Google Acquires Over 1,000 IBM Patents in July

Google was recently involved in a bidding war with Apple, Microsoft, and others over more than 6,000 patent filings from Nortel. It was a war that the search giant lost when a group comprised of Apple, Microsoft, Research in Motion, Ericsson, Sony, and EMC joined together to bid $4.5 billion in cash. Google oddly chose to bid using numbers based upon mathematical formulas and constants, with their final bid based upon pi – $3.14159 billion.

A post at the Official Google Blog, Patents and innovation, by Google’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kent Walker in early April discussed patent reform and the need for a company to defend themselves by having a formidable patent portfolio. Google’s decision to pursue the Nortel patents was based in part upon creating a “disincentive for others to sue Google.”

While Google might not have been successful in the auction for Nortel’s intellectual property, they haven’t been standing pat. On July 11th and 12th, Google recorded the assignment of 1,030 granted patents from IBM covering a range of topics, from the fabrication and architecture of memory and microprocessing chips, to other areas of computer architecture including servers and routers as well. A number of the patents also cover relational databases, object oriented programming, and a wide array of business processes.

Here are some of the patents acquired from IBM that are related to search and search engines:

A TechCrunch interview with General Counsel Kent Walker published on Monday discusses the loss of the Nortel bidding:

“We buy companies all the time — for both people and interesting technologies. This would have been north of $4 billion for none of those things. We were bidding on the right to stop people from innovating,” Walker says.

“You have to have the discipline not to overbid,” Walker continues. “Are there other opportunities out there? Of course,” he says, noting that Google is looking at all of them, but refusing to name specific opportunities. Rumors have pegged InterDigital as the next Google/Apple patent fight.

I don’t know any of the financial details or the circumstances around Google’s assignment of IBM’s interest in the newly acquired patents, but it’s not a bad start towards building a deeper patent portfolio. While I linked to patents above that focus upon search, there’s a nice range and depth of intellectual property involved in this acquisition that has me wondering if Google has an interest in pursuing some new interests and innovations.

Added 2011-7-29 at 9:32am (EDT), it looks like Google sent out an email sometime after my post to some main stream media sources about Google’s reasons for making these purchases. I don’t know if that was planned or in response to this post. Thanks to The Wall Street Journal, which included a nice mention of SEO by the Sea while reporting upon the acquisitions here: Google Buys IBM Patents.

Thanks also to the many members of Hacker News for their thoughtful discussion as well. There seems to be some interest there in knowing more about the actual patents involved to see if they might be useful against some of the pending patent infringement suits against Google. I’m going to try to make a list (with links) available within the next few days, though bear with me – the USPTO website/databases are set up in a way that makes that time consuming. With that many patents, I’ve only looked at the titles of most of them, but there’s a possibility that some of them might be useful.

Added 2011-7-29 at 5:33pm (EDT), All of Google’s new patents from IBM are now available to look through.

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75 thoughts on “Google Acquires Over 1,000 IBM Patents in July”

  1. Man I hate to support this patent troll war but it looks like Google is only doing this to prevent being sued themselves and will be preparing to respond lawsuit for lawsuit. I believe I heard something about shared patent pools, this would be a nice way for companies to come together and use each others patents to sue those that instigate the type of patent troll behavior MS and Apple have been up to. Also Google received a lot of criticism for hiring more lobbyists… you want to guess what they’re doing now?

  2. “I don’t know any of the financial details or the circumstances around Google’s assignment of IBM’s interest in the newly acquired patents, but it’s not a bad start towards building a deeper patent portfolio.”

    Yep, and they do still have to play catch up seeing as though many other companies have had such a timely head start. The US Patent system.. domain squatting is a thing of the past, now we have patent squatters waiting to pounce!

  3. It’s stunning that this sort of defensive measure is still necessary. I read an article in the WSJ suggesting that the Supreme Court should invalidate all software patents – and I couldn’t agree more.

    Still, I’d rather Google win than Apple so overall this s a good move ;)

  4. Pingback: Google kauft Patente von IBM ein | iOS-Newz
  5. This is really interesting. The patent war has really been a question for me in the past. Thank you for enlightening me further.

  6. IBM, MS, and Apple have had extensive patent cross-licensing agreements for years. It would be interesting to know if these particular patents can be moved to Google without those existing license agreements still applying.

  7. Hi Brent,

    The sheer volume of newly granted patents and pending published patents coming out each week is staggering. I’d love to see the USPTO overhaul its website to make it easier to search through and find pending and granted patents for inventors, the public, and patent examiners.

    An industry based upon buying patents for the sole purpose of pursuing infringement lawsuits is a shame – I’d love to see the focus be more on using patents to create an innovate rather than to stifle innovation.

  8. Hi Jane,

    I usually stay out of the debate upon whether or not software patents are good or bad, because I find so much value in learning from what a company creates and submits for protection under the patent laws. I do think there is value in a number of the software patents that I see published, but also run across a number that I find questionable.

  9. Hi Andrew,

    You’re welcome. It’s getting harder to keep track of all the patent litigation going on these days too. I need to set aside some time and put together a list of some of the cases going on now, and which patents are involved.

  10. Hi Jim,

    That’s a good question. The patent office assignment database noted that Google received IBM’s interest in these patents, but I don’t know if any licenses that were attached to them were part of the transfer of rights. The patent office tells you to see the assignment document for full details of a transfer, but those don’t get published to the Web.

  11. Hi Tom,

    Thanks. I was surprised to see the addition of all of those patents to the assignment database, and I thought it was pretty significant that so many patents would be transferred over to Google from IBM, which inspired me to write the post.

    I didn’t expect for Google to contact the media later that night to inform them of the assignments (would love to see that email), and I’m not sure that they would have if I didn’t write about the assignments. I’m really happy that the WSJ gave me credit. The story spread pretty widely through the media, and through communities like Reddit, Hacker News, and Slashdot.

    I’d like to thank everyone who wrote about the assignments and shared the information with others.

  12. Hi JC,

    It does appear that Google’s goals in acquiring these patents are either to protect themselves from litigation or to use the technologies described to try to create something.

    The patent pool approach seems reasonable when it comes to companies that can work together well to create things under threat of patent trolls. It’s possible that we might see something like that evolve out of any disputed there might be over VP8.

    I can’t say that I’ve been keeping a close eye on Google’s lobbying efforts, though articles like this one make it look like an interesting topic:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/06/23/google-subpoena-ftc-antitrust-case-looms-for-search-giant.html

  13. But the problem is not technology. They’re patenting ideas that are extremely broad, with no technology details behind it. It’d be like me patenting the idea of a front facing camera on the phone being able to read sign language and inputting that into text or commands. I don’t have to develop it, just have to come up with the idea, patent it, and wait for one company to implement it. Then I sue the hell out of them.

  14. Hi Desi,

    I often write about patents here to learn something about the companies that file them, and the ideas and assumptions behind those patents.

    It’s true that many patents that are filed are very broad and are filed not with the intent of actually creating the thing that is described within the patent, but instead to make money keeping others from implementing the technology described within the patents. Many others do actually describe something that people do develop and use, and a patent can help them from having someone else sit on the sidelines and then steal what the patent holder has created.

    There definitely should be steps taken to reform the patent process, and more policing of the use of patents in a way that hinders rather than helping innovation.

  15. Smart move by Google, these guys are eating up patents and small businesses all over, from IBM to the latest entrepreneurs. They are already my favorite company since the head VP’s took $1 pay checks and distributed the rest down the line of employees, but hearing moves like this, you know they are going to be well seated for the future.

    Another point I’d like to make, is the patent on “data mining prediction methodology” points toward their increased interest in BITCOINS. If you guys haven’t check out Bitcoins, please do now, I think Google wants to be a major player in the field of digital currency trade/exchanges.

  16. Hi Mike,

    The news this morning is that Google acquired Motorola Mobility (the smartphone division of Motorola that was just spun off from the rest of the company only a few short months ago.) That might have been a really smart move, when it comes to acquiring IP to protect them against patent infringement lawsuits involving mobile devices.

    I haven’t looked into bitcoins like I probably should have, so thanks for the heads up. Google is experimenting with using Near Field Communictions (NFC) payments with mobile devices in at least a couple of cities, and their involvement in that and related fields is something to keep an eye upon, most definitely. I’ll have to take another look ath the data mining prediction methodology from that aspect. I was thinking mostly of the approach Google was using regarding their Panda updates for that one.

  17. I take this one as a smart move on Google’s behalf. However, it really does seem like they’re only doing this to prevent lawsuits which is a dirty game by definition. But I guess, that’s how the game’s played up there, ain’t it.

  18. Hi George,

    It seems like a pretty smart move to me as well. Surprising though that Google would then go out and make a deal to acquire Motorola Mobility as well. The patents from both acquisitions combined does seem to provide Google with the kind of protection that a large patent portfolio might provide, and Google doesn’t seem to have a history of using patents offensively.

  19. Google needs to make smart decisions in this economic climate in order to stay profitable. I think they made the right move by getting those patents.

  20. Hi Dave,

    I’m not sure how much value the patents actually provide to Google. Any one of them could potentially give Google a technology that could make the company millions or more. Many of them could potentially help deter litigation aimed at Google. We also don’t know what Google gave up in exchange for the patents. Maybe we’ll find out when Google publishes its next financial statement.

  21. How did I miss this?
    Google seems to have been on a purchasing streak since early this year.

    Some of these patents are very broad and seem like great buys for Google.
    I’m not sure I totally understand all of the patents… Like this one:
    “Updating Of Embedded Links In World Wide Web Source Pages To Have The New Urls Of Their Linked Target Web Pages After Such Target Web Pages Have Been Moved”

    Does this mean Google now has a patent for 301 redirects?

  22. Hi Peter,

    One of the worries about a “broad” patent is that it might just be too broad and not helpful in detering lawsuits.

    The patent you mention isn’t just about redirects, but also a means of updating the actual page where the redirected URL is being linked from.

  23. Hmm..: IBM/DARPA $6.5 million contract to create multilingual machine to hear & speak in many languages.

  24. Thanks. That’s really interesting, but I wonder if it’s going to really be state of the art technology by the 2016, when the project is supposed to be complete.

    I know there are other businesses, that are working on statistical multiple language translation programs now that have been at it for a while, like Google and Microsoft. The thing that makes those stand out is that they are collecting an incredible amount of data about languages, translations, and interactions between people in different languages.

  25. Hi Thomas,

    I’m not sure that IBM is that desperately in need of cash. They just announced their Q3 earnings, and they seemed to have done pretty good this past quarter.

    It’s possible that Google may use some of those patents in a number of ways, since the patents seem to cover such a wide range of inventions.

    There are some search related patents which might bring some IBM technology into Google’s core search. There are a lot of computer-hardware related patents, and Google has been building their own servers and hardware systems for their data centers. Some of those may possibly be helpful in the area of mobile phones and netbooks as well.

    A number of the patents involve business processes as well, that Google could use internally, or use to offer services to others.

    Then again, having a lot of patents may also help Google avoid some patent infringement cases as well.

  26. Hi Steeve,

    I have to admit that I’ve been a little taken aback by Google’s patent acquisitions over the past year. I’m not sure that I’m ready to call them Big Brother yet, but I’m starting to lean that way a little.

  27. I believe most of these patents are not really acquired for business purpose. Sometimes Google tends to follow Microsoft point of view, to “monopolize” the competition.

  28. I see it as a good move on Google’s part. I was having an opinion that they should purchase RIM for the same reasons. However IBM generates patents like they are going out of style. I have no doubt both IBM and Google win on this deal.

  29. Google already has enough power with the patent on page rank and counting backlinks. Would these patents improve search results for the user, or is Google just hording more power? The sad thing is even though Google is hording all these patents their search results are still abysmal. Their algorithem is still heavily focused on backlinks counts, and in particular anchor text links, which perhaphs 10 years ago, when everyone was blogging would have been an accurate measure of a page’s authority. However these days, everyone is on social media, and most anchor text backlinks are made artificially by SEOs or spammer, and is hence totally not indicative of a pages authority or popularity. Google says it’s putting more emphasis on social media indicators – what lies – We’ve built over 100,000 real facebook followers to one of our websites, and we rank on page 5. Spam blog pages with no value what so ever outrank us.

    Google should really focus more on improving their search as opposed to trying to horde more patent power.

  30. Hi Marcelino

    I suspect that most of the patents that Google acquired from IBM were purchased with the intent of trying to deter patent trolls from suing Google, as noted in the page I linked to at the start of the post from Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker. Not an intent to monopolize, but rather as a disincentive for people pursuing frivolous patent infringement lawsuits against Google.

    Some of them may have been purchased because they cover business practices that Google is already engaged in, or that Google may have an interest in pursuing.

  31. Hi Geek Revealed,

    I suspect that we will see some more patent purchases from IBM by Google in the future. Wishing that we had more details about the deals between the 2 companies.

    I’m not sure what the future of RIM might hold, but I know that the recent service outage they had likely cost them some customers.

  32. Hi Rob,

    The PageRank patents are owned by Stanford University, and not Google, and the technology involved is somewhat dated.

    It makes a lot of sense for Google to develop new patents and new approaches, and to explore technologies that might be available to them from acquisitions of other companies, and through intellectual property purchases like this one.

    A number of patents that Google has developed have indicated ways that they might fine tune the use of anchor text or links, broaden the numbers and types of signals they might use to rank pages, and look at social interactions (not just sheer brute force numbers of followers or contacts) in developing other ranking signals.)

    I think they are working towards improving their search, and building up how much intellectual property they have control over doesn’t impede that, can help protect them against their competitors and patent trolls, and may help them develop new approaches to ranking.

  33. Google wants to dominate the internet and computer world entirely. This effort by them is just further proof that no matter what they are determined to rule the world.

  34. Hi Dom,

    I don’t think that we can take Google’s acquisitions of a fair number of patents from IBM as a sign that they want to, or can, dominate the internet and the computer world. Some of their closest competitors, such as Apple and Microsoft, have been stockpiling patents for years, and Google was significantly way behind in that area, and still are to some degree.

    Many of the patents they acquired might help protect them from patent infringement lawsuits by either creating a risk that Google might file a counterclaim in a patent infringement case, or negotiate a cross-licensing deal. There are also a number of companies out there that are acquiring a lot of patents to enable them to go out and sue people they think might be infringing on those patents. It’s possible that by significantly increasing the amount and breadth of patents they own, Google might be able to protect themselves from companies like that as well.

  35. Nice you got a mention in the WSJ

    Google are one to talk about patents. I can’t remember if I got it from this site or not but aren’t they in breach of something somewhere with their searches trying to predict what you type (forget the name of it now)

    I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. Monopoly anyway & not the board game…

    Google are just like Siemens and other companies. I worked for a company that was taken over by Siemens and over time they just swallow you up and it’s just Siemens and you’d never know any different unless of course you come to sites like this. I suppose if you have the money to do this, then so be it.

    I am with Dom and this scary domination is never a good thing.

  36. Google has been acquiring patents worldwide, not only IBM’s future, Google will rule the world in all areas, with each passing day the company grows more incredible.

  37. Saw your recent mention in the Wall Street Journal. I don’t comment here often, but I have to say, your coverage of Google patents and acquisitions is second to none. I’m always excited to see your domain pop up in my RSS reader.

  38. Hi Darius,

    Thank you. The WSJ mention was really nice to see.

    There are a lot of companies that bring forth patent infringement claims. Google does have one or more patents that involve predictive search queries, and it’s possible that someone might have initiated another suit along those lines.

    There was a software company that was upset because Google toolbar suggestions pointed to a set of search results where someone who was copying their software was ranking highly:

    http://www.seobythesea.com/2006/05/expanding-google-suggest-in-legal-dispute/

  39. Hi,

    I was not aware of this news untill just a few moments ago. Very interesting to read all the developments in the comments. Thanks for that and kind regards from Holland.

  40. Hi Richard,

    Thank you.

    It was a little bit of a surprise running across an acquisition of patents of that size in the USPTO assignment database and not see anyone at all anywhere talking about it.

  41. Hi Thomas,

    Not sure that I caught that article, but I have seen some interesting ones lately on Google’s approach to acquisitions these days, and how it seems like they are trying to do more positive things with them then they have with some in the past that didn’t seem to get some of the attention that they should have, like Dodgeball.

    The book looks interesting, but the $995 price tag seems a little steep. I’d definitely recommend Steve Levy’s In The Plex which does a nice job of discussing acquisitions like the Applied Semantics acquisition.

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