If you asked me to name one thing – in business and in life – that drives me up the wall it would hands-down be hypocrites. That said, I realize that people are never going to see eye-to-eye all the time, and in all honesty I think that differing opinions on various subjects ultimately does quite a bit of good by brining issues into the open and forcing people to make an attempt at solving things. But when a person or company makes a statement that’s entirely contradictory to their actions I lose quite a bit of respect for them, as I myself always been one who has tried to hold myself to the same standards that I hold the world around me.
So last week when I watched a video of Kent Walker stating that patent litigation is “gumming up innovation” in the mobile industry I couldn’t help but chuckle; not because I disagreed with his statement, but rather because I found it ironic that a patent-holding company like Google would contradict their own actions so openly. For those of you who don’t know, this entire topic stemmed up after Microsoft and Google began going head-to-head after Microsoft claimed Google’s Android mobile operating system infringed upon Microsoft-held patents.
What really infuriated me about the whole thing was that Google only took up that position after they landed on what may very well be the losing side of a patent battle. But when they themselves protected their own work with patents I assure you that they didn’t think twice about fair competition with other companies.
In other words, Google only seems to take up this viewpoint when it’s better for them. Two-sided, much?
Just look at this February, 2011 break-down of Google’s patents maintained by search engine blog “SEO by the Sea”, and you’ll see that Google definitely plays piggy when it comes to sitting on patents as well, even though their more recent statements look down on such business practices. More specifically, 118 of Google’s estimated 809 patents specifically deal with mobile technology; the exact battle that Google is knocking heads with Microsoft over.
And before someone else pointed it out to me, I hadn’t even realized that Google’s “PageRank” technology (named after founder Larry Page) – a protected proprietary technology that arguably helped Google to develop its leading edge in the search field and get to where the company is today – is patented by Stanford University with Google maintaining exclusive licensing rights. What this means is that even though the company is on the defensive side of patent battles now, the company may not have ever gotten to the point where they are today if they didn’t have patents on their side.
As if Google’s previous business practices weren’t contradictory to Walker’s new “viewpoint”, the company also acquired 1,000 patents from IBM just this week. Now, normally I’d look at this as run-of-the mill business operations for a company like Google, but seeing as how a key player in the company just stepped out an said that patents put a damper on innovation I have honestly lost a good deal of respect for the company.
Nonetheless, this does bring up a very interesting question. Do patents really poison development, innovation, or competition? Personally, I believe this is a very fair statement. After all, it seems that “innovation” has been showing itself more in the courts than it has in the hands of consumers in recent months, and there really doesn’t seem to be a single company that hasn’t gotten its hands dirty.
This is one issue that I’d really like to see your opinions on, so please don’t be bashful in the comments.