The official corporate code of conduct for Internet tech giant Google has been well-known for including the phrase “Don’t be evil.” The phrase is attributed to former Google employee Paul Buchheit. According to a 2007 blog post publishing excerpts from an interview with Buchheit, he pitched that particular slogan during a meeting held by Google in 2000 when the company was trying to form its corporate values:
“It just sort of occurred to me that ‘Don’t be evil’ is kind of funny. It’s also a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent.” – excerpt from Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston
Recent news reports have indicated, however, that the phrase “Don’t be evil” has largely disappeared from Google’s corporate code of conduct in recent weeks, most likely in late April. After Google restructured its corporate makeup in 2015 to become a subsidiary of the Alphabet Inc. holding company, certain mentions of “Don’t be evil” were changed instead to “Do the right thing.” Both of those messages were seen as encouragement by the tech titan to its employees regarding the morality which they should employ in the decisions they make as employees. As of now, the code mentions that employees should “do the right thing” in certain ethical matters while only including one mention of its famed corporate slogan right at the very end of the corporate code:
“And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!”
Google’s decision to alter its code of conduct in this way has elicited a wide range of response from news publications. Tech news outlet Engadget portrayed it as a tacit recognition by the tech giant that “In order for Google to be Google, it has to do evil.” Business and branding publication Fast Company lauded the move as a positive shift away from simply proscribing against bad behavior towards the prescription of good behaviors within the company.
However, in intellectual property circles, it would be easy question whether Google has lived up to the goal of not doing, or being, evil.
To accuse Google of operating with malevolent intent in recent years in order to serve its own corporate interests. First of all, consider Google’s ample financial largesse to D.C. politicians around the time that the America Invents Act (AIA) was signed into law. This includes the $800,000 contributed to former President Barack Obama’s 2012 election campaign (making it the third-largest contributor to the Obama campaign), the nearly $900,000 contributed to federal candidates running in 2012 for the House and the Senate (which was split 49 percent to Democrats and 50 percent to Republicans) and the $18 million total lobbying expenditures during 2012, the eighth-largest federal lobbying total among all entities. If spending money to influence political debate towards unjust ends is evil, Google’s been guilty of that for years.
One could also point out the influence that Google had at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the form of former USPTO Director Michelle K. Lee. Lee was appointed as USPTO Director after serving as Google’s general counsel and head of patents and patent strategy from 2003 to 2012. The implementation of the AIA, which was supported by Google, under Director Lee, a former Google executive, has been deleterious to the U.S. patent system which has dropped significantly in international rankings of patent systems in large part because of increased uncertainty regarding the validity of any patent challenged through the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) created by the AIA. If buying political influence and then exerting that influence in the interests of decimating an entire system of property rights in order to prevent competition is evil, it appears that Google is at grave risk of being considered so.
Further, if using corporate funds to influence academic debate on various policy subjects related to corporate interests is evil, Google’s intentions are looking darker day by day. Investigative research published last year by The Wall Street Journal has shown that Google has financed hundreds of academic research papers which advocate against regulatory challenges to Google’s market dominance. That research ties money coming from Google to professors at the University of Florida and the University of Utah who have published papers funded by Google that argue for patent policies which are favorable to Google; that research has been published at least as early as 2013. The policies that research has supported have helped large companies to the complete detriment of startups and independent inventors. Seems pretty evil.
If Google were only achieving corporate success because of political and academic payoffs, that would be bad enough. However, the company further works to influence political debate by supporting the work of nonprofit organizations which are very active in D.C. This includes the High Tech Inventors Alliance (HTIA), an organization which is a servile puppy dog to the efficient infringer cabal and whose general counsel is a highly unscrupulous individual. Although Google’s involvement with the HTIA is visible, the company works much more surreptitiously to support its agenda in Washington. This includes Google’s funding Engine, a nonprofit which poses itself as a supporter of small tech businesses while testifying on anti-patent positions in Congressional hearings in front of politicians which have also been funded by Google. A recent watchdog report has even laid bare how Engine was conceived and founded by high-ranking Google employees and how Engine, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are shills for Google’s policy positions while masquerading as organizations interested in promoting innovation and small business interests. Google money is baked into the committees forming policy on patent law, the witness panels asking Congress for those reforms and the organizations telling us that those reforms are helpful to the little guy when they’re actually highly toxic to patent owners trying to protect their intellectual property. It’s Google’s world, we’re just living in it.
Without question, Google’s efforts to devalue patent rights is foundational to the company given its long-running penchant for copying the technologies of others for its own business success. Google’s entire targeted advertising operation, which provides upwards of 90 percent of the companies revenues, relies on technologies invented by B.E. Technology in the early 2000s. After B.E. Tech filed a patent infringement suit against Google in 2012, Google filed for inter partes review (IPR) proceedings at the PTAB to challenge those patents. Thanks to a panel stacked by Director Lee with administrative patent judges (APJs) having some of the highest rates of claim invalidation at the PTAB, Google gets to continue making billions of dollars each and every financial quarter by practicing a technology invented by someone else without paying a license, royalty or anything (except for the costs of the IPR filings, of course).
Randy Landreneau, President of inventor activist group US Inventor, offered the following remark regarding Google’s involvement in the U.S. patent system in recent years:
“There have been other attempts to weaken the American Patent System, but never in history has one company had such an ability to influence public opinion, elected politicians and the USPTO. The results have been disastrous for the independent inventor and American innovation.”
To paraphrase the famous words of Lord Acton, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Google has incredible dominance over Internet search, where it controls 89 percent of the market (just shy of Judge Learned Hand’s legal opinion of 90 percent market share constituting a monopoly). Standard Oil, the classic example of a monopoly subject to antitrust regulations, was once famously depicted as an octopus wrapping itself around various industries and political institutions. Google’s tentacles go even further into academia and other organizations influencing the debate on patent reform. Evil? You betcha.
Join the Discussion
22 comments so far.
angry dudeJune 13, 2018 09:56 am
So you are a “software folk” 🙂
And I am a system engineer with background in digital signal processing (among other things) which can be implemented in either software or hardware (FPGA, ASIC)
The algorithms and code I wrote are unique – not for “software folks” like you to comprehend, but it’s all published in IEEE proceedings for other engineers and scientists advancing the state of the art to benefit (that was when I had trust in US Patent system – I do not publish anything anymore other than angry rants here)
And you are just that – a software folk using some plug-and-play libraries (e.g. math intensive low level audio or image processing) conceived and developed by people much smarter than you
“software = (silicon) hardware”
Write it on your forehead and give it a rest already
Eric BerendJune 12, 2018 11:24 pm
@ 20., ‘Tiburon’:
As usual for the myopic and dictatorial software maximalists such as the zealot you are, no other category of inventions exists in the known universe – the sheer unmitigated gall of you mendacious fools shoving your software-obsessed worldview right down other engineers and inventors’ throats, apparently knows no limits.
TiburonJune 12, 2018 07:36 pm
Y’all want some cheese with your whine?
You discouraged software folks from reading patents by: 1) treble damages, 2) dense legalese – and now you complain about the irrelevancy of your industry.
SVIJune 12, 2018 01:50 pm
Has anyone seen a Google campaign promising more privacy? Both Apple and Facebook are making a lot of noise about how good they are, which of course is false. But at least they are trying to say the right things. Google continues its unapologetic stance.
@Night Writer #15 “Basically, make your money by advertising, so you need to drive people to your site. Provide as much free functionality as possible.”
It’s gone far beyond that with Android and mobile devices. The way personal data is treated as the company’s property, uploaded to big data repositories and used for all kinds of privacy violations that are probably unconstitutional such as 3rd party access parallels the way inventions are efficiently infringed, incorporated in the company’s product portfolio, and exploited for greater profits.
TimJune 11, 2018 11:32 am
I’d love to see a huge investigation, while they are trying to revamp the system, as to why judges “Mayer & Wallach” tossed the Vringo vs IP Internet case, and seriously investigate both of them, and what Google has on them!
Yet another anonymousJune 11, 2018 10:28 am
Just read a few bits of the LOT network’s website. Here is the gist: If a LOT network member assigns a patent to a PAE, which they define as “an entity is a patent troll, or Patent Assertion Entity (PAE), if the entity (including its parent and any subsidiaries) generates more than half its total revenue from Patent Assertion in a twelve month period, or if the entity has a plan approved by senior management to do so” then every other LOT member is protected by a covenant not to sue on that patent.
Sounds like a conspiracy in restraint of trade to me.
ValuationguyJune 11, 2018 08:48 am
I agree with your @15. The key is that the anti-trust function of gov’t under Obama was sold to the highest bidder (Apple/Google/Microsoft/Cisco) under Obama….thus those companies has NO FEAR of U.S. regulation or enforcement of patent rights. It appears from the comments of Iancu and the new anti-trust head that this is changing rapidly…but they must jettison much of the existing bureaucrats put in place by previous for-sale admins….which is going take time.
Europe….while somewhat afffected by the same….wasn’t affected to the same DEGREE since all the above companies are FOREIGN to the EU. That is why Google/Apple/Microsoft still have to be careful overseas…..while they played bull in the china shop here in the U.S.
Night WriterJune 10, 2018 09:05 am
Everyone should think about Google’s business model a little bit. It is very similar to Microsoft’s during the 1990’s. Basically, make your money by advertising, so you need to drive people to your site. Provide as much free functionality as possible. So, what Google does is add free functionality to keep the advertising money (note the scaling of this as the more people you have the more valuable the adverting space.)
When a site comes up with something with good functionality, just add it to your site and turn them into road kill. You can scale and you don’t need to charge for the function as your primary goal is to get as many people as possible to the site for advertising. The scale gives you market power. (This is very similar to what Microsoft used to do. Take anything that was being used by people and add to your functionality of the OS/Office Products because you get scale and your money is coming from selling the OS/Office Products. Again, the scale factor gives you market power.)
Anyway, Microsoft was notorious for taking other people’s products in the 1990’s and now we have Google. The list of road kill is long. Both have market power.
Etc. This isn’t hard to understand.
AnonJune 10, 2018 08:43 am
The allure (and lure) of the “here, try this free* thing” has ALWAYS been a business tactic.
Think Loss leader, for example.
Also (and importantly), think “a sucker is born every minute.”
I remember back in law school I was taking a specialty class on the emerging field of “internet law” (included in the course was a debate on whether such a thing was even need, along the lines of “Law of the Horse”), and the major thrust that MANY items that only appear to be “new,” are “new” only in packaging, but at their core are items that have been dealt with previously.
This undergirds the “Google discussion” in a number of aspects.
As Night Writer points out, many of Google’s tactics are nothing new. It is an old saw that Big Corp will want to compete on items of their own strength, and will not want to compete on areas that are the strengths of their opponents.
And this is the crux when it comes to patents.
As Joachim points out (in quite some detail), patents serve to “reset” the playing field. NOT only do they promote innovation, but they serve as a natural “check” on unbridled capitalism (with its “established money” tie to the ills of such power).
As I have long postulated, the Big Corp version of Far Right (not to be confused with the other Far Right of conservatism on the personal philosophy side of things) has made a patsy of the Far Left, and the Far Left’s anathema of “personal property” for the sake of “the commons.”
BOTH sides of the anti-patent activistic tendencies have been in play – with each side being anti-patent for different reasons. To date (as witness the cash hoards of Google), it is the Far Right Big Corp (Corporatacracy) side that is “winning.”
Night WriterJune 9, 2018 10:03 pm
Actually with the patent database, there were other companies that had put patents up, but they were pay. I like Google’s patents quite a bit, but the other companies were probably road kill because Google has so much free money that they can afford to provide lots of services for free. It is a bit like Microsoft that adds functionality to their flagship products.
Anyway, you shouldn’t forget that almost everything Google has done has been after it was already being done by another company and Google thrashed them with scale and money. A lot like the old monopolies used to do in retail.
Night WriterJune 9, 2018 07:29 pm
Don’t forget Mark Lemley’s role in this. Probably the slickest most unethical academic to have ever lived and funded by Google.
PTO-IndenturedJune 9, 2018 12:27 pm
You may also want to look into Google’s connection with the establishment of the aptly-named ‘LOT Network’ which in ‘Doing No Evil’ quickly amassed a Who’s Who list of biggest tech companies agreeing to all join together to: low-ball any licensing a would-be David independent inventor might seek with a Goliath tech-co; and/or quash when trying to offer as a once-prized ‘competitor’s advantage’ Exclusive License.
So: Kill the patent system with an AIA strong-arming Google-influenced $18M, get your former Head of IP Strategy for nine years at the helm of the PTO (who ‘coincidently’ could not have been more pleased with AIA), prejudice the realm of tech research with ‘bought and paid for’ papers from ‘authors’ who know their anti-patent propaganda is what is being ‘bought’, THEN control the (supposed) buying of IP with a closest one of price-fixing’s cousins–such that any independent inventor surviving a 90% patent kill-rate, prior to some negotiation, then gets an offer based on LOT’s inventor-snubbing policy: ‘We (All) care enough to pay the very least’.
And do all of the above while fervently fanning the flames of efficient infringement particularly by the ranks of LOT.
Jason CrowJune 9, 2018 10:40 am
Companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft are the modern day mafia, they have bought up congress and have pushed through laws that will help keep them at the top with out anyone being able to challenge them. They are able to steal patents with out any type of real penalty. If you try to protect your patent against them they drain you dry in the courts and call you names like “patent troll” for trying to protect your property from theft. America has become a true oligarchy a real modern day mafia that has sucked the life out of creativity and invention by killing patent rights through the AIA Act and the PTAB.
Americas standings will continue to fall in the world wide rankings and inventors will look to other countries to file for patent protection, where they do have real laws and strong penalties for patent infringes. Its disgusting to see how Silicon Valley has killed the one things that made them great, which was a strong patent system. Locking the door shut from others in achieving the same American dream. DISGUSTING!
PerkinsJune 9, 2018 10:00 am
In addition to Gene’s comment, I might mention that paper and microform copies of patents were available at the USPTO and other patent libraries found nationwide for free searching before electronic databases existed. These libraries were, and many still are, found at various educational institution and non-profits, not to mention a thriving patent search industry providing on request prior art searches related to any invention. Additionally, patent examiners are responsible for performing a thorough search of prior art in conjunction with each and every patent application they work on. Further, if the patent attorney does not prepare an application which explains how the invention differs from the prior art then no patent will issue.
TimJune 9, 2018 09:52 am
Sickening how many of us believed in our court system, only to learn it had been corrupted by Obama and his Google cronies. See “Vringo vs IP Internet”, where 2 Appeals Ct judge, “Mayer & Wallach” tossed a 12-person jury’s unanimous verdict on every-single-count of infringement. And later, when Atty David Buies took the case to the US Supreme CT, and the court refused to see the case. Shareholders lost all, and the stock did a 10/1 reverse split, changed it’s name and platform and now is XSPA, which closed “up” on Friday to a whopping $.40. When it hit’s $40.00, I’ll be back in the black. This case should be forced back to the court, and individuals should be headed to Leavenworth!
John WuJune 9, 2018 09:39 am
What about Google patent basis? It is itself an evil. I have noted two interesting points. First, I noted that the number of forward citations for some patents can decrease. This manipulation would be intended to devalue patents. Second, it also provides a big table showing “similar documents” (I assume they are collected from every corner of the world including graveyards). It is to show that every patent could be questioned by accompanied references (actually, junk documents would cost huge attorney fees to review). However, the trash does boost potential patent infringers’ confidence to challenge patents! So, Google might be evil because it does the most to advocate patent quality extremism.
I found that quality extremism plus junk references plus “the broadest interpretation” (including using imaginary-step doctrine) will be equal to “no patent”. In other words, “novelty in the world” plus unreliable evidence plus bias in examination will also come out with “no patent”! Any patent could be invalidated IF….
Maybe most people in the patent world know whether Google is evil and what it has done to destroy American technological foundation. My question is whether Google is No. 1 evil that should be hold morally responsible for generations of Americans. So, I have created a public database (using my own patent) to rate various classes of patent-destroying evils.
1. Whether Google is No. 1 patent evil in a corporate class? Google pushes for patent quality extremism and misleading evidence.
2. Who is among the 100 biggest evils in individual person class. Should be Micheal Lee rated as the No. one? I found that after the massive patent invalidation result she has secured, examiners cannot render fair and reasonable analysis in patent examination. They have to enter rejection, rejection, and rejection, for little, no, or frivolous reasons. They are in a situation they could do their jobs! I understand their problems. Granting a patent means a bigger risk of being invalidated. Denying a patent is much safer. Google and Michele Lee are responsible for creating this bias examination culture.
3. What are the worst 100 policy changes that have damaged American innovation culture? In the last 100 years, more than hundred things have been changed. Any power holder, such as a lawmaker, a circuit judge, a Supreme justice, a policy maker in the patent office can do a little bit to harm the patent system. Each change along is not very harmful. But, I want to figure out their cumulative impacts on the patent system. Google is also responsible for several of those things.
Can you say that Google is not the number-one patent-destroying evil?
TimJune 9, 2018 09:37 am
Glad Obama is gone. He did nothing but try to further corrupt our entire system. Time to have an entire shakedown of the courts, and dirty judges, like Mayer and Wallace, who tossed a 12-0 unanimous verdict on all charges against Google: Vringo vs IP Internet. And a Supreme Court that refused to hear the case when Atty David Buies took it to them. How sad for we shareholders that lost huge amounts, as we believed in our court system! Vringo, now XSPA closed Friday up at $.40 a share, and this was after a 10/4 reverse split. This should be put back in front of the court!
Disenfranchised Patent OwnerJune 9, 2018 09:30 am
Google ALWAYS wins.
Google WILL ALWAYS win.
Google WILL ALWAYS SEEK to increase its power and influence.
SteveJune 8, 2018 07:37 pm
A code change doesn’t mean a conduct change.
Gene QuinnJune 8, 2018 06:59 pm
That is an interesting bit of revisionist history.
You do realize the patent database was available before Google, correct?
Donavon Lee FavreJune 8, 2018 05:57 pm
Google has made the US Patent data base available to the public. This has done more for the patent system than anything. The problems with the patent system are caused by the Supreme Court and Patent Attorneys failing to explain the prior art and explaing how their inventions differ.
angry dudeJune 8, 2018 02:10 pm
Google IS EVIL !!!
Forget about patents
Rampant age discrimination and forced diversity are more than enough to call them EVIL
And I’m not even mentioning their spying on everyone and collecting sensitive personal data for whatever evil purposes they have in their evil monopolistic corporate mind
Screw Google !!!