Google Says Microsoft Uses Patents When Its Products Fail

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Google patent lawyer Tim Porter says that the patent system itself is broken thanks to a patent office that granted protection to "broad, vague or unoriginal ideas masquerading as inventions." Now Microsoft is reportedly abusing that broken system by stockpiling dubious patents and "taxing" those supplying Google's Android operating system.

"When their products stop succeeding in the marketplace, when they get marginalized, as is happening now with Android, they use the large patent portfolio they've built up to get revenue from the success of other companies' products," Porter said, also pointing out that Microsoft used a similar tactic with Linux.

The Chronicle opens the interview with a short history of Google's battle with Microsoft, Apple and Oracle who stands firm with a claim that Android was built using technology protected by their patents. Oracle has sued Google outright while Apple and Microsoft have attacked companies using the operating system in question. The major players have even scrambled to build their patent portfolios, eventually pushing Google into claiming that competitors were purposely banding together to "tax" the highly popular Android.

But as previously stated, Porter blames the current firepower against Android on the patent office itself. "I think what many people can agree on is the current system is broken and there are a large number of software patents out there fueling litigation that resulted from a 10- or 15-year period when the issuance of software patents was too lax," he said. "Things that seemed obvious made it through the office until 2007, when the Supreme Court finally said that the patent examiners could use common sense."

"Patents were written in a way that was vague and overly broad," he added. "(Companies are) trying to claim something that's really an idea (which isn't patentable). There are only so many ways to describe a piston, but software patents are written by lawyers in a language that software engineers don't even understand. They're being used to hinder innovation or skim revenue off the top of a successful product."

According to Porter, the legal system should say you shouldn't patent something that's obvious. There also needs to be real standards for what is patentable. Even more, patents are supposedly a form of property -- if there aren't clear boundaries, then the "property" system doesn't work. Damages, injunctions and remedies also should be proportional to the value of the invention, not the "astronomical damages" Apple and Microsoft are currently seeking in court.

Porter also goes on to debunk Microsoft's patent attorney Horacio Gutiérrez's statement that the current swarm of lawsuits is an unfortunate-but-normal historic event that follows "disruptive" technologies. "Microsoft was our age when it got its first software patent," he said. "I don't think they experienced this kind of litigation in a period when they were disrupting the established order. So I don't think it's historically inevitable."

"The period of intense patent assertions (against things like the steam engine) resulted in decades-long periods of stagnation," he added. "Innovation only took off when the patents expired."

To read the full interview, head here.

  • Benihana
    I get the feeling that Mr. Porter enjoys using his brain quite frequently. Here here!
  • el33t
    "X Uses Patents When Its Products Fail"

    Isn't that like a general strategy used by companies whose product fail or who fear getting their product beaten down by competitors?
  • Kamab
    Seem like good points. Doubt it will go anywhere though.
  • clonazepam
    This is bull... we all know damned well that Google wants to expand its portfolio as well and plans to do the same thing...
  • ujaansona
    Gentlemen, don't behave childishly.
  • leon2006
    Google has been a whiner lately...
  • alikum
    Whine all you want Google. Microsoft hasn't even laid its hands on you.
  • ThisIsMe
    It's funny because what he really means is, "When we (Google) use patented stuff in our products and then get into legal trouble over it, and it's obvious that we messed up, we blame the system and want it fixed. It also helps us when we say things like this because many of our supporters (read fans of open source) hate Microsoft, hate patents and/or the patent system and also they hate Microsoft. So this is a smart thing for me to say. Did I mention they hate Microsoft?"

    What's also funny is that Google has never really hesitated in the past to protect it's IP when it felt it was in the right and could win in the courts.

    What's sad is that Microsoft, as far as I've been able to find, has not directly threatened anyone. They have however approached many of their partners with what could only be a viable way to keep both parties satisfied. They cannot directly go after Google because it gives the software away to be distibuted by the product manufacturers. It's not hard really. If Google doesn't like it, all they have to do is come up with a different way of doing whatever it is that's obviously infringing on Microsoft's IP.
  • ChiefTexas_82
    Microsoft brings out its patent guns when its products fail and it's cornered in the market.
    As Opposed to Apple, who brings out its patent guns when they LEAD the market???
  • palladin9479
    He does have a point. You can't patent an idea only a design or technology. A "box with round corners" is an idea but described as a design in order to get a patent. Those are what Apple's been using to bludgeon every non-Apple smart phone maker with. What MS's has been doing is selling "protection" from Apple in a form of licensing agreements. Companies can "license" the MS patent for "box with round corners", and if Apple has a problem they have to battle it out with MS instead of the smaller company. The $15 USD tax seems ridiculously high but the alternative is to have Apple block your product from launch and destroy your company.

    The US really needs to pass some form of patent reform to fix these issues. Otherwise innovation will be deeply stiffed until those patents expire.