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IP, Patent

If A Google Doodles A Patent In The Woods, Does It Get A Laugh?

All across the internet, folks are quickly making Google (and its “doodles” patent) the butt of jokes.  But patents are no laughing matter (usually), and the responses, though diverse, are generally consistent about one thing: this patent has very little commercial value.  I’m really not sure one way or the other whether this is a “commercially relevant” invention or not (at least not yet), but if I were a shareholder, I’d certainly be curious about the resources expended by Google to obtain this patent, and what benefit it confers on the company.  More on that, and the full file history below the jump.

First, the commentary.  A CNet writer worries about “systematization” of art:

This is Google. Everything must be systematized. The abstract makes this entirely clear: “A system provides a periodically changing story line and/or a special event company logo to entice users to access a Web page.”

Via Google gets patent for its doodles (really)

IT World admittedly provides a completely uniformed opinion that it’s “the most trivial patent in history.”  Really? The apparently can make this opinion despite this admission:

Not being a patent attorney, I don’t really understand the implications of this patent. Does it prohibit any other websites from altering their logos with drawings? Or does it just prohibit someone from starting another search engine named Google and then adorning the logo with doodles? What’s being protected here?

Via Google granted most trivial patent in history

Business Insider called the patent “absurd”, and noted:

If you needed any more proof that the U.S. patent system is totally out of control, here it is: after ten years of lobbying, Google was granted a patent on Google Doodles this morning.

Via Google Gets An Absurd Patent For Its “Google Doodles” — Check Out Our Favorites Here (GOOG)

Dale Halling, responding to BI’s “absurd” claim called the author’s opinion “Patently Ignorant”

The article demonstrates the ignorance of the author, Matt Rosoff.  A patent is a property right in an invention.  An invention is a new creation.  This means that it has to be useful and to be an invention it has to use technology to solve the problem.  This is exactly the sort of invention that patents were designed to protect.  If someone copies Google’s technology, then they are clearly free loading off the efforts of Google.

Via Patently Ignorant: Business Insider Article on Google Doodle Patent

As to value, Halling correctly notes:

If the invention has no value, then the patent will not hamper anyone’s development efforts.  If the invention has value, then using it without authorization is theft.  As someone who has been enticed to click on the modified Google logo, I would say the invention appears to have value.

So what commercial value does the patent hold?  PC Mag tells us:

Google now has a team of doodlers, and every year the company hosts a Google 4 Doodle contest that invites school children to submit drawings that will be featured on Google.com. The fourth annual contest launched in January, and students have a chance to take home a $15,000 scholarship and a $25,000 technology grant for their school. The winning doodle will be on the homepage on May 20.

Via Google Obtains Patent for Google.com Doodles

Of course, Google’s shareholders want to know what this technology is worth, and how much it cost.  The full file history is a good place to start, where you can start to get an idea of the back-and-forth with the patent office and see how much Google was willing to put behind its co-founder’s patent.

View this document on Scribd

Well,the patent itself is essentially limited to a computer program that combines modifying a company logo and “associating a link or search results with the special event logo” so that when users “select” the special event logo, they’re presented what the information (link or search result) that’s been associated.  Of course, the claimed computer program contains numerous specific steps that have to be combined to actually practice this invention, but that’s the gist of it.  (As always, read the claims.)

While IT World expresses some confusion over the actual coverage of the patent, take a look at what Brin originally described as the invention. From the application:

A method for enticing users to access a web page, comprising:
uploading a first image in a story line to the web page; and
periodically uploading successive images, following the first image, to the web page according to the story line.

Yeah, unsurprisingly, that claim went nowhere, and after the initial application (which might reasonably have cost somewhere in the ball park of $5,000-$10,000), Google responded to three different rejections from the patent office (maybe $1500-$3000 each), and had their patent attorney conduct an in person interview with the Examiner (if your attorney is billing by the hour from the time he walks out of the office to the time he sits back down, maybe 4-5 hours at $400 per hour, this could have been another $2000).  After the interview, Google filed a “Request for Continued Examination” (for which the fee alone is $810), which typically includes a submission prepared by the attorney (so another $1500-$3000).  After the RCE, the Examiner again rejected the patent which was followed by another Google response ($1500-$3000).  After what turned out to be the Examiner’s last rejection, Google appealed the rejection (again, filing fees alone are north of $1000).

The appeal included a 36 page appeal brief and an 11 page reply brief.  If Google’s putting the squeeze on its outside counsel, it might crush this fee down to $3000, but on the other hand $10,000 or more in attorneys fees for an appeal is also not unheard of … All in, depending where on the spectrum Google falls, this patent could have cost as little as $15,000, or north of $30,000.

Google can certainly afford it, but even so, bear in mind that the top end of this estimate starts to wander into the range of entry-level annual salaries.  So is Google being foolish with its money? Or is this patent a wise investment?

Mike Masnick, over at Techdirt, is betting on “foolish”:

I’m hoping that Google and Sergey Brin (who’s the named inventor) are planning to use this patent to demonstrate just how ridiculous the patent system is these days.

Via Patent System Gone Mad: Google Doodles Is Now Patented

Really Mike? You’re “hoping” that Google spent double the mailroom clerk’s salary just to prove some ambiguous point? And what if you’re right? All that means is that Google wasted thousands of its shareholder’s dollars, wasted the USPTO’s time and effort, and delayed everyone else’s patent applications slightly longer, just to demonstrate …well, what, exactly? That if you’re persistent, have money to spend, and can narrow your claims enough, you can adequately describe an invention with sufficient novelty to obtain a patent? We’re approaching 8 MILLION patents in the modern era, so we already knew that!

Not only would this be incredibly naive, it’s extremely disrespectful to everyone else who actually relies on the patent system to help maintain some modicum of control over use of their innovation! So, I’ll go on record as saying I’m NOT hoping that Google and Brin vigorously prosecuted this application for some ridiculous “demonstration” and I’ll instead hope that they are planning to use this patent as patents were intended to be used … erect a barrier to entry for other technology solutions directed at “special event” logo alteration and licensing its own technology to companies interested in implementing it.

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Discussion

5 thoughts on “If A Google Doodles A Patent In The Woods, Does It Get A Laugh?

  1. This does seem rather uncomfortably close to a patent on an “abstract idea” — which the Bilski patent litigation was supposed to prevent. If S.23, the patent reform bill, passes in the House in substantially the same form, It will be interesting to see whether and how the business method provisions of that legislation may be asserted in the future against patents like this one.

    Posted by patent litigation | March 29, 2011, 2:04 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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