On April 27th, 2015 Google announced the launch of its Patent Purchase Promotion. The “experiment,” as Google calls it, allows patent owners, or those otherwise authorized to sell a patent, to set a price for their patent and offer it for sale to Google. The Promotion is Google’s attempt to “remove friction from the patent market” and “help improve the patent landscape and make the patent system work better for everyone.” By offering to buy patents direct, Google is attempting to provide an alternative to the lure of selling one’s patent to a non-practicing entity, more commonly known as a patent troll.

The submission window opened on May 8th and closed on the 22nd. While Google has not released any information regarding the number of submissions they have received, sources indicate that Google has been “inundated” with patents to review. At the time the Promotion was announced, Google planned to have fully executed any patent purchases by July 22nd.

Currently, those who own Canadian patents are not eligible for the Patent Purchase Promotion as Google is only accepting submissions from the owners of American patents. Canadians who own American patents are eligible for the promotion if they meet certain tax related requirements. Google has indicated that if the “experiment” is a success they would consider opening up the Promotion to patents from other countries. Canadian patent owners can still propose selling their patents to Google using the Patent Opportunity Submission Portal. This portal is one of many other methods by which Google is working to grow its patent portfolio. While the results of Google’s experiment are still unknown, the Patent Purchase Promotion raises a number of interesting questions regarding the future of the American patent landscape.

Google has presented the Patent Purchase Promotion as a program that will improve the patent market for all involved. However, the program raises some interesting questions because Google will ultimately retain ownership of all of the patents:

  1. What is to stop Google from using these patents in much the same way as a non-practicing entity or patent troll?
  2. Will Google’s increased patent portfolio create an unfair advantage in negotiations with competitors?
  3. Will Google be in a position to abuse the power gained by a patent monopoly that sweeps all areas of technology?

The Patent Purchase Promotion raises questions regarding the underlying rationale for the patent scheme, namely the promotion of research and development. With a deep pocketed player like Google building such a large patent portfolio, how will research and development be affected? Google’s patent portfolio continues to grow, will the protection it offers them deter smaller companies from investing in research and development? Is it Google’s place to become the keeper and protector of patents? When does this “service” to the patent community simply become a way for Google to control the patent market to their advantage?

It is clear that today Google’s intentions are in protecting companies from unnecessary, and often debilitating, patent litigation. However, it is unclear what impact this will have on their goal or whether it may have some unintended consequences.