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Why Google is giving startups free patents

TechCrunch first pointed out Google has started what it calls the Patent Starter Program.

It entails giving startups or developers two patents for free, which they can keep, In exchange, the companies must join a network devoted to battling patent trolls.

Specifically, the program will only be available to 50 companies initially, the Verge reports. These companies must have a 2014 revenue between $500,000 and $20 million. Should they qualify, Google will find three to five patents it owns that complement what the startup is developing, of which the startup can choose two.

Under the program’s obligations, Google retains a license to the patents it gives away, and the patents can only be used defensively, or else Google will penalize it financially.

The biggest tenet is that the company must be a part of the LOT Network for at least two years. LOT — which features many high-profile members like Google, Dropbox, the Wikimedia Foundation and Ford — is a network designed to push back against patent trolls. All LOT members receive a license for all patents within the network, so if a patent troll threatens a lawsuit, the affected organization has a strong defence. LOT has a membership fee, but companies within Google’s Patent Starter Program won’t have to pay it for two years. After that period the companies can theoretically leave LOT, but Google is hoping they’ll stay.

This isn’t the only effort Google has taken against patent trolls. At the end of April this year, Google announced an initiative to make it easier to sell patents to it, and therefore keep the intellectual property rights away from trolls.

The threat of a patent lawsuit cannot be overstated — from 1994 to 2010, the number of patent lawsuits doubled. That number doubled again from 2010 to 2013.

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