Once again, IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow is returning to Mountain View, CA, to focus on Google Inc., one of the premier names in online technologies throughout the world. In mid-November, the corporation received a major legal victory when the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the company’s Google Books service is protected under the “fair use” principle of copyright law. Google’s Android system is still very strong in the mobile device market, which the corporation is hoping to improve with the recent launch of its low-cost Moto G smartphone.
Google is a major player in the American patent system, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark System regularly churns out bunches of issued patents and patent application publishings which are assigned to the company. This week, we’re profiling a number of interesting technologies for mobile devices and online software applications that this multinational corporation is either seeking to protect or for which they’ve earned the rights already.
Today’s column starts with a thorough profile of one patent application that seeks to converge content from social networks with the news feed that a person sees when browsing a news aggregator service. Google wants to patent a system that analyzes a user’s social media feeds to pull up relevant media or comments that may enhance the value of browsing through news stories. Other patent applications protect better routing systems, both for public transportation as well as personal vehicles, and one discusses an interesting system of providing instant text translations between two foreign parties on one tablet computer.
Tech sector giants have been crying and moaning about how the patent system has run amok and needs to be scaled back, and continually beg for patent reform that would gut the patent system and weaken patent rights. Immediately after successfully lobbying for the America Invents Act (AIA), they are back at it again supporting new legislation aimed at making it more difficult to enforce patent rights pending in Congress. If they prevail with the passage of the Innovation Act, they will be back at it again no doubt. The longer term goal is to strip the International Trade Commission of its patent jurisdiction, which would make it impossible to stop the importation of infringing goods prior to entering the country. See Will the ITC Lose Its Patent Jurisdiction and Are Some Patent Holders More Equal Than Others?
The grumbling of the tech giants is increasingly being picked up by patent abolitionists who say “see, even Microsoft thinks there should be no patents,” which only adds to the hysteria. Of course, Microsoft is one of the top patenting companies year after year and they aggressively pursue software patens themselves. So while some of Microsoft’s public statements suggest that they do not like software patents, they aggressively seek them and then aggressively pursue licensing strategies. So it seems that Microsoft may talk a good game about software patents being undesirable and a real scourge, but when push comes to shove they will get as many patents as they can. Quite curious if you ask me!
So why do the tech giants want to make it hard for small businesses and individuals to get patents? Do you remember when “Wang” was synonymous with “computer,” or at least “word processor”? Perhaps not, but once upon a time it was indeed. The story of Wang is the story of technology companies generally speaking. What has always been true is that technology companies that reach the top are only passing through on their way down; to be replaced by smaller, leaner companies that pursue appropriate strategies and have solid and expandable innovations in demand.
Even mighty Microsoft couldn’t maintain their monopoly, and only the foolish would anticipate Google, Facebook and other tech giants to be on top indefinitely. That isn’t how the tech sector works, or is intended to work. But if a vibrant, robust and strong patent system is not there for start-ups today they will never become the giant, innovation shifting, growth companies of the future. That would be terrible for the economy, lead to stagnant innovation and guarantee that slothful, giant companies that have lost the ability to innovate would remain dominant rather than going the way of the dinosaur.
Recently U.S. Patent No. 8,515,829(the ‘829 patent) came to my attention. It is a patent issued to Google, which is titled Tax-free gifting. See Google Patents Tax-Free Gifting. The invention is interesting in its own right, but as I reviewed the patent I noticed an interesting figure — Figure 14 really caught my attention. Before proceeding to discuss the importance of Figure 14, allow me to provide some background information about this particular patent.
Generally speaking, the invention relates to a system and related techniques for gifting, and paying for, digital content, including media, such as audio and video. The core of the invention, as suggested by the title, relates to giving someone something tax-free. While the title may suggest the invention is potentially nefarious, or at least aimed at exploiting some tax loophole, that is not the case. The government is not going to be cheated out of collecting taxes. Instead, the invention relates to a method that allows for the giver of the gift to pay for the tax imposed by the jurisdiction where the gift (i.e., gift card) is redeemed.
Indeed, Claim 1 in the ‘829 patent specifically includes a limitation specific to the payment of the tax that would otherwise be imposed when the gift is redeemed. Claim 1 recites (emphasis added):
From U.S. Patent No. 8,515,829, titled “Tax-free gifting.”
Google Inc. is one of the dominant corporations in the Internet industry. This company is responsible for many popular Internet-based technologies, such as Google Drive and the Android operating system for handheld electronic devices. In early September, the company announced that the one billionth Android device had been activated for use. The company has been making waves in other industries as well, and by 2017 Google hopes to have made self-driving cars commercially available.
In IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, we return to take a look at this American-based corporation to see some of the future of Internet technologies we can expect to see come out of Mountain View, California, where Google is headquartered. As always, we take a look at some patent applications and issued patents published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and assigned to Google.
A few of the patent applications from Google we’re looking at today focus on improvements to mobile devices of various kinds. One patent application would protect a system of improving security measures for a portable device based on the device’s actual location. Another application would aid the image capture process on a mobile device based on the user’s field of vision. Other patent documents we feature discuss improvements created by applied computer analysis of various network data. One patent application filed by Google would allow users to monetize pictures that they share on social networks. We also explore a patent application that gives advertisers better insight into the demographics of a certain television show’s audience. But the reference that was by far the most eye-catching was an issued patent that gives Google the right to protect a system of paying tax for the recipient of a gift card, instead of that tax being applied to the recipient’s purchases.
From its early days as an online search engine, Google Inc. of Mountain View, CA, has been very involved in developing and distributing Internet-based software products such as Google Docs, an online word processing application, and the Android operating system for mobile phones. Its worldwide scope is evidenced through much of its application development, such as its decision to add 18 available languages to users of Google programs like Docs and Slides.
As a developer of Internet technologies, Google is a common applicant at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Each week, the USPTO publishes many patent applications and issues many patent to the California-based technology manufacturer. Today our Companies We Follow series takes a closer look at some of the more intriguing documents that details Google’s innovations.
A number of interesting patent applications deal with Google’s efforts to improve online mapping applications. One such application would protect a system of downloading map tiles for offline routing. An issued patent assigned to Google protects a system of depicting multi-level buildings three-dimensionally so that browsers can view flooring plans.
Under the DMCA or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, all content published online is protected under copyright law, regardless of it having the copyright symbol on the page. Any content, no matter the form it takes (whether digital, print, or media) is protected under copyright law. The prevention of copyright infringement requires constant vigilance; even using your own material in two different places and plagiarising unintentionally can land you in trouble.
Why It Is Important to Protect Your Online Content from Being Copied:
Copyright is important in all forms of media because it provides legal ownership over the work someone produces. This allows the author, artist, etc. control over how their work is used. Without copyright laws, content could be stolen from one creator and used by someone else; thus, a profit could be made by someone other than the creator from content that they put no effort into. Since it is the copyright holder’s responsibility to ensure that a copyright has not been infringed upon, it is vital to keep a close eye on your content and how it is used by others on the internet.
There is no doubt that the Obama position will be loved by Google and other Silicon Valley technology giants that despise the patent system. Given the revolving door between the Obama Administration and Google, the long-term close relationship between President Obama and Google (see here, here and here), and the fact that patent issues don’t resonate with John Q. Public, it seems likely that the President stepping in now to allow him to tout that he is engaged with issues of importance in the minds of tech giants who will be asked for large checks later this week.
But what executive action could the President really take that would make a difference?
Google, Inc., of Mountain View, CA, develops Internet-based products, like its renowned Google Internet search engine and Gmail, an e-mail application, among many others. Google.com is one of the world’s most widely accessed websites every day. Recent corporate moves, including the announcement of Google’s partnership with NASA for the development of quantum computing, have widened the scope of the company’s future.
This week at IPWatchdog, we want to take a look at the Internet and computer technology developer’s recent published documents released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. As the developer of the Android mobile device software, Google is heavily involved with mobile device and digital media systems development. Two recent patent applications filed by Google would protect different innovations for Internet audio systems, including a user-responsive start page for a music library and a system of allowing multiple users to rate tracks on a playlist to adjust playback.
Google is also focused on improving online search methods, as is evidenced by another patent application for a system of searching social media pages for individuals or groups. And another final patent application would protect a more secure system of offering digital media excerpts to potential customers which would prevent stealing.
A patent recently awarded by the USPTO to Google that caught our eye also protects another new search system that would provide for logo recognition.
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) recently announced that it is joining the other cast of characters who have filed a class action complaint against Google, claiming (as the other plaintiffs have) that Google’s “Google Book Search” program violates the copyrights of several photographers and visual artists. The other plaintiffs include individuals Leif Skoogfors, Al Satterwhite, Morton Beebe, Ed Kashi, John Schmelzer, Simms Taback and Gail Kuenstler Living Trust, Leland Bobbe, John Francis Ficara and David Moser, and associations The American Society of Media Photographers, the Graphic Artists Guild, the Picture Archive Council of America, the North American Nature Photography Association, the Professional Photographers of America, and American Photographic Artists.
So what brought on this class action suit in the first place? Well, it would seem that whenever someone conducts a search using the Google Books program, that search brings up images that are contained in both books and periodicals–images that are copyright protected. And apparently, this isn’t the first time Google Books has been under fire in litigation–even the writers of some of the books and periodicals that come up when using the search have also claimed copyright infringement.
Late yesterday I was contacted via telephone by a representative of Google about my article titled Is Patent Litigation Really a Problem for Big Tech? I was told during that telephone conversation that I misunderstood what Suzanne Michel said during the symposium at American University. I was also told that Google does not sell patents to patent trolls, although other big tech companies do, which concerns Google.
There is a video tape of Michel’s presentation, which you can view online courtesy of American University. I have reviewed the pertinent part of the video tape multiple times, and I have asked for input from several trusted advisers. I have also received unsolicited input from others who have also seen the video tape and who were present at the event. What is most clear is that there is a reasonable difference of opinion about the meaning of what was said.
Google has asked for a retraction based on what was said at 58:45 into the video segment, but what I wrote relied upon what was said at 53:45 into the video segment. I am not entirely comfortable with a retraction because I think my interpretation of what Michel said was fair, although I’m willing to accept Google at face value when they tell me that they do not sell to patent trolls. So rather than retract and say I misinterpreted what was said I will leave it to the readers to determine the reasonable interpretation of what was said during the presentation.
UPDATED: May 2, 2013 at 12:17am ET — An earlier version of this article explained that Google sells to patent trolls. Google has since informed me via telephone that they do not sell to patent trolls, but other big tech operating companies do sell to patent trolls, which concerns Google. See Google: We Don’t Sell to Patent Trolls.
Recently at a conference at American University Washington College of Law a senior patent attorney from Google — Suzanne Michel — lamented that big technology companies are practically forced to sell their patents to patent trolls. See Fixing the Patent System. So as it turns out big tech companies are responsible for creating at least a portion of the so-called “patent troll problem” by and through their own actions and business decisions. So how and why should their position relative to patent litigation be taken at all serious when they themselves admit to creating the problem in the first place?
If big tech companies are selling unwanted patents to patent trolls who then turn around and monetize them there are a lot of questions to ask. First, why are they selling to those who then turn around and sue them? There is an obvious solution to this problem, if it is indeed a real problem and not one made up for sake of publicity and swaying public opinion (and political opinion on Capitol Hill). Second, what are they doing selling patents that can be monetized? If they are giving these patents away how is that appropriate at all when the company needs to answer to shareholders? Isn’t the goal of any company to maximize returns for shareholders? Finally, if operating companies are selling to patent trolls then how is it possible that patent litigation is as big a problem as it is claimed to be? Something just doesn’t smell right here, but a room full of symposium attendees were told that big tech companies sells out to patent trolls. Curious.
As counter-intuitive as big tech companies selling to patent trolls may be, equally head scratching is how big tech companies complain about getting sued but refuse to negotiate unless they are sued. Seems like their actions force lawsuits that they complain about and hoist up to proclaim the patent system broken. Talk about the emperor wearing no clothes!
On Friday, April 12, 2013, I was at American University Washington College of Law for a program titled Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Today: Software, Genomics, and Business Methods. I participated on a panel titled CLS Bank en band: Are Software Methods Patentable? What I want to write about today, however, is not our panel presentation, but rather the Keynote presentation by Suzanne Michel (no relation to Chief Judge Michel), a former deputy director of the FTC who is Senior Patent Counsel at Google, Inc., working in Google’s policy office in Washington, DC.
It is no great surprise probably, but I disagreed with practically everything she said, although I did enjoy her presentation. I love to debate the issues, and she is extremely knowledgeable and well briefed on what is happening in the trenches. Those of us who disagree with the proffered narrative that the patent system is broken can’t ignore competent advocates like Michel. She is not a patent-hater and her message is sharp, crisp and clear, although I do think it is misleading. The patent system is not broken, and for reasons I can only guess the best and brightest leaders in much of the big-tech industry are pursuing paths not calculated to succeed; at least if the goal is to stem the rise of patent litigation and innovate for the future.
With this in mind, what follows is a summary of Michel’s presentation, which if not titled was certainly themed — Fixing Problems of the Patent System to Improve Innovation. I also provide my thoughts and comments in the format of comments from the peanut gallery, or perhaps as a patent law equivalent to Mystery Science Theater 3000. In order to differentiate my thoughts/comments from Michel’s presentation, my comments are italicized, colored, indented and tagged with the IPWatchdog logo.