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.
On Friday, March 22, 2013, Administrative Law Judge David P. Shaw of the United States International Trade Commission issued a remand determination relating to the investigation instituted by the Commission to investigate patent infringement allegations leveled against Microsoft’s Xbox . Judge Shaw determined that the Xbox does not infringe the remaining patent involved in the ITC investigation, which is a complete reversal of his earlier determination that the Xbox did infringe (see below).
Shaw’s remand determination was brief:
It is held that a violation of section 337 of the Tariff Act, as amended, has not occurred in the importation into the United States, the sale for importation, or the sale within the United States after importation, or the sale within the United States after importation, of certain gaming and entertainment consoles, related software, or components thereof that are alleged to infringe asserted claims 1 and 12 of U.S. Patent No. 6,069,896.
The full Commission now has until July 23, 2013, to consider Judge Shaw’s remand ID.
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