Google nabs more patents to protect Android from lawsuits

Google continues to arm itself against potential smartphone patent lawsuits. The search giant just bought 1,023 patents from IBM, according to Bloomberg.

The patents were acquired from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on August 17. The transaction was confirmed by Bloomberg, which spoke with a spokesman for the Mountain View-based company. VentureBeat reached out to New York-based IBM, but the company is not commenting on the transaction.

Google needs to go after patents because Android, a free, open-source program, functions on some non-proprietary features Google didn’t create. This has made the Android operating system for mobile devices enemy #1 for competitors Apple and Microsoft, which say those innovations are theirs.

“We live in an innovation driven economy,” said Lewis Lee, CEO of patent analytics startup IP Street. “Patents are rooted in innovation, and they are in an asset class in and of themselves. We’ve seen a heck of a lot more activity in this area in the past few years and there are going to be a lot of lawsuits and skirmishes until [intellectual property (IP)] valuations are more established.”

Lee explained that the valuations are currently defined in terms of what the claims and IP documents say. The wording can easily be disputed.

“It’s not as simple as saying ‘I own a building downtown,’” said Lee. Real estate documents have evolved to prove property ownership and include laws that protect owners. Those documents changed slowly over decades until they were capable of standing firm. This hasn’t yet happened for IP.

The patent acquisition snowball started rolling in July 2011 when Google acquired 1,030 patents from IBM. A month later, Google’s chief legal officer and Microsoft’s general councel got into a blog and Twitter tussle over patent infringement. In August, Google turned up the heat by announcing it would acquire Motorola for $12.5 billion. That acquisition means Google picks up all of Motorola Mobility’s 17,000 patents.

Android handset manufacturers HTC, Samsung and Motorola have each been sued by Apple. Motorola and Microsoft are currently slinging patent-infringement allegations.

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