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Google eyes new way to pick up your patents, combat trolls

The company is starting an "experimental marketplace" that will allow owners to sell single patents to the search giant.

Google has announced a new way for patent owners looking to make some cash off their creations to do just that.

Starting May 8 and running through May 22, Google will offer an "experimental" program that will allow patent owners to sell individual patents to the search company. For its Patent Purchase Promotion, Google will review the patent submissions to determine whether it's interested in the intellectual property. If Google decides to acquire a patent and enters into an agreement with the patent owner, the search company will make payment by late August.

"We're always looking at ways that can help improve the patent landscape and make the patent system work better for everyone," Google's deputy general counsel for patents, Allen Lo, wrote in a blog post announcing the program Monday. "We ask everyone to remember that this program is an experiment, but we hope that it proves useful and delivers great results to participants."

At the heart of Google's program are patent trolls, a term for companies that buy up patents for the sole purpose of licensing them to other companies or using them in lawsuits against firms they believe violate their intellectual property. In his post, Lo said Google's efforts are specifically aimed at providing an alternative to smaller patent owners who "sometimes end up working with patent trolls."

Google has been one of the more outspoken critics of patent trolls. In 2013, the company signed on with a startup called Unified Patents that specifically takes aim at patent trolls. The goal of Unified Patents is to sign up prominent companies that have cash they'd be willing to invest in bundles of patents. The organization also aims at asking the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to review patents owned by patent trolls and involved in lawsuits. Unified is still operating and, earlier this month, attempted to invalidate patents owned by patent trolls in several ongoing lawsuits.

Just a year later, Google signed on to another consortium, called LOT (License on Transfer) Network. The group -- which included SAP, Canon, Dropbox and other tech companies -- also takes aim at patent trolls to limit what patents those entities can acquire and reduce litigation.

It's hard to tell whether the efforts are working, but 2014 was a down year for patent litigation, according to Unified Patents. The company reported in January that there were approximately 5,000 patent lawsuits in the US, and nearly two-thirds were related to the technology industry. In 2012, patent suits exceeded 5,300, while there were around 6,000 suits in 2013. An overwhelming number of the lawsuits in 2014 -- 82 percent -- were filed by a "patent assertion entity." (A nice term for a patent troll.)

For Google, offering the promotional program's benefits could be two-fold. The company could nab patents that would have otherwise landed in the hands of patent trolls (or competitors) and the company adds to its own patent trove. Google said on an FAQ page (PDF) that it could use the patents for licensing and thus generate revenue on them.

For patent owners, however, there are several caveats that must be explored. For one, Google says that even if an owner has a family of patents, he or she can only upload one at a time. Google also says that the patent owners must assign a price that they want from the intellectual property in that submission. After Google examines the entry and determines it wants a patent, the owner cannot boost the price. In addition, Google forces patent owners to warrant that they will not attempt to fetch a higher price on offered patents by bidding them out to other companies once they're submitted.

If Google ends up acquiring a patent, the company owns all rights to it, but will provide a license back to the owner so he or she can continue to use it in his or her own endeavors.

Not surprisingly, Google has urged would-be sellers to consult an attorney before submitting a patent to its program.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.