Google loves patents, applies for 30 in the past three months

Technologies that Google wants to patent include virtual mice designs and telephone-based ads

Not that anyone needs any more evidence that it is Google's main mission in life is to hammer Microsoft, well, to actually to become Microsoft. But here's more anyway. The company has begun to seek out ever-increasing numbers of patents, and on a far wider set of technologies than search. It has already applied for double the number of patents in the first half of '09 than it did in the same period of '08.

So far in 2009 the company has submitted 73 patent applications, according to Patents.com. By the first half of 2008, it had applied for 36. Indeed, the company submitted 115 patents total for 2008. And that was about a triple increase over 2007, at 39. In 2006, it applied for only 11 patents; 2005, six and in 2004, the year of its famous IP0, Google applied for a mere four patents. Prior to going public, over the years 1998 to 2003 when its founders were building what would become the best, most effective search engine, the company applied for a mere three patents.

Year

No.

% increase

2009 230 100%
2008 115 195%
2007 39 255%
2006 11 83%
2005 6 50%
2004 4 33%
All years prior 3 n/a
Google patents

(In an effort to chart the growth, I've assumed that Google is going to continue to grow its patent applications at a rate of double 2008's patents. This seems a conservatively fair guess, given that the company has actually been tripling or more its patent applications each year.)

More success equals more money to pay for patent applications, but it also gives you a strong indication of where the company is headed. There are reasons other than licensing fees and lawsuits to own patents. Patents today, particularly software patents which are notoriously hard to document, are seen as a defense mechanism. The more you have, the less likely someone can successfully sue you for infringement.

But eventually, human nature being what it is, a company looks over its volume of intellectual property and wants to collect. This seems to me to be the antithesis of the open software movement of which Google so proudly claims to be a member. Even more revealing is the expanding nature of the patents. Not surprisingly, the vast number of Google's patent applications cover some aspect of online advertising or search. However, in the past year alone, it has branched out into application management, security ...

Here's a look at some of the more revealing technologies over which Google wants to declare ownership (January, 2008 through today):

Bringing back the old "frames" Web page for multimedia content? (Patent application is titled:) Tabbed Windows for Viewing Multimedia Programs --A device may, in response to a command, generate a first tabbed window that frames a viewing area on a display screen, present multimedia content in the viewing area, and expand the viewing area that contains the multimedia content to cover the display screen after presenting the multimedia content for a particular amount of time.

The applications can tell you which one of them you want to use: Application Management is a method that includes executing one or more computer applications and ranking the applications according to one or more criteria that change in response to a user's interaction with the applications.

A mouseless interface that can take direction from a projection on a wall: (Dynamic Virtual Input Device Configuration) -- The virtual input device can be presented on a display device, such as a computer monitor or a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen. Further, the virtual input device can be presented in a window associated with a computer program, such as an electronic mail application or a search engine. Alternatively, a virtual input device can be displayed through projection onto a surface, such as a desk or a wall.

A phone call won't get you out of our fees: Telephone number-based advertising This application covers "methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer program products, in which a first telephone number is associated with a second telephone number, and a web-based advertisement is served for an advertiser that includes the first telephone number." When a call is forwarded, the program can associate an ad "click" with an online ad, so advertisers have to pay publishers for the "click" even when the click is a call.

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