Google sides with forces of good over patents, and sides against the Wright Brothers

Posted: April 2, 2013 in Innovation, Technology
Tags: , , , , , ,


‘We won’t sue you if you don’t sue us,’ said Google last week – or at least it said words to that effect. It was revealing its new policy to patents, and if you are one of those who believe patents are killing innovation, maybe this is one of those occasions when a company need to be heralded for doing the right thing.

‘Don’t be evil,’ says the Google mission statement. Of course not everyone agrees that patents are weapons used by the dark side, but there are reasons to think patents do little good other than to protect those with money rather than those with bright ideas. Not that Google has completely gone against patents; its new policy applies to open systems.

The thing about innovation is that it does not occur in a vacuum – unless your name is James Dyson that is. Innovation does not usually occur when people shut themselves away from the competition. Most of the really bright ideas are just a tweaked version of someone else’s bright idea.

And when you start slapping patents down, the ability to build upon each other’s ideas is thwarted. Companies can innovate by building upon their previous patents, but as soon as they look beyond their own corporate walls, the danger of lawsuits is ever present. Take the story of flight. The Wright Brothers were not shy in coming forward with patents, and the evolution of flight – or so some say – was held back by one or two decades as a result. See: Terence Kealey and his book ‘Sex Business and Profits’, for example.

Or see, for example, the new miracle product graphene: Miracle graphene product shows problems with patents

“At Google,” said Duane Valz, Senior Patent Counsel, “we believe that open systems win. Open-source software has been at the root of many innovations in cloud computing, the mobile web, and the Internet generally. And while open platforms have faced growing patent attacks, requiring companies to defensively acquire ever more patents, we remain committed to an open Internet—one that protects real innovation and continues to deliver great products and services.”

So what has Google decided to do? Well, it calls it: The Open Patent Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge. Mr Valz added: “We’ve begun by identifying 10 patents relating to MapReduce, a computing model for processing large data sets first developed at Google—open-source versions of which are now widely used. Over time, we intend to expand the set of Google’s patents covered by the pledge to other technologies. “We hope the OPN Pledge will serve as a model for the industry, and we’re encouraging other patent holders to adopt the pledge or a similar initiative. We believe it has a number of advantages.”

He added: “Our pledge builds on past efforts by companies like IBM and Red Hat and the work of the Open Invention Network (of which Google is a member). It also complements our efforts on cooperative licensing, where we’re working with like-minded companies to develop patent agreements that would cut down on lawsuits…And, in addition to these industry-driven initiatives, we continue to support patent reforms that would improve patent quality and reduce excessive litigation.”

Well, and this time there is no irony in this statement, good for Google. It is at least trying to live up to its mission statement.

©2013 Investment and Business News.

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