Did Google Just Patent Gears? Why?

Josh Catone
Josh Catone

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.