March 31, 2006 5:17 PM PST

Google Earth may catch a break in patent quake

Google may get a break from a federal judge in a lawsuit claiming the company's 3D Earth-mapping program violates patent rights.

In a preliminary order released last week, U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock in Massachusetts appeared to side with Google's interpretations of the patent in question, a stance that could bode well for the search giant as the case moves on.

The legal spat began in May 2004 when a Virginia-based company called Skyline Software Systems filed a patent-infringement suit against Keyhole, a Mountain View, Calif.-based digital mapping company. Founded in 1997, Skyline makes a number of mapping products, including one called TerraExplorer, which, according to its Web site, "allows users to freely fly through 3D terrain and urban environments."

Google became part of the suit after it acquired Keyhole in October 2004. Keyhole made interactive, 3D mapping software based on terabytes of information and images taken from satellites and airplanes. That technology formed the basis for Google Earth, released last June.

Skyline says Keyhole's technology infringes on Patent No. 6,496,189, which it received in late 2002. The patent describes "a method of providing data blocks describing three-dimensional terrain to a renderer."

In January, Skyline requested a preliminary injunction that would shut down and prohibit sales of Google Earth pending resolution of the dispute.

In patent cases, the judge mediating the dispute first hears each side's interpretations of certain terms used in the language of the patent claim and then reconciles those often-competing definitions. When Judge Woodlock offered the court's construction of about a dozen terms under dispute, he adopted three of Google's suggestions verbatim and appeared to be leaning toward its interpretations on two others.

In only two instances--for the definitions of the terms "communication link" and "processor"--did he take Skyline's definitions verbatim, and in those cases, Google had already acknowledged it had no problems with Skyline's suggested definitions.

But the dispute isn't over yet. Next comes the resolution of the real question: whether the Google-Keyhole software infringes on Skyline's patent. According to the court docket, the judge expects to hold a trial in mid-November or mid-December of this year.

See more CNET content tagged:
Google Earth, dispute, Keyhole Inc., patent, interpretation

6 comments

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So that's the way it is.
Seems like every week, some dirtwater bunch of losers creeps out of the woodwork to sue over 'patent infringement.' Never mind that the patent is usually an attempt to claim ownership of fresh air and blue sky. Never mind that the patent holder has proven spectacularly inept at turning their big idea into a business. Never mind that the 'big idea' is one that everyone else and their dog has had before but felt was too obvious and trivial to bother patenting.

No, these jokers come along and waste court time for months and years (at taxpayers' expense), trying to prove that they invented the idea of chewing food or wearing pants.

The result is that the victims of these bottom feeders spend a fortune retaining legal advisors and another fortune in management time fighting off their spurious claims; costs that they inevitably pass onto consumers.

Meanwhile, every company has to divert increasingly large amounts of money to protecting themselves from such claims. This leaves less for genuine innovation.

So we get to pay three times for these clowns; once through taxation; again through increased purchase costs and a final time through stifled innovation.

And the patent system is supposed to be about promoting innovation?

Sure it is.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good post
I totally agree. But the one problem I have is with Microsoft. Imagine what they would do if patents were relaxed. They could easily replicate anyone's technology and bundle it into Windows. Sure they do that anyway with the hope that they can outspend their opponent in the courts, but to encourage them to do it more would be detrimental to the IT industry as a whole.

On the whole though, software patents appear to stifle innovation as you correctly pointed out.

Perhaps a person/organisation should loose a patent if they do not have a viable product based on the patent?
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Link Flag
So that's the way it is.
Seems like every week, some dirtwater bunch of losers creeps out of the woodwork to sue over 'patent infringement.' Never mind that the patent is usually an attempt to claim ownership of fresh air and blue sky. Never mind that the patent holder has proven spectacularly inept at turning their big idea into a business. Never mind that the 'big idea' is one that everyone else and their dog has had before but felt was too obvious and trivial to bother patenting.

No, these jokers come along and waste court time for months and years (at taxpayers' expense), trying to prove that they invented the idea of chewing food or wearing pants.

The result is that the victims of these bottom feeders spend a fortune retaining legal advisors and another fortune in management time fighting off their spurious claims; costs that they inevitably pass onto consumers.

Meanwhile, every company has to divert increasingly large amounts of money to protecting themselves from such claims. This leaves less for genuine innovation.

So we get to pay three times for these clowns; once through taxation; again through increased purchase costs and a final time through stifled innovation.

And the patent system is supposed to be about promoting innovation?

Sure it is.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good post
I totally agree. But the one problem I have is with Microsoft. Imagine what they would do if patents were relaxed. They could easily replicate anyone's technology and bundle it into Windows. Sure they do that anyway with the hope that they can outspend their opponent in the courts, but to encourage them to do it more would be detrimental to the IT industry as a whole.

On the whole though, software patents appear to stifle innovation as you correctly pointed out.

Perhaps a person/organisation should loose a patent if they do not have a viable product based on the patent?
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Link Flag
Solution proposal
Do away with patents, make companies compete on with their own mettle, not the coercive power of government.

Patents have proven, repeatedly, to be a great example of unintended consequences. The quintessential examples are usually drug and software patents. Without drug patents, companies would have reason to innovate, not concentration on money-making blockbuster remedies to common ailments such as heartburn so as to sit on their R&D haunches while they wage of frontal assault on the advertising world and any would-be generic producers. Software can be protected with encryption and reverse engineering is only successful when the maker is able to outcompete the original creator with its own idea.

Though this is not a long and conclusive discourse, it is my opinion that patents slow discourage innovative entrepreneurship and encourage exploitation.
Posted by nhandler (79 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Solution proposal
Do away with patents, make companies compete on with their own mettle, not the coercive power of government.

Patents have proven, repeatedly, to be a great example of unintended consequences. The quintessential examples are usually drug and software patents. Without drug patents, companies would have reason to innovate, not concentration on money-making blockbuster remedies to common ailments such as heartburn so as to sit on their R&D haunches while they wage of frontal assault on the advertising world and any would-be generic producers. Software can be protected with encryption and reverse engineering is only successful when the maker is able to outcompete the original creator with its own idea.

Though this is not a long and conclusive discourse, it is my opinion that patents slow discourage innovative entrepreneurship and encourage exploitation.
Posted by nhandler (79 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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