back to article The dingo... er, Google stole my patent! Biz boss tells how Choc Factory staff tried to rip off idea from interview

Jie Qi, cofounder of edu-tech electronics biz Chibitronics, marked the launch of patent education site PatentPandas.org with her account of how Google tried to patent her research after inviting her to meet with company executives. In March 2014, Qi says, she was working on her doctorate at MIT's Media Lab, developing …

  1. JohnFen Silver badge

    "She argues that working in the open, by publishing research papers, helps prevent people from trying to patent the work."

    I agree with this.

    In fact, during my entire professional career, I've taken a rather similar approach. When I come up with an idea that might be patentable, I make sure to publish it somewhere authoritative and include all of the details that would go into a patent filing, specifically so that it can be cited as prior art should someone else try to patent it. Why don't I patent it myself? Because I'm a software engineer, and I don't think that software patents should be a thing that is allowed.

    1. DCFusor Silver badge

      First to file is now the law

      I originally started my online sci/tech forums for just this reason - myself and others needed a free place to publish so as to establish priority of inventions. The idea that it's hosted by an otherwise uninterested third party with logs and timestamps was one of the keys there. That used to be enough, and was relatively affordable.

      Then...a "bipartisan" law change - patent "reform" it was called in the states, changed the rules from first to invent to first to file, blowing that out of the water without EXTREME legal fees, Yet another law to protect the big money against competition from the small outfit.

      According to my patent attorneys, you must now file a provisional patent (which you have to follow up on, the good part of that law if any was to eliminate zombie patents) - at fairly high expense, or publish in a journal that the USPTO reads - also at fairly high expense - or all bets are off.

      As the law sits now, someone can steal your idea, admit they did so - and still wind up owning it due to being first to file and you not having the bucks to make enough stink and present the court with enough ancillary stuff to keep them from owning it. But you also then have to patent it yourself at ever increasing costs (10's of k$ now even if you do most of the work yourself).

      Unlike open source software, you can't even give your own stuff away, in the sense of preventing some other outfit from patenting it and charging others for using it - or just holding it off the market.

      At least my lawyers tell me so...

      Not to pimp my place which is near-dead due to this and other factors, but it's

      www.coultersmithing.com/forums in case you get bored. Nope, not looking for average Joe type members at all, no bucks, no ads, that's not what we are about.

      1. IpBrent

        Re: First to file is now the law

        I would be suspicious if a patent attorney told you that you have to file provisional application. In addition, while the us may be first to file, inventorship still matters. Someone declaring they are the true inventor when documentation (e.g, meeting notes, plans, license negotiations) exists indicating otherwise will not play nice later on down the road. Nothing wrong with publishing, but why publish if you can patent? 7-10k is my going rate to write an app. Additional costs include working with the patent office to get your app allowed.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: First to file is now the law

          I believe that the existence (or absence) of 'prior art' actually IS the standard, because a patent application (as I understand it) requires that you research for such things AND include appropriate references in the patent application, for existing patents, prior art related to your patent, and things like that.

          If the patent search was inadequate (prior art exists and they KNEW about it) then the patent SHOULD be denied (and apparently was, in this case, as mentioned in the article).

          As for filing when prior art isn't "available", filing first SHOULD matter. 2 people can work on the same thing at the same time, never communicate, and never publish what they're up to, and the first one to file 'wins'. Perhaps THAT is what the lawyers were referring to?

          In any case, patent law needs TRUE reform, but FUD isn't helping. And 'I Am Not A Lawyer' for what it's worth. And DEFENDING a patent is expensive, necessarily so, I'd say. Filing is relatively cheap by comparison.

      2. Pat Att

        Re: First to file is now the law

        Your patent attorneys are wrong. You don't need to file provisional patent, or any patent, for it to be considered prior art. Any verifiable publication will do. I speak as a patent attorney.

  2. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Light bulb

    Glad to see you featuring this most famous misappropriated patent at the top of the story. It was precisely the thought that came to mind when I saw the headline on your feed.

    1. Caver_Dave

      Re: Light bulb

      Oh, I would go with the telephone as the most famous!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Light bulb

        IIRC - the telephone was more down to a corrupt patent clerk accepting a back hander. The lightbulb was a case of Swan inventing it several years before, and not doing much with it, regarding it as a novelty. Edison, being the Steve Jobs of the day tried to sue him?

  3. TDog
    FAIL

    There is a serious problem here, other than the apparent stealing of IP. The clear issue is whether or not the patent issuers are aware of previous work. Most authorities haven't got a (fucking) clue where to look, and even if they did, are not paid to do it and haven't the time. So they functionally can't look for it.

    Thus if you discuss your work, and someone appropriates it (after all, it is neither in the public domain(s) that the issuers check) then challenging it is much more difficult than the trivial process of claiming it.

    So YOU ARE FUCKED.

    But it is so tempting to deal with a huge firm like google. (sort of claiming "first do no harm"). And not all of them have to be lying. Simply a few and the inertia of lawyers and "well it's ours" is sufficient.

    (TLDR even if you can trust some of the cunts, there are still cunts there.)

    Don't let the Shites happen.

    This doesn't answer the question of how to solve the problem; nor am I convinced there is a trivial solution. But the ownership of the problem by the big companies might just help. But that would require the concept of maximalising shareholder return to be constrained by ethical considerations. And we have seen no clear examples of that working. (Failures include Greenhouse gas emission, Asbestos, Slavery, Tobacco, Insurance fraud and all sorts of bullshit.)

    I guess you can neither trust companies nor people. And in the long term that is catastrophic for people.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "This doesn't answer the question of how to solve the problem; nor am I convinced there is a trivial solution."

      Take a recorder into the meeting.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Meh

        Well there IS some common sense to this as well. You want to show what you've done in an interview in order to get a job, but you don't want to give away any details about it that could potentially be stolen.

        That being said, Google shoudl've never (allegedly) stolen an idea presented in a job interview. That's just plain unethical.

  4. jgarbo
    Devil

    Hang on!

    Aren't the Chinese supposed to be stealing US tech? Must be a Commie smear of the Do No Evil factory.

    1. I3N
      Angel

      Re: Hang on!

      'Tis a bit of irony somewhere here ...

      Working my way through Pratchett ... haven't seen this yet ...

      Although Mark Twain wrote this about 6th century England

      "That reminds me to remark, in passing, that the very first official thing I did, in my administration — and it was on the very first day of it, too — was to start a patent office; for I knew that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn’t travel any way but sideways or backways."

      A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, 1889

      1. Marshalltown

        Re: Hang on!

        US patent history is a weird and tangled jungle. There are episodes where a good idea was patented by the inventor, who was a greedy jerk. The result: the use of the patent languished until it lapsed or a better idea was patented by someone of a more reasonable turn of mind. Other times a patent was maintained for as long as possible, ultimately lapsing as it aged out. The Bailey wood plane is an example. At other times stupid, absurd, minimal alterations to an existing patent were patented largely as a marketing tool for a company that wanted to use the existing patent without licensing it. There were a ridiculous number of patents covering trivial alterations to a ceramic, electrical insulator tube (no longer used any where). Most addressed the nonexistent problem of the insulator backing out of a wooden wall stud and leaving the conductor in contact with the flammable wood. Then along came software "patents" which should be under copyright instead.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Hang on!

          And in the last 15 to 20 years, it was very popular to take existing patents and slap the words "in a mobile device" and it was automatically a new paten.

        2. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: US patent history is a weird and tangled jungle.

          Yah.

          Take a look at your average beam engine in drawings from the 1870s or so. You'll see some mighty odd looking piston/beam connections and oddly complex crank mechanisms.

          Why?

          UK Patents on those components held by the first arrivers.

  5. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Devil

    This is unfortunately a common Silicon Valley trick

    Get some technologists to come over to your offices, schmooze them and stroke their egos, get them to discuss what they are doing in some detail, and then patent or develop the product first.

    It's underhanded. Always make sure anyone you talk to about technology advances you are working on is under proper NDAs.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: This is unfortunately a common Silicon Valley trick

      I had a very large and well known British company steal my idea a few decades ago when I presented it by way of impressing them at a job interview. I didn't get the job and only found out they had stolen it when I read a tech magazine article on their new product which described my idea exactly.

      I was young, naive, straight out of college, and had never anticipated that.

      But I wasn't stupid nor naive enough to mention the fundamental flaw in my design because I was merely hoping to impress them - There was an implicit race condition which was insurmountable which meant it could never work at any sensible scale.

      Karma eventually paid them a visit. Last I read was that their product had proven so unreliable in the field that it was a disaster. Having banked everything on a flawed idea it had near bankrupted the company.

      It still makes me smile after many years.

      1. I3N
        Pint

        Re: This is unfortunately a common Silicon Valley trick

        Hear! Hear! ...

        Would always leave out the fatal flaws and include bells and whistles to obfuscate ...

      2. Mayday Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: This is unfortunately a common Silicon Valley trick

        "I had a very large and well known British company steal my idea a few decades ago when I presented it by way of impressing them at a job interview."

        Sounds familiar. I interviewed at everyone's favourite UK Defence company for a networking role in an Aussie office. They asked how I could migrate the network from a mix of hybrid/redistributed EIGRP and OSPF to ISIS. I described in detail how to do such a thing with the "expert" feverishly taking notes.

        I didnt get the job, and someone with much less experience and cheaper got the job (I found this out through a friend who worked there). I left out a few details deliberately (namely how to see if anything is still using the old protocols before turning them off) and my friend told me the whole network went down during the cutover because some sites (ie data centres) were not migrated properly. Naturally I laughed to myself when I heard this.

        Hope their cheap option was worth it.

        1. Mayday Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: This is unfortunately a common Silicon Valley trick

          "Hope their cheap option was worth it."

          I've reconsidered. No I don't, fuck them.

        2. Rupert Fiennes Bronze badge

          Re: This is unfortunately a common Silicon Valley trick

          On a slightly related matter, I was made redundant while configuring a router for a customer: called into a conference room with HR on the phone. Bonus: I had been told I was safe 2 weeks previously and it was a week before Xmas. I was then escorted out of the building, with my laptop and secureID token still in my possession. Despite this, my escort still refused to allow me to finish the only line of customer config left (passive-interface gix/x in EIGRP) before logging off. Or to wr mem.

          EIGRP melted down two days later. I can't say I was upset :-)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is unfortunately a common Silicon Valley trick

        I had a very large and well known British company steal my idea a few decades ago when I presented it by way of impressing them at a job interview. I didn't get the job and only found out they had stolen it when I read a tech magazine article on their new product which described my idea exactly.

        No names then,or what the product was?

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: This is unfortunately a common Silicon Valley trick

      Why specific to the Silly Valley?

      I had this one pulled on me in the UK. It is as common around my swamp as around the valley if not even more so.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: This is unfortunately a common Silicon Valley trick

      "Always make sure anyone you talk to about technology advances you are working on is under proper NDAs."

      The exploiting company can always claim that you didn't say whatever it was they stole. To counter that you need evidence.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone remember "The Last One" ?

    It was allegedly the last program you'd need to buy, as it "wrote other programs for you" (circa 1983/4).

    The company flogging it were demoing it at an exhibition, and were flattered that a fellow exhibitor was singing it's praises, and really giving it a good work out. Until it dawned on them they they had got a spec from a prospective customer, nipped around to The Last Ones stand, got The Last One to write a program, and nipped back and flogged it ....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Anyone remember "The Last One" ?

      Surely that is is good thing? What better publicity than to say that a company was able to take a spec and turn it into a sellable piece of software while still in the restricted arena of an exhibition.

      Unless they were getting "The Last One" to write a program to compete with and match "The Last One" but that would surely create some kind of paradox which could only result in the destruction of the planet?

  7. Starace
    Alert

    Naive

    And this children is why you never ever discuss new and novel things with third parties (or even particularly widely) if you either want to patent them yourself or don't want someone else to steal them.

    Throwing the idea into the public domain can work as a spoiler but it's a wasteful approach if you're the sort of person who actually needs an income to survive; they can still steal your idea and steamroller you with their product, they just can't patent it. Well, actually they can patent it but they're vulnerable to prior art claims.

    Without an NDA discuss nothing. With an ironclad NDA discuss the bare minimum.

    And when you eventually put an idea out there make sure you cover *all* the possible expansions of it even if you never intend to go there yourself. It really limits the opportunities for people to piggy back off your work.

    And a proper technically minded patent attorney is worth the cost.

    And another point - if you think somewhere wants to hire you, make sure you don't let them harvest your brain until *after* you're employed and getting paid. Spilling all the beans during the interview can let people get all they want for free.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Naive

      Nont-IT, but same problem: I was working in marketing and had a chat with an art college student who had bravely decided to approach my company directly with her portfolio. We couldn't use her (we didn't hire freelancers), but she was smart and talented and had great ideas. She also mentioned that she had been interviewed by several big design agencies. Shortly thereafter, we interviewed some design agencies and I was surprised and amazed to see one of the art student's designs displayed as the work of one of the agencies. The design was so distinctive that it couldn't be a zeigeist thing. So, she had shown them her portfolio and they had promptly ripped her off, and she never knew. I didn't want to hire the agency, but my boss was untroubled by my disclosure and we took them on. Still makes my blood boil, 20 years later.

  8. Jonathan Richards 1
    Stop

    One more time, please

    One cannot (or more precisely cannot successfully) gain a patent for abstract ideas. You have to back up the "What if you could do ..." idea with a sufficiently described inventive step for implementing that idea in order to gain patent protection.

    Ref: Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International - SCOTUSblog

    How I miss Groklaw...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: One more time, please

      "a sufficiently described inventive step"

      The problem here seems to be the interpretation of those words by patent offices and courts. On the one hand "sufficiently" might be over-generously interpreted and on the other hand so might the inventiveness needed to implement it.

  9. Jarek

    Academia and free software programmers need protection from patent vultures

    I got a similar Google experience - I have helped them for 3.5 years through their public forum in their video compression adaptation of my ANS coding, hoping for a formal collaboration with my University.

    Instead, it has turned out impossible as, meanwhile, they have secretly filed a patent on my suggestions - without contacting me or disclosing communication of the actual inventor.

    There are these two worlds: patent industry wanting ownership on every ideas - mainly fueled by lawyers.

    From the other side there is academia, free software programmers - people who actually make the development, and usually just want its unrestricted use - but now we are terrified by these patent vultures wanting to forbid everybody using our work, who are extremely difficult to defend from due to having much more resources and being protected by the system - e.g. that there are no legal consequences even for well documented plagiarism.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Academia and free software programmers need protection from patent vultures

      It's not fuelled by lawyers, it's ultimately all about shareholder value. The lawyers are part of it, sure, but profit for the owners is what makes it go.

      Other posters have talked about NDAs. They're pretty useless unless you have the financial resources to run a court case.

      The best way to profit is a startup, doing it all yourselves (keeping the IPR close), and either succeed as a business selling a completed product, or sell the startup. If you don't intend to profit from a venture, fine, but getting into a relationship with someone (person, company , whatever) who does want to profit is asking for trouble.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Academia and free software programmers need protection from patent vultures

      well, there COULD be those 'mutual NDA' signatures to prevent such abuses, if "the big company" will even go for it, AND if it doesn't contain an exploitable loophole, yotta yotta. Dealing with the devil, expect some hidden agendas, twists, and backstabbings. Just sayin'. Pfffftttthhhhh... (wait, why isn't this working?) (ok it's a somewhat lame reference to the original 'Bedazzled', the one with Dudly Moore)

      That being said, l[aw]yers write those NDAs _AND_ go after the patents, helping "them" to rip off the little guy, etc. etc. and probably on the belief that unpaid "consulting" belongs to THEM, and hence they "have a right to it". Sick, sad world in that you have to have a bit of 'paranoia mode' running, ALL of the time.

  10. joekhul

    Another RegTard HitJob

    On the chocolate factory.

    Google who has open sourced and give away technology to the tunes of BEEEEELLLIONS is the badguy. The 'worst' according to the Author's sources.

    Obviously they are worse then Apple who patented a square for a designed and sued for billions. Or worse then Oracle which patented a header file name.

    Give me a freaking break your freetard loons. This is nonsense.

    1. Nattrash
      Pint

      Re: Another RegTard HitJob

      OK, I'll bite, just because its the weekend, and am on the verge of a lovely fry-up and a pint...

      Ever tried to adapt that Android phone of yours to your preferences? So how did that rooting go?

    2. Marshalltown

      Re: Another RegTard HitJob

      Google (Alphabet) shill.

      1. FozzyBear Silver badge
        Gimp

        Re: Another RegTard HitJob

        @ Marshalltown

        Considering the previous posts under this handle, that's a huge understatement.

      2. RyokuMas Silver badge
        Alert

        Re: Another RegTard HitJob

        @Marshaltown: careful there - reg forum rules say that direct accusations (in particular, the use of the "s-word") can get your post pulled and even result in a ban.

        But yes, having actually taken a look at the post history under this handle, it looks like you're bang on the money...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Another RegTard HitJob

      You mean the way they gave away other people's copyrights by publishing lots of books online.

      A truly ethical organisation.

  11. The C Man

    Not only patents

    I was a Top Contributor in the Google Gmail Forums and got to know one of the management team well and we would have off the record chats about problems. He confided to me they were having problems with spammers creating multiple accounts to which I reminded him that in the early days of Gmail you needed a mobile phone number to create an account and suggested they went back to it with a limit to the number of accounts that could be created. It took less than two weeks for that to happen. During the early days of the Afghan war troops who were deployed there were unable to sign into their Gmail accounts and use Google Talk to speak with their families due to the location causing a security problem restricting service men to a 10 minute phone call home when and if they were lucky. My suggestion that isps for military bases were automatically recognised by Google as valid was utilised. There were other suggestions made and used by Google. No word of thanks or even mention of the suggestion being made by somebody who gave his time for free was ever seen. I can well believe that either Google or its employees claim ideas as their own.

  12. ICPurvis47
    Pirate

    Stolen PhD

    When I was approaching the end of my MSc., my tutor suggested that I might consider going on to get a PhD., and that he knew the perfect project for me. I went to see the development team at a large Nuclear Power company, who explained that they had a problem, but could not simulate it mathematically. I took the information they provided and went back to college. I spent three months developing a FORTRAN program to do a three dimensional finite element analysis of the problem, and reported back to the company. By this time I had gained my MSc. and intended staying on to do the practical experimentation to support and refine my theoretical work, which should have been financed by the company concerned. At that meeting they thanked me for providing them with the answer to their problem, and that was that. My PhD. lasted three months, I was not paid a penny for doing the groundwork, and they had all the answers they needed to further refine the FE program in house.

  13. NanoMeter

    What's the lesson learned?

    Remember to record your next meeting with Silicon Valley companies.

    PS. Remember to mention you are about to get the invention patented.

  14. DougS Silver badge

    Anything you plan to disclose in a meeting

    You should have written documentation for, dated prior to your meeting and notarized. You don't need to have already filed a patent, or published a paper. You just need proof it is yours.

    Then tell them that you've done this before you leave the meeting. Don't tell them at the start, if you do they might send you on your way if the only reason was to try to steal your invention. That way if their questions lead you to think about novel ways to improve upon your work you can turn the tables and steal their idea (only do this if their attitude changes in a quite obvious fashion once you tell them that you've protected yourself)

  15. martinusher Silver badge

    Its Russia all over again

    I've been in a situation where an invention of mine -- one that I'd developed into a product -- was successfully patented by others who had absolutely no involvement in its development. I didn't patent the original idea, though, because it wasn't just software but it was also unlikely to be original and probably obvious. The people involved in this weren't the company that benefited from this, though -- its unlikely that the company had a clue about the origins of the work. This is what happened here, I'd guess -- it wasn't "Google" that stole the idea but "Google Employees". Once the nature of the theft was made known at the appropriate level the company did the right thing (and they should have had a chat with the employees involved in this).

    What's the "Russia" angle? Its currently fashionable to confuse "Russia" with "Russians" in our contemporary Cold War climate which really stops us from seeing what's really going on. In our world the primary string pullers are driven by money, pure and simple, and where that money comes from and how its distributed has more of an influence on our lives than a single state actor. Just as Google isn't a monolith, nations aren't -- there are obvious unifying policies in any organization but overall every organization is composed of individuals who are free to make their own decisions at some level or another.

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