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Google Patents Shipping-Container Data Centers 207

theodp writes "Two years ago, Robert X. Cringely wrote that Google was experimenting with portable data centers built in standard shipping containers. The idea, Cringely explained, wasn't new and wasn't even Google's, backing up his claim with a link to an Internet-Archive-in-a-Shipping-Container presentation (PDF, dated 11-8-2003) that was reportedly pitched to Larry Page. Google filed for a patent on essentially the same concept on 12-30-2003. And on Tuesday, the USPTO issued the search giant a patent for Modular Data Centers housed in shipping containers, which Google curiously notes facilitate 'rapid and easy relocation to another site depending on changing economic factors'. That's a statement that may make those tax-abating NC officials a tad uneasy."
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Google Patents Shipping-Container Data Centers

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  • Sun Blackbox? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by toby ( 759 ) * on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @12:45PM (#20913373) Homepage Journal
    That's not going to make Sun very [] happy. []
  • Evil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @12:49PM (#20913429)
    I know this popped into lots of peoples' minds, but...

    Could someone please remind me how patenting something obvious is not evil?

    Basically it reduces the freedom of all law-abiding citizens to do something that's fairly obvious.
  • Re:Evil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XenoPhage ( 242134 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @12:54PM (#20913515) Homepage
    Patenting protects their investment. That said, just because you hold a patent doesn't obligate you to use it in an evil way. In fact, many people patent things merely to ensure that no one else patents the idea and uses the patent to extort money.

    Not everyone is evil. That said, how evil Google themselves are remains to be seen. I'm kind of on the fence at this point...
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @01:06PM (#20913683)

    facilitate 'rapid and easy relocation to another site depending on changing economic factors'.

    Considering the rapid advance of technology, anything that's stood in one place for more than a year or two at most is probably not worth moving. A new one would prove cheaper, faster, at least double the capacity, and all within the same energy budget, or less -- which is what I expect will be the controlling factor for all new data centers.

  • Re:Evil (Score:4, Insightful)

    by p0tat03 ( 985078 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @01:09PM (#20913737)
    Most companies, especially software ones, take patents as a defensive measure. Nothing is worse than doing something conceptually simple and then getting sued into the ground by someone who bothered to patent it. Owning obvious patents is the only real solution (at this point in time, until laws change), and in fact may be the least evil way to act. Owning a swathe of obvious patents that the USPTO refuses to overturn, and not enforcing it with suits, is probably protecting all of us.
  • by OmniGeek ( 72743 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @01:40PM (#20914273)
    If Google wanted to keep from being attacked by another party for using this idea, they could simply (and cheaply!) publish an article describing every facet of the idea the patent application covers (which, after all, is what happens when you file a patent application; when the patent is granted, the idea is published).

    Publication of the idea makes it unpatentable "prior art;" once published, the idea can never be patented by anyone. So, if Google's intent were strictly defensive, to prevent someone else from patenting the idea and using it against them, publication would suffice. Thus, the idea that they are "merely protecting themselves" is a bit less persuasive. Of course, there are other reasons for patenting something; looks good on the resume, provides ammunition for cross-licensing battles, and so on, but most of them involve "offense" rather than "defense."

    This is not to say that Google has evil intent, just to point out that preemptively patenting something isn't the only way to avoid patent exposure.
  • by someone1234 ( 830754 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @02:20PM (#20914953)
    But... Wasn't this published before? Apparently the fact it was published before didn't deter Google or the USPTO to agree on the patent.
    I think it is safer to have a patent which you don't intend to use than a mere publication which might be ignored.
  • Re:Oops! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @03:34PM (#20916113) Journal
    When I was stationed in Germany back in 1974-1977 our supply section had a shipping contain, actually a complete semi trailer and inside it was an NCR-500 computer that read and printed to magnetically striped ledger cards for storage and read punch cards for input and of course that trailer was air conditioned, so much for most of the claims.

    a little later we got a HAWK missile platoon command post which was an air-transportable shipping container, once again mounted on a trailer, inside the wire-wrapped cpu of the RCA computer used ferrite cores for memory. I think Google patent really would only have defensive value, there is way too much prior art for them to use it offensively.
  • Re:Oops! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @03:55PM (#20916421) Homepage

    I wouldn't claim to possess the insight -- and, I daresay, genius -- required to imagine putting computers in a shipping container.

    I know it's popular sentiment on Slashdot to put down anybody who claims any kind of intellectual property rights, but there's nothing in the patent codes that requires an invention to be a work of genius.

    Then again, based on your sarcasm I presume you don't believe this to be a work of genius. You (modestly) admit that you are not a genius. You should be in the running, then. If you can assemble 3/4 of a working prototype of a datacenter wholly enclosed in a movable shipping container, based on what you know right now, I'll lobby to get you rights to 3/4 of the patent.

    If you can't build it, though, no deal. "Business process" patents notwithstanding, patents cover actually doing something, remember -- not ideas cooked up by armchair inventors.

  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @04:40PM (#20917113) Homepage Journal

    Except that you're not supposed to be allowed to patent obvious things.
    I've never quite understood what the definition of "obvious" was in patent law. I'm reminded of how Sherlock Holmes would explain his subtle train of reasoning to a mystified Dr. Watson. As soon as Holmes finished his explanation, Watson's mystification would change to complacency, and he'd say, "Well, now that you explain it, it's obvious what happened."

    There's all kinds of stuff that we now take for granted that used to be under patent. Did you know that there's an expired patent for the concept of a supermarket? The idea of having customers fetch their own merchandise might seem "obvious" now, but back in 1917, it was original enough to earn patent 1242872.

    I don't know what the legal definition of "obvious" is, but in ordinary language, it's just another word for "familiar".
  • by junk ( 33527 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @05:52PM (#20918083)
    While I didn't read the patent, I'm sure I can assume a ton about what it says and totally guess about its validity!

    RTFP! Then complain. I'm not saying the patent isn't totally bogus, but if you're not going to read the patent first STFU!

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