Google will pay you to keep your ideas out of the hands of patent trolls

The year 2013 was a record year for patent lawsuits, which are on the rise quickly. As Jason Rantenan, Law Professor of University of Iowa recently pointed out, “in the 16 years from 1994 until 2010, the annual number of patent lawsuit filings doubled; it doubled again in the three years from 2010 to 2013.”

Google today announced a new initiative to make an attempt and keep patents out of the hands of patent trolls, entities whose only business is gathering intellectual property and filing legal cases. This new effort is called the Patent Purchase Promotion by Google. The plot is simple: make it simple to sell your patents to Google rather than the wrong people.

“Patent owners sell patents for numerous reasons (such as the need to raise money or changes in a company’s business direction),” wrote Allen Lo, Google’s deputy general counsel for patents. “Unfortunately, the usual patent marketplace can sometimes be challenging, especially for smaller participants who sometimes end up working with patent trolls. Then bad things happen, like lawsuits, lots of wasted effort, and generally bad karma. Rarely does this provide any meaningful benefit to the original patent owner.”

This project is a sort of open beta like many things that Google does. “We view this as an experiment,” Google wrote in the program’s FAQ. “We are looking for ways to help improve the patent landscape, and we hope that by removing some of the friction that exists in the secondary market for patents, this program might yield better, more immediate results for patent owners versus partnering with non­-practicing entities.”

There is no affirmation offered in the post written by Lo that Google would not use these patents for taking legal action in the future. Also, the program makes no attempt to open the marketplace to other similar tech companies, something that would advantage the entire ecosystem. Google is generally asking the patent owners to believe them. The company has promised in the past to use its patents watchfully, suing only if someone sues it first. Of course, a company’s stand on patents can change over time as it moves from young disrupters to firmly established incumbents.