Google leaps on patent reform bandwagon

If reform is the right word

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Of course, other groups have opposed the bill, including the Professional Inventors Alliance (PIA) and several big-name labor unions. Ronald Riley, founder and president of the PIA, refers to Google's lobby group as the Coalition for Patent Piracy. He believes its members are interested in nothing more than stealing inventions dreamed up by the smaller (and less wealthy) names of the world.

"These guys are flat-out crooks. They lie, cheat, steal, and paint their victims as victimizers," he told The Reg. "They're trying to create new mechanisms to abuse the patent process - to take property without paying for it."

Yes, the Patent Reform Act would help the likes of Google, but many believe they deserve some help. "In terms of litigation, most of the bill is certainly pro defense," says Patrick Fraioli, a patent lawyer with the California firm Moldo, Davidson, Fraioli, Seror, & Sestanovich. "But that doesn't mean it's bad."

Now that you can patent things like software and business processes, Fraioli says, the system doesn't work as well as it used to. "In the mid-90s, we saw an expansion of patents from mechanical things and physical objects, like drugs and machines, to software, which is more ethereal," he told us. "Patent litigation has become more like a lottery."

In fact, many patent gurus believe this new bill is pretty tame stuff. When Google posted its stance on the web, the first person to toss up a comment was Ben Klemens, a guest scholar with an independent think tank called the Brookings Institution and the author of Math You Can't Use: Patents, Copyright, and Software. All he wanted to know was whether Google was in favor of abolishing software patents entirely.

"I can't tell from your public statement here whether you in the public policy department support or do not support software patents per se, though I would bet you a dollar that if you surveyed your employees, the great majority would call software and business method patents an impediment," he wrote. "Why is Google supporting this tepid bill? Have you determined that it's time your engineers revise their ethical beliefs regarding mathematical algorithms? Or is a bill that would address subject matter problems just too unlikely to work?"

In his mind, it's hard to argue with any of Google's reforms. In the end, he says, they don't really mean much. "The frustrating thing about tepidity is that there's nothing wrong with it," he told The Reg. "You can't argue with what they say - but what they don't say is huge. The expansion of patentable subject matter to include software and business methods is the elephant in the patent office, and I can't help but wonder why intelligent patent professionals working for a software company are not addressing it."

So we called Google to ask about their stance on the matter. And they blew us off. ®

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