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Tony Mobily [opinions]

Google stopped submitting patents to the USPTO: why?

fsmsh.com/3654

UPDATE: As pointed out by Bill Slawski, most recently submitted patent applications don't show up within that time period in USTPO searches or Google's patent search because they are initially filed confidentially, under 35 U.S.C. 122 Confidential status of applications; publication of patent applications. So, I was gracefully wrong!

Software patent wars have always existed: companies fought them (or paid up), sometimes quietly, sometimes making a big fuss. However, something has changed over the last year or so: people started getting directly affected by software patents (ask anybody wanting a Samsung Galaxy Tab in Australia for Christmas 2011...). Lately, two things came to my attention: Google acquired 200 patents from IBM. But, more interestingly: Google hasn't filed any patents over the last several months.

This can be confirmed by looking at Google's own patent search.

Why not? This is certainly a very fair question. A slowdown could have been something understandable -- a complete halt, however, is definitely more interesting.

Hypothesis #1: Making new, half-meaningful software patents is hard and expensive

Really, how many "processes" can you really patent? Getting a patent through is a long, drawn process which requires tons of paperwork and money. Maybe they just got stuck -- it happens to people, and it can happen to companies too. Maybe it just so happened that they reached a point where they just couldn't make up new ways of implementing auto-completion, or suggesting translations to words.

Reading through Google's own filed patents, you end up reading a lot of obviousness, a few really obscure things, and not much more. This is something that software patents simply cannot help: with software, what you are really "inventing" is processes, and you cannot really go very far.

The (non-existent) list of patents filed by Google over the last 7 months

So, maybe -- and I say maybe -- Google is going a different direction: maybe it's acquiring existing, half-meaningful patents from existing vendors, and the transfer of patents from IBM is only the beginning.

Hypothesis #2: Something bigger and better is coming up

This second hypothesis is the one I like the best: with Microsoft actually making money from Androoid (!), maybe Google is preparing a new strategy in terms of patents -- a strategy where filing patents is not the priority.

This is supported by the fact that acquiring existing, granted patents gives Google an immediate weapon to defend themselves from Microsoft -- and anybody going after Android for that matter.

Maybe Google is preparing a patent alliance that will effectively defend them -- and Android -- from the competition's attacks.

So, why has Google not filed a single patent application to the USPTO for 7 months now? We shall see.

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