Google grabs 1,000 IBM patents in troll wars

Google has snapped up a portfolio of 1,030 granted patents formally owned by one-time PC behemoth IBM.

Having tried and failed to do the same with a 6,000-strong portfolio built and owned by networking outfit Nortel, which eventually went to a high-bidding consortium fronted by Apple, RIM and Nokia, Google has strengthened it position in the patent troll wars currently raging in Technoland with the acquisition.

According to SEO by the Sea, the impressively broad batch of patents include those covering data mining prediction, automatic document evaluation, web-based querying, search engine ranking and methods for detecting duplicate documents.

The list includes registered patents for both hardware and software and will have cost the search engine giant a pretty penny, although financial dealings have not been revealed.

Google's exposure to patent suits has been criticised as one of the company's weakest points as it broadens its reach into markets in which it has little or no historical experience, including the mobile phone operating system game with its Android OS.

Company's like Apple and Nokia, which have been building patent portfolios for years if not decades, have a much stronger foundation to rest on when the patent trolls come out from under their lawyer-protected IP bridges.

Florian Meuller from Foss Patents explained how Google might use its new haul, particularly in relation to the current tit-for-tat spat with Oracle over Android:

"In the near term, one of the most obvious ways to put them to use would be to pick some that may read on important Oracle products and propose to Oracle a cross-license that would resolve the Android IP dispute on more favourable terms than Google could negotiate without such leverage," he said. "Many of the transferred patents cover fields of technology that are key to Oracle, though this doesn't automatically mean that Oracle infringes any valid ones of them.

"A counter-suit by Google against Oracle would likely result in further escalation, given that Oracle owns more than 20,000 patents and could probably attack Google in Java-unrelated ways."

With Google's open source mobile OS coming under attack from all quarters, many believe the acquisition is directly relate to protecting Android, but how much can an armful of patents do to protect a product which has upset the Apple cart with its hippie attitude of free love and software?

"This is difficult to assess from the outside, but my feeling is that this deal can help Google to defend itself against other patent holders if it's sued directly," says Meuller. "It can serve to deter some companies from suing Google directly. But it's hard to imagine that this deal puts Google into such an incredibly powerful position that it can give an intellectual property guarantee (including indemnification) to its device makers."