Google gets a design patent – aka the Twitterverse’s collective head explodes

Just a warning – this may sound a little snarky.

So, you may or may not have heard – although I find it tough to believe you haven’t heard – but Google received a patent on the familiar search page interface we all know and love.

It’s been a hot topic on Twitter the last two days – and I would hazard a guess that it is being viewed as akin to Darth Vader doing the Macarena while shopping for sheets.  Or some such nonsense.

3027511471_d72e0c83d0_zFrom a few of the more “interesting” tweets:

tompolk: Who's on crack in the patent office? Google Patents World's Simplest Home Page

estauthamer: Is Google or the US patent Office getting nuts???? Patent on 2 button search interface

yelvington: Don't de-crapify your homepage. Google has a patent on that.

patrics: Patent on Google Homepage?! Not Funny! #software#patents

ratkat: @stevelitchfield I think it is a bit scary that even such an iconic design asgoogle's home page should be granted a patent

GyrRaven: Lauren Weinstein's Blog: Will Google's "Home Page" Patent Embolden Patent Abuse?

So – do you hear the sound of the apocalypse coming? Patent abuse!  Patent abuse! (Are they talking about the intellectual property right or about not cleaning your leather shoes?)

Well, it doesn’t surprise me that PHOSITA readers are probably not too concerned about the issuance of Design Patent No. D599,372 (PDF) because you are well aware that it is a design patent and not a utility patent.  It is only one word, I know – but that one word makes a tremendous amount of difference.  A difference that is obviously lost on the twits above.

A utility patent protects the functional expression of an idea while a design patent protects the ornamental design of a functional product.  A design patent does not protect the functional aspects of the product itself – rather, it protects how the product is decorated and/or designed.

Google cannot keep anyone from “de-crapifying” their website (e.g., the functional aspects of a product) – it can merely keep you from “de-crapifying” your website in a manner in which embodies the patented design or any colorable imitation.  It is kind of like a trademark – you can’t look like Google’s ornamental design – but you can still “de-crapify” your website and/or create a better search engine.  (I wonder how high I will rank in Google now for the term “de-crapifying”?)

As such, the scope of protection afforded a design patent is much more limited in nature, scope and breadth than a utility patent.  And it only lasts for 14 years.

So – to the twits (or is it twitts?) – CHILL OUT.  The world is not ending, the system is not spinning off the rails – Google was granted a property right in the ornamental design of its unique website.

Furthermore, why shouldn’t Google be allowed to protect it’s unique design?

From a cursory review of the history of the page – at the time (and up to this day) many people thought the design was (1) dumb, (2) two simplistic, (3) moronic, (4) genius… no one thought it was “done before” – i.e., it was novel – no one or only very few designers were taking the simple and clean route Google took at the time.  It stands out in a crowd and has become a very important symbol of Google – i.e., something that they would want to protect and keep people from copying.

It also protects the user – if you see the interface, you know it is Google – and not some porn site or spammer.

I know it is the hip cool thing right now to “fight the man” – with the “man” being the patent system, but I really wish people would take a few minutes to actually figure out what occurred and what it means.  It would save you a lot of wasted “outrage” and tweeting.  There are abuses of the patent system – Google getting a design patent is not one of them.

Then again – what would patent attorneys do with their evenings if they didn’t have to correct the record?

/snark  (End of snark for those of you “not in the know”)

Image by Mermay19 on Flickr Creative Commons



There was a bit of a fire storm with the "news" of Google's design patent. Hey, did you also hear that Michael Jackson died? Design patents have grown, though, in stature and longer the "Jan Brady" of intellectual property.

Hi LAX -

The D599,372 design patent claims priority to D533,561 which was filed on March 26, 2004. In order for there to be a statutory bar according to 35 USC 102(b) - Google would have had to used the exact same design as shown in the design patent prior to March 26, 2003.

From a cursory review of the web looking for an evolution of the Google homepage (for example) it doesn't appear that the design patented in D599,372 was used prior to March 26, 2003.

Google had an affirmative duty to disclose to the patent office any "prior art" that was material to patentability of the design. I will give Google, and their counsel, the benefit of the doubt that they fulfilled their ethical obligations to cite public uses of the design prior to March 26, 2003.

One of the "gotchas" in looking at patents re: prior art is that you have to look to the prior applications in order to calculate the priority date. So - for D599,372 - you cannot use the filing date of the application as the date from which to calculate the statutory bar - you have to use the filing date of the parent application.

Just to clear up any misunderstandings my post or LAX's comment might have raised.

Since the iconic web design was on display several years before the priority document was filed, the patent should never have been granted.

"Google was granted a property right in the ornamental design of its unique website."

I'm not really sure what's all that unique about a form box with two buttons aligned directly below it. Seems like a pretty standard layout for many forms.

On the flip side, I highly doubt that Google is going to scream patent infringement on any joe schmo with a form box that looks similar to their main page layout.

...Just my two cents.

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