Google Adds to Patent Database
Virtually everyone uses Google everyday. We search for news, the weather, movie times, restaurants, and so on. But, did you know you can use Google to specifically search for patents? Well, you can. In fact, the Internet search giant has a patent database that just got bigger.
On September 19, Google engineers announced in a blog post that they added patent documents from China, Germany, Canada, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to their patent database. Patents are available in both their original language and English, and can be searched for in any language using Google Translate.
Last year, Google expanded its database by adding patents from the European Patent office and the Prior Art Finder, a search engine that seeks inventions that predate a patent and potentially render it invalid.
Searches on Google Patents easily turn up interesting patents. You can read about Google Glass, known as a “gaze tracking system” in technical lingo, a WIPO application for a one leg bicycle pedaling system that allows the user to pedal without bending their knees, or about a bread maker that can cook rice– the possibilities seem endless.
So, why does Google bother making all these patents available? The number of people using Google Patents is unlikely to be large. Sure, law firms, corporations, and procrastinating law students are likely to use it, but why would Google make it available for free? Perhaps, as some have suggested, Google’s goal is to counter patent trolls and patent privateering by shinning a light into an obscure area of the law.
The company has taken a strong stance against “patent trolls” and what it refers to as “patent privateering”. On April 5th along with BlackBerry, EarthLink and Redhat it submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice on the harm caused by patent assertion entities commonly known as patent trolls. In its comments Google suggested that Congress should make it easier for companies to recover the costs of defending against frivolous suits brought by patent trolls. Google also encouraged Congress to tackle the problem of “patent privateering”- the practice of transferring patents to trolls and providing incentives to assert those patents against their competitors. According to Google, trolls use the patents they receive to sue with impunity- since they don’t make anything, they can’t be countersued. Additionally, the troll shields the company that transferred the patent to them from litigation and sometimes even arranges to get a cut of the money extracted by the troll from lawsuits and licensing deals. But, will making patents easy to search via the Google patents database truly impact potentially harmful practices such as “patent trolls” and “patent privateering”?
In my opinion, it is unlikely to be harmful and might have a small positive effect. By allowing the public to easily search patents it might become easier to expose spurious patents. Interesting research could definitely be carried out using the database. On the other hand, patents are not easy to understand. You could look up a patent on the database, read it carefully, and do some research and still have no idea what has been patented. As pointed out in an NPR story on Intellectual Ventures, the controversial company considered a patent troll by many, part of the what makes patent litigation so complex is that the documents can be extremely difficult to understand, even to those familiar with the technology.
So, what do you think? Will making patents easy to find increase transparency?