The U.S. patent system has a big problem. OK, it's actually two problems, but they go together.
The first one is that the patent office is giving out patents for really basic things. A good example is Amazon's "Studio arrangement" patent that's essentially the same arrangement every photographer uses. That makes it way too easy for someone to sue another person over "patent infringement" for doing everyday things that have been the norm for years.
The second related problem is so-called patent trolls. These are people or companies who buy up patents that they didn't develop and aren't planning to use. Instead, they turn around and sue or demand a licensing fee from any companies that they claim are doing something similar. Regardless of how outrageous the claim, companies often find it cheaper to simply settle the suit for some smaller amount and the trolls go home with a big payday.
There were a number of high-profile cases earlier this decades related to things as basic as streaming audio over the Internet (which had been happening for a decade already), or using the pinch-and-zoom gesture on smartphones (to be fair on that one, the plaintiff was Apple and they did kind of popularize that gesture). Fortunately, courts are starting to recognize and throw out those cases, but it's still a problem.
That's why Google's new plan both makes sense and is worrying at the same time.
Google's plan is to buy up interesting patents before they get sold to a patent troll. That way, they can't be used against Google, or other companies, in the future.
Google's call for patents is working through the Patent Purchase Promotion program. Between May 8 and May 22, you can submit to Google any patent you hold, and Google will decide by June 26 if it wants to buy it. It would be a good way to make money from a patent that you can't develop on your own.
The obvious question is whether or not Google is going to turn into another patent troll and use your patents to go after other companies. That's a very real possibility.
In the past, Google has promised to only use its patents to defend itself, not to attack other companies. It's actually done a fairly good job of that so far, but that isn't to say future Google leadership couldn't change how Google does things.
If you had a patent, would you trust Google with it? If you do have a patent, I'm curious what it's for. Let me know in the comments below.