more than a hundred patent lawsuits in the past decade, has expanded the scope of its patent search capabilities and added a new search tool to help those investigating patent claims.
To its database of patents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office--a separate search service when introduced in 2006 and recently integrated with Google Search--Google has added patents filed with the European Patent Office.
In addition, the company has added a tool called Prior Art Finder. "Prior art" is a legal term for records of innovation that preceded a specific patent claim.
"Typically, patents are granted only if an invention is new and not obvious," explains Google engineering manager Jon Orwant in a blog post. "To explain why an invention is new, inventors will usually cite prior art such as earlier patent applications or journal articles. Determining the novelty of a patent can be difficult, requiring a laborious search through many sources, and so we've built a Prior Art Finder to make this process easier."
[ Google is making changes in a number of areas. Read Google Cuts 4,000 Motorola Mobility Jobs. ]
Prior Art Finder culls key phrases from existing patent listings and searches for them in Google Patents, Google Scholar, and Google Books, as well as the rest of the Internet.
Google last year complained about "the explosion in patent litigation, often involving low-quality software patents, which threatens to stifle innovation," as Kent Walker, Google SVP and general counsel, put it. Its Prior Art Finder could help by reducing the granting of patents that don't represent genuine innovation and by helping companies accused of patent infringement identify prior art that may invalidate an infringement claim.
Dennis Crouch, associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law and the author of the law blog Patently-O, notes on his blog that every technique used for identifying prior art has shortcomings. "The proper question for Google's tools is whether the new system has a role in the patenting process," he says. "At minimum, it is likely an improvement on the quick pre-filing 'sanity check' searches that are often conducted by patent applicants and patent attorneys."
However, Patrick Anderson, president of IP research service Patent Calls and author of the blog Gametime IP, proposes a different name for Google's Prior Art Finder: "Infringement Finder." He argues that finding patents issued later than the source patent, rather than earlier, can help identify potential infringement.
"By speeding up access to information that may lead to evidence of infringement, Google puts more power back into the hands of inventors and patent owners," he writes, noting that Google has invested significantly in patents through acquisitions like Motorola Mobility.