Did Google Just Patent Gears? Why?

A recently published patent application for a “system that facilitates using a web-based client-server application offline” sounds a lot like Google’s Gears project. The patent was filed by Erik Arvidsson, who blog posts reveal is an engineer on the Gears team, and by Andrew Palay, who listed Computer Scientist at Google as his occupation when donating the Barack Obama campaign earlier this year. So the evidence would suggest that this is indeed a patent application from Google concerning Gears.

Google’s official stance about the US patent system is that it is broken. The company has pushed for patent reform in order to stop “frivolous patent claims from parties gaming the system to forestall competition or reap windfall profits.”

Further, earlier this year, when the Gears project turned one year old, Google talked about their commitment to open standards and how Gears was a major part of spreading those standards around the web. So why would Google seek a patent for their open source system, which was open source from day one and created in collaboration with Adobe, Opera, and Mozilla, if that is indeed what they’ve done?

Two reasons come to mind: the maybe-not-so-evil defensive patent, to be used to make sure that someone else doesn’t try to mess up what the open source community is doing with Gears by filing a frivolous patent for something identical. It might be worth noting that the patent filing date – May 30, 2007 – is the same day that they announced Gears, so perhaps this was a preemptive strike.

Or it could be that Google is up to something more sinister, and plans to use a Gears patent to block competition.

What do you think?

Found via Hacker News.

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  • Hierophant

    Personally, I think Google abandoned their “Do No Evil” motto a long time ago. Now they are just another large corporation trying to stave off Justice Department enquiries and anti-monopoly hearings while trying to justify their over-inflated stock prices.

  • http://www.digitalgreenlight.com busy

    I think a little research would have turned up Google’s history (or lack of history, I don’t know) of suing people over patents. That would probably answer your question.

  • Joel

    Given the world we live in I’d say it’s highly likely that it’s being undertaken as a defensive patent.

  • drp106

    I suspect something “evil.” Why would they choose to be “evil?” I wondered that myself when their security guard kicked us off the campus when we drove up to take pictures. I just wanted a one pic and then I would be gone but no…. the idiot didn’t even speak English and was not even nice…. lame.

  • Alan Hogan

    Another possible reason is to enforce other implementations to match Google’s official spec: Grant licences to use patented Gear functionality *iff* it is compatible with Google’s official Gears implementation. For example, should Microsoft follow their pattern of Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish (Wikipedia it) by implementing Gears functionality and adding Microsoft-only features, they could sue.

    That said, a patent war with Microsoft would be ugly for poth parties.

  • http://www.MarkMushakian.com MarkMushakian

    I’m always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt – even when that someone is multiplied tenfold and called a corporation. However, as with any business operation, I am always wary of the “step too far” where-in a company begins moving towards corporate greed or having a monopoly.

    It would be sad to discover down the line that their plans are “sinister” – so until then I hope for the best :)

  • Hierophant

    For example, should Microsoft follow their pattern of Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish (Wikipedia it) by implementing Gears functionality and adding Microsoft-only features, they could sue.

    Since Gears is nothing but a competitor to both Silverlight and Air, not sure this would happen.

  • Anonymous

    It might be worth noting that the patent filing date – May 30, 2007 – is the same day that they announced Gears

    Think you answered your own question there!

  • Roshan Shrestha

    No need to do the detective work, the patent is by Google:

    click here

  • dinnerbell

    please see http://www.piausa.org/ for a different/opposing view on patent reform

  • Brent Noorda

    These techniques are nearly as old as browsers (maybe older). I remember selling gearsy solutions at least 10 years ago, beginning the patent process, realizing that there was already too much similar prior art (10 years ago). It took longer to find the prior art back then, since Google didn’t exist yet and AltaVista didn’t have a very complete patent search tool.

    Our patent attorney said if we had enough money maybe we could get it through. We didn’t. Maybe Google does (if they can rush it through quickly before the stock sinks any lower :-)