Google announced this morning the launch of an experimental program that will allow it to purchase patents from businesses and other patent holders who wish to sell. The company says its new “Patent Purchase Promotion,” opening next month, is an effort to “remove friction” from a patent market that is fraught with patent trolls, lawsuits and other wasted efforts.
On its new online portal, patent holders will be able to essentially list the patents they have for sale, and set their own prices. The marketplace will not remain open indefinitely, however. Instead, Google says that it will go live on May 8, 2015, and will be available through May 22, 2015. The decision to keep it open only for a limited time means Google will have to work quickly to determine which patents it wants to buy, which benefits sellers in need of a more immediate decision.
If Google decides to buy a patent, it says it will work through due diligence with the company, and close the transaction “in short order.” In fact, the company says it anticipates that all patent sellers will be paid by late August by way of an ACH bank transfer.
The portal is only open to U.S. patent submissions, it should be noted.
Google stresses also that this program is only an experiment – equating it to a 20 percent project for Google’s patent lawyers, which refers to Google’s program that once allowed employees to spend some portion of their time with the company working on unofficial projects that may or may not be continued or eventually translated into new lines of business.
However, with something that could make a more substantial impact to Google’s bottom line, that remark may be underselling the potential of the program just a bit. After all, this is essentially Google’s bid to get its hands on valuable assets before they ended up in the hands of patent trolls who leverage their own portfolios of patents to generate revenue for their business – at the cost of others in the industry.
Patent trolls, and their often despicable ways, have been in the forefront of people’s minds in recent days. They were even hilariously skewered in a takedown by comedian John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight,” where he quipped that calling them patent trolls was an insult to real trolls. “At least trolls actually do something — they control bridge access for goats and ask people fun riddles,” he said.
Those considering a patent sale to Google over other entities shouldn’t make the decision lightly. Google today points to the “fine print” on its Patent Website, and advises sellers to speak with attorneys before filling out their submission. Google also notes that throughout the process, it has the right not to transact for any reason. Sellers should consult with an attorney to see if they, too, have that same right.
The program seems like a good way for Google to find out what patents are on the market today, including which ones it may need to worry about. And it’s able to do so without transactional costs associated with doing so because it will likely get flooded with submissions.
In addition, sellers may not end up receiving top dollar for their patent sales to Google, because the concentrated length of the program means that it would be difficult for patent holders to shop around for competitive bids.
Given how the new program is being characterized, it’s unclear for now whether the opportunity to sell patents to Google is a one-time thing, or a system that Google will again return to in subsequent months or years. It’s likely that the company wants to first analyze how well this particular effort pays off, in terms of the cost of running the marketplace and the IP it manages to acquire by doing so.
It is unclear whether selling to Google will be a good choice for patent holders rather than pursuing other avenues. The company explains in a FAQ on its website that it doesn’t yet know how much money it’s planning to spend on the patents, as it doesn’t know what the response will be.
For those patents Google does acquire, it will continue to use them the way it does others in its large portfolio, including licensing them to others. In addition, the company says that, as a part of its agreement with Google, sellers will be able to retain a license back to their patent.