Mike Shedlock

Google wants to avoid "patent wars" but realistically speaking, what else can one call the massive "race to acquire patents"?

While pondering that question, please consider Google catches up in technology patent wars

Google was awarded nearly 2,000 patents in the US last year, almost double the number of all previous years combined, catapulting it into the top ranks of technology companies building stockpiles of legally-protected innovations.

The rapid growth, revealed by an analysis of patent office filings, is the latest sign of the internet search company’s attempt to buttress a weak position in the smartphone industry’s patent wars. It also highlights a race to stake out promising new technology markets, as fields such as “wearable” computing become the next frontiers for growth.

Our hope is to avoid a war,” said Allen Lo, Google’s chief patent lawyer. “Hopefully we can learn from the smartphone litigation.

Google ranked only number 21 based on issued patents in 2012 and was not even in the top 50 in 2011, according to an annual ranking compiled by IFI Claims, a patent research company.

The jump partly reflects new products such as the Google Glass “smart” glasses and its development of driverless cars, said Mr Lo. “We’re right at the cutting edge of newer areas we want to protect,” he said.

Google was assigned 1,920 patents in 2013, according to a review of the US Patent and Trademark Office database. Based on IFI analysis of the previous year’s data, it is likely to finish in the top 10, ahead of companies such as General Electric and LG Electronics.

The patent race among industry leaders has threatened to overwhelm smaller technology companies, forcing them to mount their own acquisition campaigns to defend themselves.

Patent experts warn that the quality of a technology company’s patents, rather than volume, is the most important issue affecting its legal defences. Apple has won the upper hand in its US legal battles against Samsung despite having a far smaller patent portfolio.

However, the sheer quantity of patent holdings also helps deter attack and has led to an intellectual property arms race.

Mike Shedlock

Mike Shedlock is a registered investment advisor representative for Sitka Pacific Capital Management.

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