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9/5/2007
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Google Calls For Patent Reform

In light of legal action from Polaris IP, Google execs say the U.S. patent system has not kept pace with the changes in the innovation economy.

One week after being hit with a patent infringement lawsuit by intellectual property licensing company Polaris IP, Google executives are renewing the company's call for patent reform.

"Unfortunately, the patent system has not kept pace with the changes in the innovation economy," said Google policy counsel and legislative strategist Johanna Shelton and Michelle Lee, head of patents and patent strategy, in a blog post on Tuesday. "Google and other technology companies increasingly face mounting legal costs to defend against frivolous patent claims from parties gaming the system to forestall competition or reap windfall profits."

Polaris IP last week sued AOL, Amazon, Borders, Google, IAC, and Yahoo for allegedly violating its automatic message routing patent.

Google has a long history of trying to change the U.S. patent system. In February, Google was one of dozens of technology companies that signed a letter urging patent reform sent by the Coalition for Patent Fairness to Congress.

The coalition, which counts Google as a member, would like to see: 1) damages for patent infringement tied to the proportionate value of the infringing component instead of the entire product; 2) the standard for "willful infringement," which triples damages, made more stringent; 3) international harmonization of patent laws so that foreign companies play by the same standards as U.S. companies; and 4) consistency in how different jurisdictions treat patent cases, to end the practice of "forum shopping."

The Eastern District of Texas, where Polaris IP filed its lawsuit, remains a popular "forum" among those claiming patent infringement.

"A growing chorus of business leaders and companies spanning the technology, financial services, and traditional manufacturing industries has joined with legal scholars, economists, consumer and public interest organizations, government institutions, and major editorial boards in calling for patent reform," said Shelton and Lee.

Shelton and Lee said that Google representatives are talking to members of the House of Representatives and their staff about the importance of this issue. The House is expected to deliberate about the bipartisan Patent Reform Act later this week.

At the same time, Internet users are talking back to Google. All of the four comments left on Google's Public Policy Blog at the time this article was written express skepticism about the need for reform and about Google's motives.

"I wish you guys would put your weight behind solving the real problem: subject matter expansion," said Ben Klemens, a guest scholar at The Brookings Institution and author of Math You Can't Use: Patents, Copyright, and Software (Brookings Institution Press; 2005), in a comment post. "Until the mid-1990s, a patent had to have a nontrivial physical element, like a drug or a new machine; but at that time, a panel of former patent attorneys decided -- without referring to Congress or other prior study -- that nonphysical objects like mathematical algorithms and business methods should be patentable. A few years later, all the 'Patent System Broken' headlines started appearing."

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