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Google Patents United States

Google Patents Its Home Page 390

Posted by timothy
from the to-advance-useful-arts-and-sciences dept.
theodp writes "A week after new USPTO Director David Kappos pooh-poohed the idea that a lower patent allowance rate equals higher quality, Google was granted a patent on its Home Page. Subject to how the design patent is enforced, Google now owns the idea of having a giant search box in the middle of the page, with two big buttons underneath and several small links nearby. And you doubted Google's commitment to patent reform, didn't you?"
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Google Patents Its Home Page

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  • Evil. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:51AM (#29298187)

    That is all.

  • by nweaver (113078) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:54AM (#29298207) Homepage

    Design patents are for very distinctive but not functional items.

    EG, Apple has tons, TONS of design patents on the iMac, as they had on the NeXT cube and pizza boxes, as so on and so forth...

    That google did NOT already have a design patent on their home page is strange and noteworthy, not that they just got one now.

  • by BeardsmoreA (951706) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:55AM (#29298229) Homepage
    It is of course perfectly possible that they have no intention of abusing this in any way, and merely wanted to make sure they didn't end up fighting any stupid law suits from some bright spark who had the idea of filing something similar and going after them with it.
    Time will tell how 'evil' this is.
  • by rackeer (1607869) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:56AM (#29298241) Homepage
    Let me defend google. One thing is wanting to reform the status quo, another having to live with it. They are pragmatic. It doesn't make sense to close your eyes to reality. Google has been fighting off patent trolls for a long time. They have to be careful.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:59AM (#29298283)

    There must be some functionality that is patented, so I doubt the patent is just "a search box with a couple buttons".

    Google creates a lot of IP and for the most part gives it away to users in the form of useful, free products and services. The only way to protect IP is to maintain legal control of it, otherwise you never know when someone may try to sue you.

    Much like Microsoft, Google is extending its patent portfolio to preempt litigation, not to come down hard on little guys. I would be a bit hesitant to start screaming about Google at this point because I disagree with their methodology. They have a reason for getting these patents, and for all the patents that they've generated, there are few examples where they've used it as anything but a defensive weapon.

  • Re:Evil. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:04AM (#29298335)

    Or... it's a cunning ploy to show how idiotic Patents are in this day-and-age.

    I hope so, but I doubt it. It's less-obviously idiotic than a lot of other software patents out there. If Google wanted to make that point, I think that would/could have been more effective.

  • by julesh (229690) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:04AM (#29298339)

    There must be some functionality that is patented, so I doubt the patent is just "a search box with a couple buttons".

    It's a design patent, not a patent. That is, a patent on visual arrangement of elements.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:06AM (#29298355)

    Google creates a lot of IP and for the most part gives it away to users in the form of useful, free products and services.

    They're not free. You pay by providing Google with loads of data. This data is quite valuable to Google.

  • by MoralHazard (447833) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:16AM (#29298469)

    First, there's the outages. Google NEVER used to go down, it was part of their "mystique"--their engineering was SOOO amazing, and so well designed. The Cloud could NEVER go down!

    Second, there's the Evil. I feel like I saw this one coming, years ago, having spent a good portion of my career in the advertising industry. It's a simple equation, right? Google is a publicly-traded company, and their core business is selling advertisements, which means their REAL business is selling your eyeballs+buying habits to anybody and everybody with cash. Eventually, there had to be some visible, significant conflicts between the basic reality and their high-concept, geek-chic PR fantasy.

    Finally, and this is more personal, there's the lack of responsiveness from developers, and the perception of a "one-way street". Go look up the API for Google Tasks, and you'll see what I mean: Not only doesn't it exist, despite a lot of begging from interested users/developers, but Google keeps responding (when they do respond, which isn't often) that they have a corporate policy of not discussing pending release schedules. I understand that they have finite resources and have to make their own development roadmap, but their attitude seems to be "we're not going to acknowledge the gripes of our base". Which basically is the same attitude that any Big Software Company takes.

    So, I'm not saying that Google is a crap company, or that I'm going to stop using Gmail, or that they're the new Evil Empire. But they're not really fundamentally different from every other Evil Corporation that we like to villify, here on Slashdot. There are no "good guys" and "bad guys"--there's just an open field of self-interested actors, each with a shitload more money, engineers, and lawyers than you.

  • by hamburger lady (218108) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:16AM (#29298477)

    don't bother. /.ers see 'patent' and flip out. never mind that a design patent is non-functional, it doesn't matter. it's the "P" word.

  • Re:Evil. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by noundi (1044080) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:20AM (#29298537)
    Or it's Googles way to cover their asses in case somebody else wanted to patent it, rendering them forced to change the coined "Google look". This doesn't mean that Google embraces patenting. What it does mean is that Google, regardless of being for or against patents, is smart enough to play along until things change.
  • Re:Evil. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:21AM (#29298549) Journal

    That is all.

    Or it's to prevent scammers and phishers from making Google-like homepages. Think for a minute how awesome that would be if you got a rube to show up at your www.google.eldavo.com and it looked just like the Google homepage. They do a search for Bank of America and it takes them to www.bankofamerica.eldavo.com which looks just like bank of america. You could potentially do a lot of damage if you had the patience to go around scraping major sites and just making static HTML pages that sent username and password back to a database. And if you could get like three or four sites to correlate your identity theft ...

    With domain name poisoning or the actions of some viruses on the hosts file in Windows, is it so hard to imagine an entrepreneurial scammer getting naive people to download and install a virus that simple takes them to www.google.eldavo.com instead of google's real homepage? Perhaps with this design patent (as everyone and their dog has pointed out already), their intent is to make prosecuting these scammers a possibility for them instead of having to wait for the feds to come up with some identity theft charges. After all, were I stealing your info, I'd just be selling it. Not directly doing the identity theft, mind you.

    You can spin this both ways. Is it possible for Google to start attacking everyone with simple centered search boxes and links across the top? Maybe. I doubt they'd get far but if you can point me to a case of that, I'll conceded vileness.

  • Re:Evil. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vandit2k6 (848077) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:24AM (#29298585) Homepage
    Or they could also just be covering their own ass up. There is a history of smaller companies suing larger companies just for the $$. I think Google doesn't want the hassle. That's just my opinion!
  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:26AM (#29298611)

    Let me get this straight.

    Google goes to a library and begins to scan every book they can get their hands on for the "Altruistic" reason of making the book available for a wider audience. This is without asking the author's permission, and to make things appear fair they make a scheme that authors have to follow to "opt-out". This is basically changing the enforcement of the current copyright law for Google's benefit.

    While at the same time they are defending their right to copy the contents of a book without the author's permission in court, they patent their home page so other's can't copy it without Google's permission. Bizarre. Pot meet Kettle...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:26AM (#29298613)

    I love hearing people going "But wait, it's not THAT evil! Think of it like this...". If this was Microsoft everyone would be shitting on them, going "Microsoft being an evil dickwad as normal...". But I guess that's the popular band wagon Google love/Microsoft hate train of /.

  • by HikingStick (878216) <<z01riemer> <at> <hotmail.com>> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:27AM (#29298623)
    I'm sorry, in advance, for ranting and raving, but this is absolute lunacy. A web page design is copyright protected at best. What makes the central search box and a couple of buttons and nearby links a unique business process? Google's structure of algorithims, cache servers, and distributed search processing are (IMO) a patentable business process. In fact, I'd argue that there's an abundance of prior art out there against this patent. Does anyone remember the early Webcrawler page? It might not have been centered (but that's just formatting), but it had a very basic search box, a search button, and a list of category links below (from October 1996: http://web.archive.org/web/19961023234707/http://www.webcrawler.com/ [archive.org]).

    Google might have a relaxed and hip work environment, but some people in their legal and/or IP departments must be (IMO) taking some really bad trips. This is downright stupidity that does nothing to help promote meaningful patent reform unless Google uses this patent as an example of the type of schlock that is getting approved, and makes it the 'poster boy' for patent reform.
  • by Twinbee (767046) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:27AM (#29298629) Homepage

    Or maybe something in between. Why do you need to polarize like this?

    You still get good companies, and you still get bad ones, and everything in between. And I don't just mean in terms of efficiency or how much profit they make. I for one believe that the people in charge at Google have more 'moral' business ethics than most.

  • Re:Evil. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 (535323) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:28AM (#29298637) Journal

    What about chilling effects? You're telling me that you're happily invest your life savings into a business venture that includes something covered by a patent, merely on the hope that they won't care?

    And what about when you're trying to find an investor or a loan, and the person points out the patent problem - are you going to be arguing "Oh that doesn't matter, Google are really really nice, they'd never do anything like taking someone to court. Oh go on, lend me the money, please?"

    And besides... what if some malevolent entity decided to patent this before Google did?

    Then there'd be obvious prior art such that the patent wouldn't be valid. Plus I can play that game too - "What if some nicer-than-Google entity wanted to patent it?"

    Believe it or not, bad patents should not be dished out because we think a company has been "nice".

  • Re:Evil. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by andymadigan (792996) <amadigan@@@gmail...com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:28AM (#29298649)
    Google's home page would be such an obvious piece of prior art that any such patent would be thrown out instantly. No, they did this to stifle competition.
  • Re:Don't be evil? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jonbryce (703250) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:29AM (#29298659) Homepage

    This is a design patent, so it is patenting what it looks like, not the functional effect of the page. The two pages look completely different, so an Altavista-like page would not infringe the patent.

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:31AM (#29298687)

    No.

    There are numerous public companies that won't make a profit this year. In fact there are numerous public companies that have never made a profit.

    The obligations of a public company are to file various securities reports. The rest is the same for public and private companies.

  • Hard to be (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Derosian (943622) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:48AM (#29298899) Homepage Journal
    It's hard to be a good 'idea' company in America when using the patent system at all is an act that will move your alignment towards evil.
  • by mdwh2 (535323) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:01AM (#29299101) Journal

    Thank you, we know what a design patent is. How does that make it different such that the objections people have put forward here are not valid?

    E.g., does that mean other people are free to design a similar interface? Of course not. In which case, they share the same property of other kinds of patents that people disagree with.

    Put it another way - why does putting the word "design" in front make it okay? ("Don't bother, hamburger lady sees the 'd' word, and flips out, there's obviously no valid argument here." - see how invalid that argument is?)

    And they are not "non-functional", rather, they cover non-functional designs. The patent itself certainly functions.

  • Re:Evil. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@nOspam.infamous.net> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:02AM (#29299115) Homepage

    Or it's to prevent scammers and phishers from making Google-like homepages

    Which is the purpose of trademark law -- to protect the customer by allowing them to distinguish with whom they're doing business.

    Google's homepage has this big Google logo on it, which is (I presume) a registered trademark of Google. If you put a Google logo, or something that looks like it, on your page, the trademark cops will crush you. No design patent is necessary.

    This is more like Apple's evil "look-and-feel" lawsuits from the early 90s.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:07AM (#29299179)

    It's a design patent you twits. It doesn't cover anything but the appearance of the home page. It doesn't imply any coverage of an idea of a "simple home page" or anything else like that.

    Seriously Slashdot editors should be required to take a few lessons on the various types of patents, basic copyright law and trademark law. The amount of misinformation on these topics here is frightening.

  • Re:Evil. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tompeach (1118811) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:09AM (#29299211)
    Do you think that somebody that sets up a scam site is worried about getting sued for patent infringement?
  • Re:Evil. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 (535323) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:10AM (#29299221) Journal

    Indeed, that would be a great idea (or perhaps an equivalent of open source, for patents?) And the fact that they haven't done that is even more evidence against the argument that they'll play nice.

  • Re:Evil. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jbengt (874751) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:21AM (#29299365)
    You cold get a design patent on wallpaper (the physical kind and the desktop kind) That limits designers and software developers in the same way that Google's design patent prevents one from copying their page's look. And design patents don't last as long, IIRC
  • Re:Evil. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Zencyde (850968) <Zencyde@gmail.com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:30AM (#29299471)
    Do you propose Google leave the country to prevent themselves from hemmorhaging billions when they get sued in some stupid but somehow "legitimate" (that word really extends as far as the law lets it) lawsuit?
  • Re:Evil. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by plastick (1607981) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:33AM (#29299513)
    Yes, I agree. It's evil and it's patent trolling, plain and simple.

    It's just amazing the number of people who rabidly defend Google, yet if Microsquat did the same thing, they would foam at the mouth twice as hard for the opposite reason. Google is becoming more and more like Microsoft and denial never prevented reality... plus they have the most complete database on users in all of history.

    Not wise to blindly defend and trust based on bias.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:46PM (#29301205)

    If the book is out of print and no longer findable in bookstores, it does not harm the author in any way, shape or form. You are giving copies of a book to people who otherwise would not be able to acquire it firsthand anyway. Yes, they could buy it used from ebay/amazon, but no money would go to the author.

    If anything, it might help the author financially, if a reader likes a book he got from Google Books, he might be more inclined to buy a book from the author that is still in print.

    We should probably amend copyright law with a clause stating that if a work has not been published/printed for X amount of time, it enters the public domain regardless of whether or not the author has been dead for Y years yet or not, but that's a different discussion.

  • Re:Evil. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thinboy00 (1190815) <thinboy00@gmail . c om> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:42PM (#29301865) Journal

    what if some malevolent entity decided to patent this before Google did?

    Prior art.

    East-Texas-Judge:What is "prior art"?

  • Let me guess: YANAL, but you play one on Slashdot?

    I'm a registered patent agent. So, yeah, in this context.

    If you want to talk the talk, how about you create a "similar but not actionable" Google rival, rather than mouthing off about how it's safe for anyone else to do so?

    But didn't you just say that if I nit-pick over what "similar" means, then I have to contract to give legal advice to every Slashdot reader? Are you retracting that idiotic statement?

    Good.

    Anyways, the point would be that this is a design patent, not a utility patent. What is claimed is what you see in the picture. If you look at similar search pages like Alta Vista, Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com, etc., they're not infringing because they don't meet all of the elements of the claimed design. Is it "safe for anyone else" to create a "similar but not actionable" Google rival? Depends... Are they going to have a lawyer looking at their specific design, or are they going to be an idiot and say "well, if you can make something similar that's not actionable, then gosh, I don't need to actually show any specific design to a lawyer. After all, Rogerborg on Slashdot said that the definition of 'similar' is just nit-picking! Thanks, Rogerborg! I'll rely on your esteemed legal advice!"

    If they do that, they deserve everything they get.

  • Neither (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @02:08PM (#29302241)

    Or... it's a cunning ploy to show how idiotic Patents are in this day-and-age.

    It is what it is. A patent. Reason being, those are the rules of the game today.

    Just because you're for patent reform doesn't suddenly mean that the whole rest of the world will leave you alone while you're off crusading. You still have to play by the rules of the game as they are today. If they were suddenly to not pursue patents, they'd be bulldozed over by the competition. When you're dead and buried it's hard to fight for change.

    So as for now, they're in it to win by the rules of the day. Here's hoping they work to make a better ruleset for tomorrow, but I don't begrudge them fighting tooth and nail within the system as it is today.

  • Re:Evil. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Xtifr (1323) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @02:30PM (#29302531) Homepage

    Which is the purpose of trademark law -- to protect the customer by allowing them to distinguish with whom they're doing business.

    Except that Trademarks are basically limited to words, phrases, and specific images. A general overall look or style is frequently not trademarkable, in which case it can be protected by...get ready for it...a design patent!

    (Classic example, the classic Coca Cola bottle, although that ended up being trademarked as well.)

    On the other hand, a design patent on "bare-bones, undecorated", which this is dangerously close to being, seems a bit disingenuous to me, so I'm not exactly happy with this development. But it's still a completely different issue than what many are painting it to be.

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