Patent News | "Google Patents Search Tool: The Lunatics are Running the Asylum"

By:  Chris Horton
Category: Patent News

Have you ever read a news story that makes you go, “Huh?” Such was the case last week when I read a seemingly innocuous story in TechCrunch about Google adding new “prior art” query functionality to its Google Patents search tool. On the same day came an announcement that Google was adding millions of documents from the European Patent Office into its new-and-improved Patents function. Exciting news for patent lawyers, to be sure, but so what? Here are two reasons why I find the moves interesting:

Google has a formal deal with the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office, the government agency that issues US patents) to provide bulk patent and trademark search data through the Google Patents search tool.

Many aspects of Google’s business model (especially mobile) are reliant on intellectual property (patents). Think of Google’s recent purchase of Motorola Mobility- a move made in large part to secure the latter’s 17,000 patents.

Even though the Google Patents search tool has been around since 2006, the tech giant didn’t formalize a deal with the USPTO until June of 2010. At that time, the USPTO entered into a no-cost, two-year agreement with Google to make bulk electronic patent and trademark data available to the public. Under this agreement, the USPTO provided Google with existing bulk, electronic files, which Google was happy to host (without modification) for the public free of charge.

Why did the USPTO do such a thing?

“The USPTO does not currently have the technical capability to provide this public information in a bulk machine readable format that is desired by the intellectual property (IP) community.”
Well, at least they were honest.

Check out the chummy exchange between Undersecretary of Commerce and head of USPTO David Kappos, and Jon Orwant, Engineering Manager for Google:

Kappos: “The USPTO is committed to providing increased transparency as called for by the President’s Open Government Initiative.  An important element of that transparency is making valuable public patent and trademark information more widely available in a bulk form so companies and researchers can download it for analysis and research…because the USPTO does not currently have the technical capability to offer the data in bulk form from our own Web site, we have teamed with Google to provide the data in a way that is convenient and at no cost for those who desire it.”

Orwant: “We’re happy to work with the USPTO to make patent and trademark data more accessible and useful,” said Jon Orwant, Engineering Manager for Google. “It’s important to make public data easier to gather and analyze. And when the data is free, that’s even better.”

Kudos to Kappos for at least admitting that the US government is way behind Google in technology (at least in Commerce-I suppose the NSA or the Pentagon would beg to differ).

I’m also glad to see Orwant and Google were at least polite, thanking the government for offering up copious amounts of free data for Google search engines to slice, dice, and of course, rank.