back to article Google's legal boss is fed up with patent warfare

Legal tangles over patents are stifling innovation and will lead to stagnation in the tech industry, said Google's chief patent lawyer in a newspaper interview in the San Francisco Chronicle. "The concern is that the more people get distracted with litigation, the less they'll be inventing," said Tim Porter, Google's patent …


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  1. nichobe

    Well Said Sir

    Could not agree with you more.

    To encourage innovation have maybe 12-24 months of restrictions on a new innovation and then it should be FRAND'd for all to use but still allow R&D to be profitable.

  2. DJO Silver badge

    Bugger it, I agree with a lawyer, suicide is the only answer now..........

  3. Tchou

    " '90s and early 00s has built up a backlog of problems. There was a 10- or 15-year period when "the issuance of software patents was too lax", he said, with patents going to unoriginal, vague proposals that have fuelled the litigation and legal trouble that is happening now. "

    Who again is patenting "Unlock gesture", "similar design" and "one click action"?

    Ho yeah, a true innovator...

    1. James O'Brien
      Paris Hilton


      The answers to your question on:

      "Who again is patenting "Unlock gesture", "similar design" and "one click action"?"

      Apple, Apple and if I recall right Amazon.

      *Truth be told I honestly dont remember anymore due to how screwed up the patent system is these days. For all I know the answers could be, Me, my Kat and the pr0n star with the heavy duty vibrational test device.

      Paris due to me not being able to follow this crap anymore.

      1. Tchou

        It completely illustrate my point and i thank you for that.

        Thinking that a delirious paranoid techno egocentrist could have patented the use of the keyboard with a computer in the 70's or 80's makes me shiver....

  4. Anonymous Coward 101

    Whilst in agreement that the US patent system is a complete mess, I wonder if Android patents currently had the whip hand over Apple and Microsoft patents, would this man support patent reform? Or would he be banning Apple products and unjustly extracting every single penny from Microsoft to the detriment of consumers?

    1. Bub

      Whilst no-one believe Google is saintly in all respects, it certainly can't be accused of *started* any patent war. When search was on the rise, they didn't build up an arsenal of patents on search then aggressively go after Microsoft and Yahoo. (Perhaps they are regretting that now!)

  5. Dave 15 Silver badge

    Make the patent office that issued the patent resposnsible for BOTH parties legal bills in the event of a patent defeat - that will focus minds when it come to granting patents on things like the shape of a tablet or a feature that already exists on another platform.

    When a company wants an injunction for a patent don't grant it, if the patent claim is successful then the infringing company is required to pay extra compensation.

    Don't allow patent infringement claims from a company not actively marketting a product containing that patent (killing off the patent trolls instantly).

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Dave 15

      "Don't allow patent infringement claims from a company not actively marketting a product containing that patent (killing off the patent trolls instantly)."

      And in the event of claim/counter claim as per Apple/Samsung all products from both companies are banned from the market worldwide until the issue is resolved.

      That should focus both lots attention for a speedy solution and reduce the lawyers earnings.

  6. Error Message Silver badge

    Software patents too lax?

    You mean the award of a patent for solving the two-digit year Y2K problem by allocating two more digits, which may or may not be contiguous with the other two, should not have happened?!?!

  7. ThomH

    I'm both...

    ...a qualified lawyer and a software engineer, and I largely agree. Patents are granted monopolies and, statistically speaking, monopolies correlate with periods of stagnation. Furthermore most patents are written in appalling legalese and a lot of tech patents from the relevant period appear to have been granted improperly. We are seeing serious distractions as a result.

    There's insufficient evidence to indict either a majority of lawyers or a majority of patents, but plenty that significant errors have been made and are proving very expensive for the industry.

    Serious reform is needed - the risk of lazy patent officers needs to be counterbalanced by an extremely cheap or free way of invalidating patents, by anyone. The way to solve this problem is to enable organisations analogous to the EFF that goes after problem patents. It even feels like something you could get politicians on board with.

  8. technohead95

    Yes, the patent issue is a complete nightmare

    Currently, the only winners are the lawyers who are raking it in from both sides. I truly feel the current patent issue is hampering on innovation and the consumers are suffering. With manufacturers being focused on attacking/defending in patents clashes, they are less focused on producing good quality products. Costs spent on attacking/defending would need to be regained elsewhere in the business such as increased product cost. Therefore, no matter what manufacturer you are loyal time, you will be have an inferior quality product at a more expensive price while the patent disputes are going on.

  9. A. Lewis


    There are very many things in this world of which we should get rid, and software patents (or perhaps, the vague and litigation-inviting patents that seem to exist) are comparatively high up the list.

  10. stuff and nonesense

    The first step to my mind is simple:

    Cancel ALL software patents.

    Replace them with copyright for the developed - released code.

    Any un-executed software patent - let it die.

    There would not have been so many PC manufacturers if software was patented in the early 80s. IBM would have killed Phoenix (or whoever).

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Quote: "Software patents are written by lawyers in a language that software engineers don't even understand"

    Very true! I've had one idea patented, and by the time the lawyers had finished processing the technical specification into legalese it was impossible for me to tell whether the resulting patent application actually described the invention, much less build a device that embodied the patent.

    Part of the game seemed to be to make the claims as broad as possible while still being (just) specific enough to be patentable, to prevent competitors from making a similar product that was sufficiently different that the patent could be avoided.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But I wanna play

      You have a patent? How dare you not let me rip you off, er, I mean innovate or think of something better!

      1. MacGyver

        In 1999 I invented the iDrive..

        In 1999 I wrote a mp3 player from scratch (all 2000 lines of C code in one sad .c file), used a 4x40 LCD screen, wrote the code to interface it through a LPT port, and took an optical rotary encoder, and hacked it into the x-axis of a PS2 mouse (got the idea of a rotary menu control from my CRT monitor). I wrote the menu system with the same thought of "remembering where the buttons on your TV remote control are at night and not needed to look at them" , and being blind (you're driving), and was going to sell it for use in cars. I even had the idea that once you transferred your music to the harddrive via a CD or wireless, that I could also use the wireless to share music between devices like Napster was doing. I couldn't do anything with my prototype because I didn't have around $10,000 cash that I needed to patent it. It's only getting worse today, because companies now can patent just the idea now (ie. menu bounce), and even though I wrote it all from scratch I would have still be sued out of business even though it was created before the iDrive (they have better lawyers).

        If I was able to get a patent then on just my ideas rather than the implementation of those ideas, it would have meant that none of those devices we have today would be around. Patenting ideas doesn't lead to innovation, only the way it's implemented should ever be patentable.

  12. Justin Clements


    Guess Google won't mind me starting a search engine that values a link and site from how many other sites link to it.

    I'll call it PageWank.

    And if anyone complains, I'm going to bitch that the system is broken and it's violating my right to innovate (using other people's ideas).

    1. Craigness


      Stanford holds that patent, not Google. And you're very specific in the way you want your search engine to operate. The patent bans you from using that method for your search engine (without a license) but it doesn't ban you from making a search engine from your own ideas. The problem with patents is that they can be too broad or obvious, and if you have enough of those you could effectively ban people from making competing products, even with their own ideas.

    2. DN4

      @Justin Clements

      So you think no other search engine does this or what?

      The idea is the easy part. Implementing it right is the difficult one.

      1. MacGyver
        Thumb Down

        Implementing it right is the difficult one.....

        ..and is supposed to be the what the patent covers, at least I thought.

        It's trivial to think up the idea for say "a multi-touch on-screen combination lock you rotate left or right to unlock your phone". See I just made that up, go ahead and patent your "implementation" of it, but don't try to implement it with my exact code, that would be IP theft, now if the code for an idea is so simple that there is only one way to do it, then it shouldn't be patentable, in my opinion. (like the math for "bounce back")

        Creative once sued Apple and everyone on a patent "for selecting and playing music on an electronic device using menus", it was at that point I know the patent system was broken.

        Apple should have never won that injunction against Samsung for the Galaxy, that amounted to a patent for a "rectangle with rounded corners". There was sooooo much prior art that if it wasn't so pathetic and crippling to innovation, that it would be laughable.

  13. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    Patents, last refuge of those that can't innovate.

    Yeh, just think what would have happened if Gary Kildall's and taken out patents on CPM.... "Sorry Bill, you can't do that, I have a patent on the 8.3 filename formats"

    Hmmmmmm..... maybe software patents are a good thing

  14. FIA Silver badge

    "Ultimately though it's going to take more than an opinion piece to end the patent wars. "

    True, although when it's an opinion piece from someone associated with a company with deep pockets you do have to wonder if the lobbying will follow.

    Maybe this will be the best thing to come out of the Oracle patent action?

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Who doesn't think the system is broken?

    Outside counsel--that's who!!

    (Now where on el Reg's staff do I send my billable hours and invoice for this valuable legal opinion I have just provided?)

  16. Anonymous Coward


    Of course Google don't like patents. This company has innovated exactly once (search).

    Every other product, all the way up to Android & Google+, copies someone else's work.

    1. Old n Cynical

      "This company [Google] has innovated exactly once (search)."

      Even that assertion is, to some degree, open to debate.

      Somedays I yearn for the original AltaVista, Deja News and my old Gopher client. Them's were the days. But I digress. Back to the article...

      "There was a 10- or 15-year period when "the issuance of software patents was too lax". That really should be, 'There has been a continual issuance of software patents, when there should have been exactly zero'.

      The problem is not lax software patents. The problem IS software patents. They are, to quote one of the kids, 'Mahoosive suckage'.

      'Mahoosive suckage'? FFS, did my generation really sponsor such bastardisation of the English language? We did? Meh, my bad innit!

    2. James Hughes 1

      If Google copied everyone else

      Why are everyone's else's products so inferior? They had head starts after all.

      Google Search, Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Docs, GMail. All products (mostly) better than their competitors.

      Google's innovation is really to do with actually making products usable and GOOD. A bit like Apple, who you could also tar with the same 'no innovation' brush.

      1. Old n Cynical


        "Google Search, Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Docs, GMail. All products (mostly) better than their competitors."

        That would be a matter of personal opinion. IMO, any other free, competing product - which, even if it were technically inferior - that does not scan my soul and poke around my arseole like an insane proctologist for advertising opportunities at every turn would always be superior to one that does. I would rather pay a fee to a support minnow service provider that values privacy. My freetard days are long gone and I prefer to support small business buy buying their services ahead of using the offerings of an out of control ad agency. But that's just me. (As you can probably tell, I am no fan of G**gle and haven't been since about 2 years after G**gle first launched their search as a beta).

        Whilst I don't have any compelling need or requirement to use any of the products you mention I fail to see what is so great about any of them, with perhaps the exception of search, which pretty much gets worse by the day anyway.

        "Google's innovation is really to do with actually making products usable and GOOD"...

        I would argue with your assertion that G**gle products are, for the most part, 'GOOD' (why so shouty?) on both technical and semantic levels. A raft of Google code I have seen leaves quite a bit to be desired. Semantically, 'good' is certainly not a word I would use in connection with G**gle. But then, the contextual meaning of 'good' may be different for me. If you were to replace the word 'good' with 'adequate' or 'barely adequate' I may be more inclined to agree.

      2. Anonymous Coward


        Umm .. I didn't say Google makes crap software I simply said they are naturally against patents because they don't innovate. There's nothing wrong with taking someone else's idea and making it better .. as long as you pay the royalties.

  17. ratfox

    Well, he is biased...

    But he is also right.

  18. Kevin 6

    One slight disagreement with him

    "Software patents are written by lawyers in a language that software engineers don't even understand," he said.

    Software patents are written in a language NO ONE understands period

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmmm - bad patents granted

    There's supposed to be a requirement for a patent to be novel (and thus the general concept *not* obvious to "those skilled in the art"). I've had cause to be reading patents on systems for 3D image recording (Microsoft Kinect and suchlike) in the past few weeks. There's loads of patents filed in the past 5-7 years which I'd say are patently obvious (and in some cases for which I could produce photographic evidence that I'd toyed with much the same thing in the labs at Uni a decade ago). It's nice when you find a patent and think "yeah, that's cool - I wouldn't have thought of that / I wouldn't have imagined that was possible". Trouble is, even the genuinely original ideas seem obvious with hindsight.

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