In recent years, the media company Google has acquired patents that have already been filed with remarkable intensity and has filed patents itself. At the beginning of 2011, google had just over 800 patents listed in the database of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the U.S. Patent Office. On 1 January 2013, there were already more than 20,000. In 2018, Google was awarded a total of 2,070 patents in the US. This rapid increase was due, on the one hand, to two large-scale acquisitions. In July 2011, Google initially won 1,030 patents and in August 2011 another 1,022 patents from IBM.
What exciting patents are there and what do you mean for the future?
The patent content always covers a very wide range of topics, covering hardware as well as software and programming. It is, for example, the production of storage and microchips or the architecture of servers and routers. In terms of programming, the patents include a variety of IT processes such as the programming of relational databases or object-oriented programming.
In August 2011, the acquisition of the mobile operator Motorola for 12.5 billion dollars was added, which was finally completed in May 2012. With the acquisition of the company, its entire patent portfolio also passed into Google’s ownership, which Google itself quantifies with a total of 24,500 registered and filed patents. Of these, about 17,000 are already recognised, with the rest in the registration phase. Motorola’s patents, on the other hand, mainly cover technological innovations in the mobile sector, such as smartphones and handsets or mobile applications.
So many patents – Why now, Google?
The key questions in this context are: Why has Google strategically expanded its patent portfolio in such a short space of time? Which of the patents acquired are the most forward-looking and interesting? And when does a patent get the chance to be classified by Google as relevant to the market economy and therefore worthy of development? After more detailed analysis, Google’s patents can be divided into three categories. On the one hand, there are patents that have already been implemented in technologies, are actively used and have even defined industry standards to a large extent. These mainly concern the newly purchased mobile phone division. Their acquisition serves to cement and further expand Google’s dominance as a media company over competitors. Then there are patents, which in combination can serve to launch new products and services under the brand “Google”. After all, many of the patents relate to Google’s core business as a search engine and have been intentionally filed for further development. It is exciting to see which patent purchases and applications fulfil which of these functions.
The Motorola deal in particular, for example, is not so much about the active development of patents towards innovative products, but rather about the power in the mobile market with patents already implemented in technologies. That is why the competition watchdogs in the USA and China, like the EU Commission, have approved the takeover, but at the same time collectively warned against using existing patents as a ‘weapon’ in the mobile industry’s currently raging patent wars. The fact is that many of Google’s new patents relate to technologies that are used independently of the manufacturer of any currently produced smartphone or tablet. This is always the case when the patent is now such an unrivalled feature that it has become the obvious industry standard – such as UMTS, for example. These so-called standard patents are called FRAND Patents under American law, an abbreviation that stands for “Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory”.
They are therefore subject to separate licensing rules. Producers pay a licence fee to the patent proprietor, but this must be reasonable. Moreover, it must not, in principle, prohibit their use in order to eliminate, for example, its own competition.
Strengthen your own products
Google has officially announced that it wants to strengthen its own operating system Android with Motorola’s patent basket. This certainly means other interesting user functions of the global market leader for the consumer in the medium and long term. In fact, Google is also entering the arena of ongoing litigation with the purchase of Motorola. Apple and Microsoft, for example, have been embroiled in various lawsuits with the mobile phone company for years, all of which involve allegedly infringed patents. In this context, FRAND patents keep appearing, the “standard” classification of which is disputed.
However, the fact that Google wants to strategically restrict access to Android for other mobile phone manufacturers is unlikely – because Google services, i.e. the core business of the search engine giant, in turn benefit from a widespread spread of patent uses. For example, it was probably relatively easy for Google to publicly assure, upon request, that the company did not want to restrict access to Motorola patents in the future. Rather unnoticed, Google also uses its patent portfolio to support other companies in their respective legal proceedings against its own competitors. For example, Google sold some patents to HTC with the sole purpose of strengthening its legal position over Apple.
It is actually impossible to predict which of its patents, which have not yet been brought to market, will actually develop and ultimately use Google. The promising fields, besides the above mentioned, probably affect on the one hand desktop hardware, i.e. all PC components such as the actual computer including harddrive, keyboard, mouse, CPU, CD/DVD etc. Other patents deal with the further development of computer security, (parallel) databases and database processes, circuit design or user identification. Many other features revolve around the frequently used, object-oriented and freely available programming language Java. Definitely many of the internet- and especially search engine-relevant patents will be implemented. This involves, for example, the automated conversion of websites into audio files or, in general, e-commerce effectiveness. Features that can make Google’s own Chrome web browser more attractive are also likely to be integrated relatively quickly. For example, there is a patent called Tab Assassin that helps manage open tabs according to specific user-generated criteria.
In addition to these rather unspectacular patent uses, there are also far more exciting conjectures. Thus, within certain IT circles, it has become a hobby, due to the patents purchased by Google within the last few years and the rumour kitchen coming from the company itself, but never officially confirmed, to draw conclusions about possible, revolutionary new Google products. One such example is computer-aided high-tech glasses. These are supposed to contain a tiny camera that automatically takes photos and videos of the wearer’s environment. The glasses should also be a kind of display on which Google maps relevant information and virtual objects in parallel to the “live recording”. This concept is already known as augmented reality technology. The special thing about this is that the display glasses are supposed to be controllable via the mimic printout of the wearer, on the basis of a new patent from February last year, running on the Android operating system and having a wireless Internet connection.
All other functions are now to be developed from the patents acquired by Google. This development began with a search parameter patent, from which Google developed the Android app “Google Googles” in 2009. It allows users to run Google searches based on photos taken with their phone. Another patent also from 2009 relates directly to the integration of information material into previously made images and recognized by algorithms. This patent already uses the term “augmented reality” in its description. In February 2011, another patent filed by Google itself, “Geo-coded comments in a messaging service,” was added. This allows the automatic enrichment of maps with current social media comments that refer to very specific geographical points – explicitly in both two- and three-dimensional environments. Finally, in January 2012, Google received a patent on a system that allows any content to be displayed consistently, regardless of the mobile device on which it appears.
Google Patents in SEO
Of course, trying to incorporate acquired patents into Google innovations isn’t just an oblique hobby. It gets serious when it comes to the wide field of SEO efforts. In the meantime, search engine marketing has not only grown into the fastest growing online marketing field. Effective search engine optimization has also become an absolute survival criterion, especially for small and medium-sized e-commerce companies – and not only for them. In this context, it is vital to anticipate Google’s next steps in programming its search engine crawlers and then be able to react accordingly quickly to have the decisive advantage over the competitor. Here, patent applications by Google can give important indications of the direction in which the company is heading in this regard.
Google’s “Ranking Documents” patent
An example is the “Ranking Documents” patent. It patents a technology that is intended to further complicate the manipulation of ranking results (SERPs). Suppose that a website operator optimizes its backlink catalog as part of its SEO efforts in order to improve its page within the Google ranking from about 15th place to seventh place. Normally, the Google algorithm would acknowledge the changes made and adjust the classification accordingly. The new patent now consists of programming that allows the ranking to drop down completely arbitrarily within this adjustment period. Google then monitors the website operator’s behavior in response to this change, before doing the actual organic ranking after an “unknown period of time”. The “Ranking Documents” patent thus fits into a number of Google patents that are concerned with making strategic SEO measures more difficult. On the face of it, however, Google argues that the “human factor” in the mapping of actual website quality is to be taken more clearly into account by the search engine result. In both cases, it is worth taking a closer look at the patents that Google has developed and filed for from time to time for SEO professionals and entrepreneurs whose revenue depends on the SERP ranking.
2019: Google Patent uses user behavior as a ranking factor
Google has repeatedly denied the use of user behavior as a ranking factor, but a patent google(patent No.: US 10,229,166 B1) of March 12, 2019, describes how to use click rates, residence time and bounce rates as a ranking factor.
So you should deal with Google patents on a regular basis, because it offers an enormous competitive advantage if you know what Google has in mind – or could do in the future. After all, not every patent is ultimately implemented.