Patents are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they let a company protect its intellectual property and make a profit from its hard work and innovation.
On the other hand, patents can stop small or creative companies from bringing exciting new concepts to the market because they may have to pay huge licensing fees. It doesn't help that the U.S. Patent Office is giving out patents for things that are clearly ridiculous.
Then there are "patent trolls" that buy up mountains of patents they have no intention of using, but then go sue companies that potentially infringe on the patents. Usually they can get a tidy settlement out of it.
Google is no stranger to both sides of patents, and it thinks it found a way to get the good side of patents with less of the bad. That's why last April, Google went on a patent-buying spree.
For 30 days, anyone with a patent could submit it to Google and Google would consider buying it for $3,000 to $250,000 per patent. Google also promised to only use the patents to defend itself in lawsuits, not sue anyone else.
It was a smart move to keep potentially damaging patents away from patent trolls. In the end, Google bought about 28% of the submitted patents that it thought applied to its business. However, Google isn't stopping there.
Google is giving startups the opportunity to get some of its patents for free. The idea is that the startup can use the patent to protect itself while it brings its product or service to market.
Of course, there are a few caveats to the deal. Only the first 50 startups to register will be eligible. And the startup has to have made $500,000 to $20 million in 2014.
You also have to join the LOT Network. This is a group of patent-holding companies that agree to share their patents to ward off patent trolls. Right now, the network has about 325,000 patents.
Joining the network normally costs $1,500 to $20,000 per year based on your company size. However, for startups joining through Google, the fee is waived for two years.
If Google does select your company, you don't get to choose any patents you want. Google is only sharing "non-organic" patents, i.e. ones it has purchased, not ones it's gotten itself.
Google will examine your business and send you five patent families it thinks will fit your business. You get to pick two to use. And you can only use them defensively or they revert back to Google.
Still, depending on the patent it could be open up millions or billions in long-term revenue to a company, so the restrictions are a small price to pay.
If you want to throw your company's hat in the ring, you can sign up here. Even if you don't get the free patents, signing up makes you eligible to see Google's patent portfolio and purchase patents that might be beneficial to your company.