Trying to understand the business sense of doing it. Good PR? Attracting talent? Preventing main competitors from using it? Related to the wave net that they copyrighted recently.
What's the point of google sharing how their AI works and then applying a patent on it?
Just to clarify - I’m guessing you mean patent, not copyright.
There are multiple reasons for getting patents. The obvious one is to use them as a weapon to prevent other people from using the idea.
However, there are several defensive reasons:
- Ensure that the company will be able to continue using the patent’s techniques. Now, it is true that publishing a paper provides prior art, but it is also true that there have been lots of patents granted even given prior art. Litigating those is annoying and more expensive than filing a patent.
- Bureaucracy. It is difficult for lawyers to tell which patents are good and which aren’t, so companies which depend upon IP (like just about any software company) frequently give its employees a bonus for submitting a patent, any patent. Thus employees have big incentives to file a patent even if it doesn’t turn out to be useful.
- Employee prestige. It is very valuable to have a patent on your resume, so even if the company doesn’t give you a bonus, the employee has incentive to patent.
- Leverage in future patent disputes. Something that happens sometimes is that company A does something which company B thinks infringes. Litigation and chest-thumping ensues, with company B threatening to sue A into the dark ages and B threatening to show that B’s patent is invalid (because it is either obvious to a skilled practitioner OR has prior art). After the chest-thumping is done, they settle by cross-licensing each others’ patents. A might argue that B needs to pay some money to get that deal because A has a taller stack of patents than B does. When that happens, it’s lawyers doing the deal who a) don’t understand the technology behind the patents and b) don’t have time to look at 23,841 patents, so all that matters is whose stack is taller.
- Company prestige. I think this is tiny compared to the other factors: if you are impressed by the number of patents, you’ll also be impressed by the number of papers. But maybe senators and regulators are impressed.
“A neural network” is patented btw…
I went to a talk by a patent lawyer that covered why large tech companies must have patent portfolios.
The main premise behind patenting as many ideas as possible is that patents provide ammunition in event of a patent dispute. If a company is sued by its competitor for patent infringement, using its own patent portfolio it can counter-sue them. If a competitor knows this, then the competitor is less likely to sue in the first place. The larger the patent portfolio, the more chances they have of counter-suing, therefore it is in large tech companies interests to acquire as many patents as possible. Practically all of the major tech companies (apple google microsoft etc) are infringing dozens of each others patents. They just don’t sue each other because everyone understands they will be sued back, waste billions in legal fees, at a net loss for both sides.
It is a very similar concept to mutual assured destruction from nuclear war. Patents = nukes. More patents you have = competitors less willing to sue for infringement. Infringement lawsuit = fire all nukes from both sides.
I’d be happier if companies signed a defensive patent pledge.