the pernicious effects of patent trolls, Google announced Monday that it would be buying up patents from any inventor or entrepreneur who wants to sell.
“We view this as an experiment,” the company writes in an FAQ. “We are looking for ways to help improve the patent landscape, and we hope that by removing some of the friction that exists in the secondary market for patents, this program might yield better, more immediate results for patent owners versus partnering with nonpracticing entities.”
According to Google, inventors will be able to retain a license to practice their innovation. Of course, Google will also be able to license it out (or use it as part of litigation) just like it would with other intellectual property.
As Allen Lo, deputy general counsel for patents, wrote on a company blog: “By simplifying the process and having a concentrated submission window, we can focus our efforts into quickly evaluating patent assets and getting responses back to potential sellers quickly. Hopefully this will translate into better experiences for sellers and remove the complications of working with entities such as patent trolls.”
As Ars reported last year, there is a very real, and very negative, correlation between patent troll lawsuits and the venture capital funding that startups rely on. A 2014 study [PDF] by Catherine Tucker, a professor of marketing at MIT's Sloan School of Business, finds that over the last five years, VC investment "would have likely been $21.772 billion higher... but for litigation brought by frequent litigators."
Julie Samuels, the executive director of Engine and formerly an Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney who held the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents, told Ars there's reason for cautious optimism surrounding Google's program.
"Google's patent purchase program is promising to the extent it puts patents that could end up in the hands of trolls into Google's own patent portfolio," she said by e-mail. "While it's frankly troubling that a single entity would own as many patents as Google already does (and presumably will), this is an unfortunate byproduct of a broken patent system and a technology culture that often prioritizes the grant of patents above all else. Google has time and again shown its commitment to clean up the patent system, which is cause for some cautious optimism with regard to its new purchase program."