The publication Corporate Counsel has, for the past six years (who knew?), been rating in-house legal departments on a variety of ambiguous criteria. This year’s winner of the prestigious “Best Legal Department” award is none other than Google, Inc. The ALM-owned publication likes the search engine’s legal staff because they’re “disruptive” and evidently like to “test the limits” of what’s legal.
Right on top of this news, comes the announcement that Google will pay $4.9 Million to acquire the IP portfolio of bankrupt Israeli cell phone maker Modu. I would presume that any transaction of this size would have to clear hurdles with Google’s ‘maverick‘ legal team, and, since this news is now public, in-house IP staff has at least given a provisional green light to the deal. But what is Google getting for its $5 Million?
First of all, the portfolio (shown here on Patent Tools) consists of less than 70 US patent and pending patent assets, heavily weighted toward the “pending” side. Less than 20% of the US portfolio represents issued utility patents, with a handful of design patents and pending applications filling out the rest. The only patent that appears even remotely interesting is USP 7,433,712, which appears to broadly describe a method for accessing a file stored on a telephone (useful, but not exactly a revenue generator) and includes the peculiar step of “automatically changing access privileges to at least part of a storage area on said telephone responsive to said attachment [to a host computer].” The technology plot thickens with revelation of the next Modu patent, USP 7,693,548. This patent discusses a mobile phone with solid-state non-volatile memory storage “wherein attachment of said storage system to a host limits access of said telephone to said storage system.”
Obviously, Modu’s focus, at least in part, was on smartphones with internal data storage. However, given that all of their issued patents were filed in 2003 or later, the claimed inventions are actually quite narrow. Not only will Google have difficulty monetizing these patents (due to their relative lack of breadth), but they aren’t particularly useful or desirable to productize. Sure, my iPhone temporarily becomes unavailable while syncing with my laptop, but I’m not sure I’d be happy if attaching it to the computer meant that overall access to the phone was curtailed entirely.
This is not the first questionable patent play from Google. Not too long ago, they were awarded the stalking horse bid of $900 Million for the Nortel patent portfolio. Of course, the value of this portfolio is so far off that no respected IP monetization outfit is even considering buying a stake. Google’s legal prowess may be savvy when it comes to endangering privacy or making improper copyright deals, but their patent analytical skills could use some help.
- Google Buys Up Modu’s Patent Portfolio For $4.9 Million, More Android Protection Money? (androidpolice.com)
- Google picks up $4.9M in mobile phone patents from Modu bankruptcy (9to5google.wordpress.com)
- Google to buy patents from defunct Modu (slashgear.com)
- Google Doesn’t Need Patents, It Has Mister Verhoeven (gametimeip.com)