Google wants end to patent arms race

Susan Decker
29 Jul 2011

Google General Counsel Kent Walker said the smartphone industry is in an arms race for patents that is hurting consumers and leaving the company to “sort through the mess” of litigation.

“It’s hard to find what’s the best path -- there’s so much litigation,” Walker said in an interview late yesterday. “We’re exploring a variety of different things.”

Google, whose Android mobile operating system has been targeted in at least six legal complaints, is seeking to buy intellectual property that could be used as a defense against litigation.

Google, the world’s largest internet search company, is also seeking to curb abuses of the system, calling on Congress and the Federal Trade Commission to rein in lawsuits, and asking the US Patent and Trademark Office to take closer looks at patents being used in litigation, Walker said.

“The tech industry has a significant problem,” he said. “Software patents are kind of gumming up the works of innovation.”

Google’s competitors have said the Mountain View, California-based company is critical of the patent system because it has few patents of its own and entered a smartphone market where companies had been researching and selling products for years before Android phones went on sale in 2008.

Google has been assigned 728 patents through today, according to the US Patent and Trademark Office database, mostly for search engine technology. Apple has more than 4,000 U.S. patents, and Microsoft Corp. more than 18,000, according to the database. Patents give their owners a right to exclude others from using the invention for a set period of time.

“It is about innovation and competition,” said Will Stofega, a program manager at researcher IDC Corp. “Doing basic research to bring new products to market is something quite distinct from their core capabilities.”

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