Is Google the “Snow White” of the Patent System?
|Written by Gene Quinn
Patent Attorney & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
Principal Lecturer, PLI Patent Bar Review Course Posted: November 20, 2013 @ 7:50 am
Essentially, Google is trying to patent a throat microphone that is embedded in a tattoo.
With this patent application it seems to me that Google has officially jumped the shark, and has lost all credibility in the patent debate they seem so desperate to influence in an anti-patent way. Google representatives constantly preach that they don’t need patents, they don’t want patents, the world would be a better place without patents, and that the only reason that they obtain patents is for defensive purposes. That specious argument never rang true, particularly when they would pivot from “we only get patents for defensive purposes” into complaining about the injustice they suffer at the hands of patent trolls, as if to tie the two wholly unrelated matters together.
What good does a defensive patent portfolio do against a patent troll? Absolutely none! Patent trolls don’t do anything. They are a subset of non-practising entity that does not engage in activities other than acquiring patents and suing thereon. Patent trolls do not make, use, sell, offer for sale or import anything, so claiming or inferring that a defensive patent portfolio provides any benefit against troll litigation is not only absurd, but it is also misleading.
Furthermore, Google is really a very aggressive user of the patent system. They seek to acquire patents on a variety of innovations, just like everyone else. We profile them regularly on IPWatchdog in the Companies We Follow series. See Google Patents. Just yesterday we profiled a patent application that Google is seeking on a method of aggregating news in a social media context. See Google Seeks Patent on Social News Aggregator. Claim 1 of that Google patent application would protect:
“A computer-implemented method comprising: receiving a request from a user for a news aggregator page related to a news story; retrieving social contents items related to the news story; and providing the news aggregator page for display, wherein the news aggregator page comprises a plurality of links to news content items related to the news story, and the retrieved social content items related to the news story.”
So can we stop pretending that Google isn’t like every other user of the patent system? They are not Snow White. They are not the Mother Teresa of patents. Google seeks broad, sometimes nearly ridiculously broad, patent claims must like everyone else. Yet to listen to them they would have you, and Members of Congress and the media, believe that they are the only altruistic actor and impartial voice in the patent debate. They criticize other companies, but their own practices are no different.
Looking at what Google patents and seeks to protect with pending patent applications it is clear that Google has a patent agenda other than for purely defensive purposes. For example, they obtained a design patent on the layout of the Google search page. How is that defensive? Seems more like they wanted to protect what they developed so others would encroach on their turf, which is exactly the point of the patent system. I’m not criticizing Google for doing what is reasonable, responsible and in the best interest of their shareholders, but before you buy into their anti-patent rhetoric look deeper at their actions. Actions speak louder than any words ever can, and Google is a serious user of the patent system and they seek exclusive rights wherever they can and not just for defensive purposes, at least if you buy into their so-called patent troll problem. No patent will ever stop a patent troll, so their position is simply not factually credible.
Now we learn that Google is seeking a patent on an electronic skin tattoo that would be applied to the “throat region of a body,” and which is communicatively coupled to a communications device. Again, I have no problem with Google seeking this or any other patent, but can we stop pretending that Google is somehow different than other technology companies and a true defender of a patent-less world? They pursue patents of all varieties that they think they can obtain, including patents on an electronic skin tattoo capable of being applied to the throat region of the body of a wearer. And how in the world would this patent be defensive? To be defensive they would have to be acquiring it for purposes of leveling a counter claim if they are sued by a manufacturing company that operates in the same space with patents of their own.
Notwithstanding, let’s take a closer look at the innovation Google wants exclusive rights on, presumably for defensive only reasons if you actually believe their rhetoric. Claim 1 from the published application seeks coverage for:
A system for providing auxiliary voice input to a mobile communication device (MCD), comprising: an electronic skin tattoo capable of being applied to a throat region of a body; the electronic skin tattoo further comprising: a microphone embedded in the electronic skin tattoo; a transceiver that enables wireless communication with the mobile communication device; a power supply configured to receive energizing signals from a personal area network associated with the MCD; a controller communicatively coupled to the power supply; and wherein the electronic skin tattoo is capable of receiving an initialization signal at the controller and from the MCD to initiate reception of an audio stream picked up from the throat region of the body for subsequent audio detection by the MCD under an improved signal-to-noise ratio than without employing the electronic skin tattoo.
Claim 13 is another independent claim, this time on a method, and seeks exclusive rights for:
A method for providing auxiliary voice input to a mobile communication device (MCD), comprising: receiving an initialization signal at an electronic skin tattoo embedded with a microphone and transceiver; activating acoustic circuitry for the electronic skin tattoo; receiving an audio signal from the embedded microphone; converting audio signal to digital signal; and transmitting the digital signal to the MCD.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this patent as it proceeds through examination. It will be even more interesting to see if this patent gets thrown back in Google’s collective corporate face by innovator companies that Google claims get many silly patents just to pump up their numbers and for no particular business purpose.
It is one thing to be anti-patent, but quite another to say one thing and then do another.- - - - - - - - - - File this in the “you have to be kidding me” category if you like, but
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Posted in: Companies We Follow, Gene Quinn, Google, IP News, IPWatchdog.com Articles, Patents, Technology & Innovation
About the Author
Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and the founder of the popular blog IPWatchdog.com, which has for three of the last four years (i.e., 2010, 2012 and 2103) been recognized as the top intellectual property blog by the American Bar Association. He is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.