Alternative View: Will Google’s Prior Art Finder Become An ‘Infringement Finder’ For Trolls?

So, we were just talking about Google’s new prior art finder tool, which can help people find prior art associated with a patent with a single click. As we noted, it tries to find elements associated with the patent and then restrict the search results to items published prior to the priority date on the patent.

Of course, Patrick, over at GameTimeIP (who tends to be a supporter of the concept of patent trolling) has noticed that the tool can quickly be switched from a “prior art finder” to a “possible infringement finder” for patent trolls (he doesn’t use that term, but you know what he means). That’s because the tool does not actually limit you to the end date in question — and with a little quick cutting and pasting, you can turn that priority date from the end date into the start date.

Take, for example, Amazon’s infamous “one click” patent, 5,960,411. Pop that into the prior art finder and you get a bunch of results with an end date of 9/12/1997:

Cut and paste and you get:

And… suddenly, you’ve got a list of things that were published after the patent’s priority date, which may indicate places where infringement happened. So, it’s possible that instead of a tool to disrupt patent trolls, it could be a tool to enable patent trolls to find more victims.

Patrick (jokingly?) suggests that Google’s intention here is to actually help the trolls. As he notes:

Google’s motivation to create this new feature are not entirely clear, but they have provided what should be a useful advancement in patent analysis. By speeding up access to information that may lead to evidence of infringement, Google puts more power back into the hands of inventors and patent owners. Perhaps they hope to gain a little positive patent karma after taking ownership of a large patent portfolio from the former Motorola.

Of course as has been noted dozens if not hundreds of times, technology is “neutral” and can be used for both good and bad purposes (which is good and which is bad may depend on whether or not you view shaking down innovators for cash “good” or “bad”). That said, I actually think that the tool is probably not quite as useful for finding infringement as Patrick seems to think it will be. That’s because most of the results are things that tend to be useful in showing prior art, but less so in showing what’s being used in the actual market. That is, it shows things like scholarly articles and previous patents — which is what patent examiners tend to like to see. While that also limits some of the usage as a true “prior art” finder, it does focus on the types of things that tend to be compelling for prior art… but not so useful for infringement.

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