— Jessica Gutierrez Alm, Attorney


googleLast week, Google announced its new “Patent Purchase Promotion.”  Under this program, for a two-week period, companies and individuals will have an opportunity to offer their patents to Google for purchase for a price determined by the patent owners themselves.  The program is set to run from May 8th through May 22nd of this year.  After the offer period ends, Google will review the offers and choose whether to accept any by June 26th.  Google promises that they will only accept or reject offers at the prices set by the patent owners.

Google is calling its new program an “experiment” and claims that its goal is to “remove friction from the patent marketplace.”  Allen Lo, Google’s deputy general counsel for patents said in the announcement on Google’s blog:

The usual patent marketplace can sometimes be challenging, especially for smaller participants who sometimes end up working with patent trolls. Then bad things happen, like lawsuits, lots of wasted effort, and generally bad karma. Rarely does this provide any meaningful benefit to the original patent owner. 

And so in an apparent effort to generate good karma, Google is purporting to buy patents in order to keep them out of the hands of patent trolls.  But what then does Google intend to do with all these newly acquired patents that it so gallantly saved from the trolls?

A patent troll, also known as a non-practicing entity, is typically defined as a company that collects patents and uses them to obtain licensing fees, while not actually practicing the invention itself.  In some cases, the licensing fees may be subject to unfair terms, and the troll may demand licensing fees from companies who only practice something tangentially related to the patent, hoping the companies will simply pay up to avoid litigation.

While Google holds itself out as strongly against the traditional patent system, it continues to amass an enormous patent portfolio for itself.  In 2014, Google earned the 8th-highest number of patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, for a total of 2,566 U.S. patents.  When Google purchased Motorola in 2011, discussions focused on the valuable patent portfolio Google obtained in the deal.  In recent years since the Patent and Trademark Office instituted a “fast track” program by which applicants can pay fees in order to have their patents cut in line and be examined more quickly, Google has utilized the program extensively in order to push its patents through the system.  In 2014 for example, Google obtained 875 patents through the fast track program.

Despite Google’s long history of lobbying for patent reform and even pledging many of its software patents as open-source, it has been accused of patent trolling in the past.  So is this new program just another way to obtain more intellectual property, disguised as good karma and a contribution to patent reform?  Google has not placed any restrictions on the types of patents that may be submitted for consideration, and the patent mogul expressly states that it will retain the right to license out the patents it purchases through the program.  Perhaps Google really is just trying to clear the way for patent reform.  In any event, it will be interesting to see where Google’s “experiment” leads.