Google SVP and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond threw a public tantrum Wednesday over the recent patent auctions Google lost to Microsoft, Apple, and a number of other companies. This led to a heated exchange between Microsoft and Google over Twitter and the web. MG Siegler at TechCrunch has a nice recap if you’ve missed any of it.
More than enough holes have already been poked in Drummond’s logic. What’s truly astounding is that this was not a leaked memo or an investigative hit piece: it was a deliberate PR stunt that completely backfired. It is a textbook example of why you don’t open your mouth before you’re ready to talk. This was a chance to set the record straight and turn the tables in this debate, and Google blew it. Most of the mistakes made were simple, avoidable failures of communication.
The first failure was lack of clarity: specifically, letting the Chief Legal Officer write nearly 500 words of unstructured whining. How many ordinary people understand lawyers, let alone sympathize with them? A piece of communication this important should have been painstakingly reviewed: its prose; its tone; its presentation; its source; and my goodness, its facts. It’s quite clear that nobody examined the post with a level head.
Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no.
This revelation forced Drummond to update his post with another two hundred frustrated words. In less than a day (and 140 characters), Google wound up against the same wall it tried to pin the opposition to. If Drummond had mentioned this little fact up front and quickly dismissed it, he’d have remained in the driver’s seat. Now he looks disorganized, disheartened, and dishonest.
The third failure was lack of awareness. Drummond attempted to rally the troops without so much as mentioning a very real, very relevant dilemma: the patent troll organization known as Lodsys, which has sued a growing number of Android (and iOS) app developers. The Droid Army is under siege, their livelihoods threatened, and the generals have finally stood up to… ask the troops to feel sorry for the generals. I’m sure they feel great today.
Nobody was waiting for Google to say something; Google stood up and demanded we all listen. If you walk up to the microphone like that, you need to have your story straight. It would not have been hard to spend a little more time preparing an impassioned and credible statement that appealed to the reader.
The sad thing about all of this is that the patent system in our industry is in fact horribly, cynically broken. Google had a terrific opportunity to make that case and shift public opinion in its (and I believe in the long term, everyone’s) favor. Instead, it cried like a rich kid who lost an auction.