New Reports says Engine, EFF are Shills for Google on Patent Reform

By Steve Brachmann
June 4, 2018

Picture, if you will, two young engineers working together to develop an innovative new idea that takes the world by storm: an Internet technology which enables a person to search for specific information with ease. Now imagine that company scaling up to incredible heights over the next two decades. To support that dramatic rise, certain rules were broken along the way. In order to protect the reputation of that giant corporation, shell organizations are set up and funded by the company to advocate for policies and regulations that protect the giant corporation, all while those shell organizations purport to be fighting for the interests of small competitors to the giant corporation.

If you’ve clued into the fact that all these statements are related to the history of Internet search giant Google, you’d be considered a pretty discerning observer of the current tech industry. Google’s efforts to decimate the U.S. patent system to protect its own interests is a fact of life that is becoming more clear day by day. The latest scathing report, published in May by the watchdog organization Campaign for Accountability, highlights Google’s activities in supporting the efforts of organizations like Engine Advocacy and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, organizations portraying themselves as advocates for smaller entities, that instead attempt to influence policy on Google’s behalf in many areas, including patent reform.


Engine’s efforts to upend the U.S. patent system in favor of Google and other tech giants has been seen in multiple Congressional hearings in recent years. In May 2015, Julie Samuels, then the executive director of Engine and formerly of the EFF, testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on ways to reduce patent trolling. But Samuels is decidedly anti-patent in her views, as is evidenced by former position at the EFF as the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents. Deriding patents as stupid and employing a derogatory term to refer to patent owners trying to vindicate their patent rights are inexcusable efforts to tilt the patent reform debate in favor of her benefactor Google. Further, Samuels sat on the witness panel of an infamous July 2017 hearing in front of the House IP Subcommittee where she spoke to the supposedly detrimental effects of 40,000 software patent grants as “prohibitively daunting.” Perhaps those software patents are seen as daunting to Google, certainly not the many independent inventors and small startups who invested a great deal of time and money to obtain those patents. Nowhere does she talk about the positive effects that patents can have on a startup looking to scale their operations or simply obtain patents as a risk mitigation strategy. Never does she seem to talk about the fact that patents are used by startups to attract investors, and without funding from investors those startups cannot get off the ground.

If Engine were truly separate from Google, all of this would seem misguided at worst. However, the information laid bare by the Campaign for Accountability proves that Google and Engine are tied at the umbilical cord. Analysis of early communications regarding Engine strongly suggest that the entire organization was a product of Google’s public policy division. In an email dated November 11th, 2011, Google’s policy director Derek Slater was specifically mentioned as a principal member of the team working to create Engine; like Samuels, Slater also has strong ties to the EFF. The Campaign for Accountability’s analysis also ties several other Google employees and consultants to the formation of Engine.

Early followers of Engine’s Twitter handle also tell an interesting story of Engine’s ties both to Google and to DC’s political elite. Excluding spam accounts, the Campaign for Accountability found that three Google policy employees and one policy consultant were among the first followers of Engine’s Twitter account. Obviously, Google was well-aware of the formation of Engine. The only followers who connected with Engine’s Twitter account before those Google employees (again, excluding spam accounts) included the official Twitter account of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee and was a committee member appearing at the May 2015 hearing including Samuels.

It seems to be no surprise that Engine was formed right around the time that Google started running into regulatory issues in Washington. Two days before the website for Engine was registered in September 2011, Google executive Eric Schmidt underwent a great deal of scrutiny in questioning during a Congressional hearing on antitrust issues. Since that time, both Engine and the EFF have served as Google’s knee-jerk reaction to various issues facing the company. For example, the Campaign for Accountability cited a letter organized by Engine and the EFF urging Congress to undertake “comprehensive legislation” to address the “patent troll business model;” this letter was sent less than a week after Google was sued by the Rockstar Consortium for patent infringement related to search advertising and Android devices.

The Campaign for Accountability also notes the $462,570 spent by Engine Advocacy in 2013 to fund studies on privacy and high-tech employment issues in the European Union. Here, as it has elsewhere, Engine’s reports have ultimately portrayed Google in a very positive light without acknowledging any real world issues of anti-competitive behaviors to which Google has contributed. Although it’s unknown exactly how much money Google has funneled into Engine, the Campaign for Accountability has determined that Engine Advocacy and the Engine Research Foundation received a combined $4.4 million in contributions in 2013 and 2015, and Google acknowledges its support of Engine on the company’s public policy transparency page.

Much like Sauron’s spies, Google’s money appears to be everywhere, at least where staving off political ramifications to its business operations are concerned. Google’s support of industry organizations like the EFF and Engine deserves further scrutiny in light of Google’s campaign of financing academic research overly friendly to the company’s bottom line as well as the corporation’s immense political lobbying expenditures, which it has racked up in recent years. It should be noted that news reports indicate that the Campaign for Accountability receives support from Oracle, another major tech name which has been antagonistic to Google in recent years. However, that support doesn’t change the fact that Google has morphed itself into a corporate titan that would have made Standard Oil seem small and insignificant by comparison.

With each new revelation, independent inventors and small patent-owning startups should feel even more vindicated that Google has been a true force for evil in the patent system.Time will tell whether that ultimately matters and shifts the debate.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a writer located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He has become a regular contributor to IPWatchdog.com, writing about technology, innovation and is the primary author of the Companies We Follow series. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 35 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. Valuationguy June 4, 2018 9:21 am

    Keep up the good work Steve. Pulling back the curtain that Google put in place to hide its efficient infringers agenda from the clean light of day is welcome.

  2. Anon June 4, 2018 9:25 am

    Night Writer predicted this YEARS ago (to give credit where credit is due).

    And this article barely scratches the surface!

  3. Bemused June 4, 2018 9:37 am

    Dear Google: You make John D. Rockefeller and Niccolo Machiavelli proud.

    What I find bemusing is that Google is overwhelmingly captained by all these socially conscious leftist Liberals who profess their hatred for capitalism but engage in the worst form of corporate fascism.

    What I find disgusting and appalling is that Google’s destruction of the US patent system (and consequently this country) is aided and abetted by politicians and judges who have prostituted their ethics, morality and values for Google’s money.

  4. beleaguered inventor June 4, 2018 11:36 am

    Speaking of Google’s unethical intrusion and influence, Has anyone heard from former USPTO Director Michelle Lee?

  5. Nothingtoseehere June 4, 2018 12:19 pm

    The USPTO has no policy regarding the use of google and even encourages the use of google search engines. Google is capable of tracking searches originating from the patent office network. Confidentiality anyone?

  6. Damien June 4, 2018 12:41 pm

    Wait… theyre evil? Since when did lobbying become illegal? Yes, big companies with lots of money lobby to try to get laws that favor them… whats your point?

    All that writing and not a single thing that actually ties Google other than the timing of letters by EFF and ENGINE, or how quickly Google employees followed the ENGINE twitter account (lol) or the very very tenuous suggestion of Google’s direct contributions based SOLELY on Google acknowledging their support on their webpage?

    But again, even if you actually had evidence showing a lobbying link between the two…. so what?

  7. SVI June 4, 2018 12:47 pm

    One needs to understand Google’s efficient infringement and crusade to end private property rights for inventors in greater context. Google regards all images, publications and data (including citizen’s private data) as its own. We are witnessing an Orwellian violation of privacy at the hands of Google, Facebook and Amazon. All in the name of ad revenue. Patents are just a part of that.

  8. EG June 4, 2018 1:17 pm

    Hey Steve,

    Great expose on the Google-EFF connection. Doesn’t surprise me in the least that EFF is a shill for Google-EFF has been trying to “burn” the U.S. patent system down for years with its propaganda.

  9. Anon June 4, 2018 2:44 pm

    Damien,

    Your state of denial is immense.

    Overall, this reminds me of the comments of Brian Keith Buchheit posted at: http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2018/05/22/askeladden-submits-amicus-brief-advocating-against-tribal-sovereign-immunity/

    The money and the connections are there. Questions of “so what?” are preposterous and evidence a willful disregard for the reality of a patent system under attack.

    Even beyond an Alfred E. Neumann, What, Me Worry? state.

  10. Jonathan Stroud June 4, 2018 3:44 pm

    Nonsubstantive: “New Reports Say”

  11. Gene Quinn June 4, 2018 4:11 pm

    Damien-

    Not sure how you can actually say there it nothing tying Google to Engine. Perhaps you need to read the article again, this time with your eyes open. The link is explained in the article, and the link is explained in the report. That you choose to ignore the evidence is just proof that you choose to ignore the evidence. Not proof that evidence doesn’t exist.

  12. Night Writer June 4, 2018 4:25 pm

    @4 Damien

    The so what is the fact that there is no disclosure of the source of the money.

  13. angry dude June 4, 2018 5:45 pm

    “don’t be evil”

    He-he

  14. Pro Se June 4, 2018 10:12 pm

    In case anyone missed it:

    “For smaller companies that may be unable to finance patent defenses, Google and NetApp launched startup Unified Patents to help them pool resources.”

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-10-24/a-cheaper-way-to-defuse-patent-claims-kill-the-patent

    Google started, funded, and silently own Unified Patents…

  15. Pro Se June 4, 2018 10:17 pm

    I posted an article from Bloomberg in 2013 that does tie Google as the founder of Unified Patents.. (didn’t show up in the comments, if this ends up a double post please delete one).

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-10-24/a-cheaper-way-to-defuse-patent-claims-kill-the-patent

    “For smaller companies that may be unable to finance patent defenses, Google and NetApp launched startup Unified Patents to help them pool resources.”

  16. peter June 5, 2018 1:23 am

    I have witnessed Breyer adopt arguments directly from
    PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE, THE ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION, ENGINE ADVOCACY, AND THE R STREET INSTITUTE -seemingly without paying any heed to arguments from other briefs. At one oral argument (Cuozzo? Oil States?) his entire argument was almost been verbatim from this Foundation.

    Who is behind the funding of those institutions who have been filing amicus briefs in favor of the efficient infringement lobby? It’s obvious to many. This “dark” money needs to be exposed (as in this illustrative article) and politicians should not be able to hide behind the lack of disclosure. Congress is feeding of this money and exerting unethical influence on the law. The problem, I fear, is not going away soon.

  17. Benny June 5, 2018 5:59 am

    As a purveyor of free-to-use (at least in dollar and cents terms) software (which I’m pretty sure most of the commentators here use), Google has immense public support. US patent applicants in the software/tech field are a tiny minority of that public, and many of the applicants are not US citizens. When it comes to lobbying – which I regard as below-the-belt tactics – I reckon the wind will blow the favours towards the general voting public’s immediate interests (i.e, more free software). Just to give a heads up as to what you are up against.

  18. Night Writer June 5, 2018 8:40 am

    @17 Benny

    Just imagine how great it will be. The tech people can get jobs at Google with trade secrets. They won’t be able to leave their jobs and work in a related area. And will be paid less. And there will be fewer researchers.

    To be clear, Benny, we all get opensource software and we all get the desire to burn down the patent system. We are saying that the free software is merely forth. It is not a sustainable innovation engine.

  19. Bemused June 5, 2018 9:11 am

    Benny@17: I generally agree with your premise that the general public’s perception of Google has been benign (even favorable).

    A few years back, I was told by a top-tier plaintiff-side patent litigation firm that they were very reticent to bring cases against Google because they had commissioned several mock jury studies and found that the overwhelming consensus by study participants was that Google was a great company because they gave away so many “free” things (search, gmail, etc, etc).

    Having said that, the public’s perception of Google (and Facebook, Youtube, etc) is shifting as more and more people become aware (belatedly) that nothing is ever really “free” and that Google has been making money by selling advertisers information about the users of its services/products.

    I also believe (and this is just my personal opinion) that this shift will become even more pronounced by the fact that many of the Silicon Valley Masters of the Universe are unabashedly very left-wing and have used their financial clout and stranglehold on information dissemination to push ultra-liberal/progressive political candidates and causes. A significant segment of the population in this country is not left-wing and these folks are increasingly viewing Google, et al as evil.

  20. Ternary June 5, 2018 9:16 am

    Exactly Benny @17. And this is where the “patents prevent innovation” argument comes from. The underlying reason is that patents may prevent applying novel (IP protected) technology to show up in free software, thus directly threatening the Google eco-system.

  21. Anon June 5, 2018 9:39 am

    Benny,

    Dark and difficult times are ahead.

    Choices, choices choices….

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52Wvn4SzYWc

  22. Brian Keith Buchheit June 5, 2018 10:40 am

    Anon, Thanks for the reference @9.

    Just to join in on the discussions regarding Damien’s “so what.”

    It is one thing to openly express your interests and advocate for them, which Google (or the Clearing House) has a right to do. It is another to masquerade as a small business advocate when doing so, when your are clearly not. As Gene noted, SCOTUS has treated advocated opinions and non-peer-reviewed reports as “facts” – without acknowledging the bias from the funding source. Failure to weigh this bias property in the decision making process results in an overly tilted field, where only those with the money are heard. Congress (as Gene keeps noting) is doing the same thing – having shills masquerade as “small business” interests in a dishonest attempt to steer policy towards big interest.

    The money’d interest is that of natural monopolists who have the most to lose from disruptive technologies – should patents be respected. The people with the most to gain from a strengthening of patents are small businesses/innovators lacking huge support (e.g., the garage inventor). To elaborate, entrenched players in a weak patent system can still enforce these weak patents in court against less funded entities. The legal fees alone are business killing events for the smaller players. In a weak patent system, the large companies have less to fear from losing a patent suit (no injunction, delayed judgement likely to get overturned) – so efficient infringement thrives. The narrative of the “high cost” of patent litigation harming large companies is a fake one. This high cost is an advocated and funded feature of the system from a large company perspective. Big businesses have little to fear (as high costs of bringing IPRs and paying the legal fees is an entry barrier to small businesses) from them – and much to gain (increasing the costs in litigation by adding IPRs causes an owner of a strong patent extra grief, cost, and risk). (As an aside question – how many patents of large entities has Unified Patents challenged; anyone ?). In a weak patent system, patent rights and enforcement is practically restricted to that of a game of kings – garage innovators need not play.

    Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Hiding behind fake initiatives (the Engine; EFF, Unified Patents; Askelladen) is an act of dishonest beings fearful of being exposed. I strongly applaud Gene (and many in this forum) for bringing this hidden underbelly to better light.

  23. let's get some facts June 5, 2018 11:28 am

    Does anyone know what Michelle Lee’s Google stock/option holdings were at the time she was Director of the USPTO? Publicly available disclosures do not disclose this important “DETAIL”…..As the former lead patent litigator and Deputy general counsel for Google, she must have had as sizable position, no?

  24. Night Writer June 5, 2018 11:36 am

    Open software is a step from patents. The next step is trade secrets and separate development systems for the giant corporations.

    Also, when you look at Open software it is very rare for there to be innovation. Open Software typically copies commercial software or academic software. The people who work in open software are often are guilty of subconscious copying.

    Anyway, I am seldom wrong about these things. As soon as patents are gone and there is stronger trade secret law we will move into a new phase.

  25. Damien June 5, 2018 1:11 pm

    @Anon Right… lets presume that Google full-on admits fully funding ENGINE. Note that this is actually STATED in the campaign for accountability paper, that Google has in fact admitted that they fully fund ENGINE…. not one source to support it. lol. They dont find it necessary to source the fact that Google admitted the very thing that their article sets out to prove…

    But lets presume its true. So what? Is lobbying illegal? Is lobbying wrong? Is lobbying not a well known and accepted part of the american political system? Is not this article also lobbying? It is… It seems you guys dont like that other parties have differing opinions than you… it cant possibly be that Google has a legitimate interest and the RIGHT to put its money to support that interest… that cant be the problem, it MUST be that Google is EVIL. lol…. what a joke.

    Google owns ENGINE… boom…. wow, world shaking revelation. Again…. SO WHAT? As per usual you dont respond to the question asked… you try to argue that the article sufficiently supports Google owns ENGINE… thats great… lets presume they do…. whats your point? Boo hoo those people want something differnt than me and I disagree with that therefore they are evil! This is the most close-minded patent forum out there.

    How’d that IPR supreme court case you knew was gonna win work out for ya? womp womp… boo hoos on that too i presume?

  26. Damien June 5, 2018 1:38 pm

    @Disclosure Arguments Read the article “Google has disclosed funding the group every year since 2013” There are no disclosure issues… next.

    @Gene please…. point me EXACTLY to where in that article that actually EVIDENCES that Google is fully funding and controlling engine…. I laid out their arguments… they were simple. 1. timing of letters SUGGESTS connection 2. First followers on twitter (of course not counting hundreds of other users the accountability article labels as bots)… Another smoking gun!! 3. Google says they support ENGINE generally on their website and ENGINE has received $100,000s… The article didnt even have any idea how much of that money was from google… lol Strange given that Google, as the article details, has disclosed their interest in ENGINE since 2013. Perhaps they know those numbers… but it didnt fit the narrative so they left it out and simply suggested that google is paying all of it…. because twitter followers.

    Thats it. Please what else is there? I applaud Gene for writing the article… but its not a hidden underbelly. As the article clearly says, Google has disclosed every year since 2013 that they give money to ENGINE. I just find it strange why his writing his opinion here or the opinion on CFA article are somehow more valid opinions than googles opinion on how the patent system works.

  27. staff June 5, 2018 3:46 pm

    ‘Engine, EFF are Shills…’

    We are convinced large multinational serial infringers have conspired to topple the American patent system: to make it a sport of thieves.

    https://aminventorsforjustice.wordpress.com/2018/05/23/innovation-theft-is-thriving-in-the-u-s/

    For our position and the changes we advocate (the rest of the truth) to restore the patent system, or to join our effort, please visit us at https://aminventorsforjustice.wordpress.com/category/our-position/
    or, contact us at aifj@mail.com

  28. Anon June 5, 2018 4:32 pm

    Damien,

    You exclaim “this forum is close-minded” all the while YOU are the one parading around with a “So What? – Alfred E. Neumann LACK of mind – which is far worse than being close-minded.

    It is a strawman to switch to asking if lobbying is illegal, as NO ONE is making that argument.

    All the while YOU are closing your mind as to the obvious effects of a monied campaign to denigrate patents.

  29. Brian Keith Buchheit June 5, 2018 6:41 pm

    Damien,

    Not a hidden underbelly ? Engine, Unified Patents, Askaleddin assert they are helping “small businesses.” They do not appear to be doing so. All of their actions appear to be those that aid Google and other entrenched players. Weakening the patent system undeniably hurts small businesses. It is typically VERY hard to compete against entrenched players. There is always an entry barrier, which is increasingly imposing as companies approach a natural monopoly state. Small businesses can challenge entrenched interests by building a better mousetrap. A disruptive technology that makes a significant difference in the status quo is small business’s best ally (in competing with a market dominant entity). To protect disruptive technologies, strong patent rights that are enforceable in courts are needed. Otherwise, the market advantages you could have consistent with the innovation (disruptive tech) will never be realized. A big player will choose to copy you (as soon as they lose any appreciable market share) – IP rights be damned. Disruptive tech (and strong patents) are how stagnate companies (My Space or Yahoo – anyone) lose dominance. There is always a tendency to stagnate when you are at the top (since you are making $$$$ by doing what you are … why change and risk your cash cow ? Why provide a better value to consumers, when you get a percentage of the whole – bigger whole (e.g,. more a customer pays) – the greater your profit). If one disincentivizes patents that represent disruptive technologies, the entrenched interest is served. Always. It is simple economics.

    Is Google allowed to advocate their interest ? Sure. Is their interest good for small business – not necessarily. By having well funded shills allege they are “helping the little guy” when they are doing anything but, the public is fooled – and real reform that helps small business is impossible. This is EVEN HARDER when big tech owns huge media assets. The 4th estate cannot do its job (making sites like this one all the more essential) when to some extent media is biased for or owned by entrenched tech. Further, if it were not a big deal (no underbelly) – Google would simply advocate in their own name. They do not want to tarnish their reputation by being openly self-serving or two-faced; so they fund Engine/EFF/Unified Patents/etc.

    When these shenanigans become known, the facade dissipates. If SCOTUS had to acknowledge an amicus it was relying on was really funded by Google or the Big Banks – it is hard to act as though the decision is unbiased. It is OK for a decision to be biased. It is OK for companies to pay lobbiests. Often dishonest, ethically tarnished at times, but legal.

    In answer to the posed question:

    “I just find it strange why his writing his opinion here or the opinion on CFA article are somehow more valid opinions than googles opinion …”.

    Let me help you out. Gene’s opinion is an unbiased one not based on self interest. Gene cares about the patent system. Google’s position is necessarily biased. Google cares about Google’s interest. Worse, when one cares about their own interest so much to invest heavily in it … they are trying to buy public opinion. Your question is akin to “I find it strange that my wife’s opinion on whether I should buy a new care is somehow more valid than a car dealerships opinion on the same …” Respectfully, what a stupid thing to find strange. Of course a car dealership will want you to buy a car (it isn’t an opinion, it is their business). Of course Google wants to retain dominance (by weakening disruptive patents that could threaten its business) – it isn’t really an unbiased opinion, it is their business.

    If they are going so by planting biased actors inside an administrative system,

    There is a tension between small business interest and the interest of the entrenched companies.

  30. Brian Keith Buchheit June 5, 2018 6:45 pm

    (Sorry for the last two lines in 28., they should have been deleted.)

  31. angry dude June 5, 2018 11:21 pm

    Brian Keith Buchheit @22

    “garage innovators need not play”

    One must note that the definition of “garage innovator” (as far as patents are concerned) has shifted quite a bit in recent years: from some guy in a garage with few thousand bucks to file for US patent to a small or even mid-size R&D and patent-dependent company with less than say 10 mil in easily disposable cash..

    That’s quite a shift

    And as far as Google or Apple are concerned a poor guy in his garage and small/mid-size R&D company with hundreds of employees are practically the same type of legal opponent – helpless

  32. Night Writer June 6, 2018 8:24 am

    @26 Damien >> I just find it strange why his writing his opinion here or the opinion on CFA article are somehow more valid opinions than googles opinion on how the patent system works.

    Google’s opinion of how patents work is based on propaganda. They pay off academics, Congress, the President, etc., and make no attempt at honest scholarship or honest metrics about how the patent system works. They are goal driven to burn the system down. And their opinion of how the patent system works has undue weight because of all the money they are using to burn the system down.

    “Google has disclosed funding the group every year since 2013” where are those disclosures?

  33. John Wu June 12, 2018 3:50 pm

    Google again!

  34. Tim Wayne August 10, 2018 9:27 pm

    “But Samuels is decidedly anti-patent in her views, as is evidenced by former position at the EFF as the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents. Deriding patents as stupid and employing a derogatory term to refer to patent owners trying to vindicate their patent rights ”

    Is it the author’s position that no patents are stupid?

    Is it the author’s assertion that a program to eliminate overly-broad patents is the same as calling *all* patents “stupid”?

    Is it the author’s position that patent trolling does not exist?

  35. Gene Quinn August 11, 2018 9:41 am

    Tim Wayne-

    Why don’t we start with what you believe? Is it your position that patents are stupid?

    Is it your position that the EFF is a reputable and honest broker in the patent debate?

    As for patent trolling, it really doesn’t exist. There have been extremely few “patent trolls” actually sanctioned or found to engage in malicious actions. At the same time, there have been numerous large tech companies found to have engaged in intentional acts of wrongdoing against inventors and innovators. So, if one looks at the evidence with objective eyes the bad actors are overwhelmingly not the patent owners. The bad acting patent troll is a myth created by the media and Silicon Valley. I invite you to inform yourself by reading the pages of IPWatchdog that explain the truth. Even the Obama FTC found the term “patent troll” to be misleading.

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