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Google Awarded Driverless Vehicle Patent 121

theodp writes "On Tuesday, Google was awarded U.S. Patent No. 8,078,349 for methods and devices for Transitioning a Mixed-mode Autonomous Vehicle from a Human Driven Mode to an Autonomously Driven Mode. From the fast-tracked patent application, which was filed last May and kept under wraps at Google's request: 'The autonomous vehicle may be used as a virtual tour guide of Millennium Park in Chicago. In the example embodiment, the vehicle may have an instruction to drive to the Cloud Gate (Silver Bean) sculpture at Millennium Park. When the vehicle arrives, the autonomous instruction may tell it to wait in the location for a predetermined amount of time, for example 5 minutes. The instruction may then direct the vehicle to drive to the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park and again wait for 5 minutes. Next, the instruction may tell the vehicle to drive to the Ice Rink at Millennium Park and wait for another predetermined amount of time. Finally, the vehicle instruction may tell the vehicle to return to its starting position.'"
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Google Awarded Driverless Vehicle Patent

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  • and kept under wraps at Google's request

    They even tried to hide their patent request. So if anyone ever wants to make a driverless car, you shall pay Google for the patent.

    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:49PM (#38377878)

      I guess my question is: Why?

      The application is in. The patent is on the way. Once its granted, it will be published for all to see. So the only thing this prevents is public inspection and comment during the review process. Not that the patent examiners pay attention to public comment in all cases. But if they would, this is only an end run around someone calling "Bullsh*t!" on the application.

      Input from practitioners in the art are the best way to shut down worthless patent applications. Before the patent is granted and it will cost someone massive legal fees to challenge.

      • I guess my question is: Why?

        Probably to protect proprietary information/technology before the patent was granted. If discussion of specifics regarding how it actually works were part of the patent application, then they're well within their rights wanting to keep that information confidential. While you make a good point about not having pointless or BS patents filed, it's worth pointing out that this isn't a bogus idea that'll never pan out. In fact, it's already been done, by Google, last year. And while there have been some hiccups

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @12:45AM (#38380180) Homepage

          More likely to protect it from immediate attacks by product handling robot vehicles as used in many factories. Vehicles that move, wait, are loaded, unloaded, depending upon product to be loaded or unloaded and then move on [].

          So google has been awarded a patent based upon substituting the word 'car' for vehicle and 'human' for product. Looks like the US should win the award for the most bullshit patents awarded.

          So yeah it's already been done, all over the bloody place by whole lot's of companies. So did google actually invent anything new hardware or did they just use other people's hardware and tack on a bit of software, define a susbset of possible product to be moved and vehicle type to be used (talk about bloody obvious).

    • by Grond ( 15515 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:51PM (#38377902) Homepage

      What Google did was make a request for confidentiality under 35 U.S.C. 122(b)(2)(B). Normally patents are kept confidential for 18 months after filing, whereupon they are published by the Patent Office. A 122(b)(2)(B) request keeps the application confidential so long as the applicant doesn't file in another country or make a Patent Cooperation Treaty filing that requires publication at 18 months. Essentially it's confidentiality at the expense of not being able to go international. In this case, it wouldn't have made a difference because the patent issued about 7 months after filing. Even without the 122(b)(2)(B) request the application would not have been published before the patent issued.

    • Where are you getting that? Yes, patents have been abused like that before -- where someone claims ownership of *any* means of accomplishing a goal. (*cough* amazon one-click)

      But what is your evidence that this specific patent entitles Google to exclusive ownership of all methods of achieving autonomous driving cars?

    • "Making a driverless car" is a concept people have talked about for a long time - that's not what you get to patent. Google's specific methods for making a driverless car probably are, but you can find other ways to make driverless cars and Google's patents aren't supposed to affect you.

      One of the big problems with software patents, and especially with business method patents, is that the Patent Office was pretty clueless about prior art and obviousness to skilled practitioners and allowed a lot of patents

    • I hope they will "do no evil" and use this patent only defensively.

  • Slashdot's reaction (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bonch ( 38532 ) *

    Slashdot's reaction to this will be interesting. On the one hand, it's a patent, and we know how much Slashdot hates patents, especially when a company tries to fast-track one in a clandestine manner. On the other hand, Johnny Cab [].

    • by neiko ( 846668 )
      I haven't RTFA yet, but if it's not a patent solely on software I don't think most folks here will have too much of a problem with it.
      • by Grond ( 15515 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:00PM (#38378010) Homepage

        It's pretty much a patent on software. Software for controlling a vehicle, but software nonetheless. Claim 15, for example:

        An article of manufacture including a tangible non-transitory computer-readable storage medium having computer-readable instructions encoded thereon, the instructions comprising: instructions for detecting a landing strip with a first sensor responsive to a vehicle stopping; instructions for detecting a reference indicator with a second sensor, responsive to the first sensor detecting the landing strip; instructions for identifying reference data associated with the detected reference indicator, wherein the reference data comprises an internet address; instructions for wirelessly retrieving the autonomous vehicle instruction based on at least the reference data; instructions for switching a vehicle to autonomous operation mode; and, instructions for performing the autonomous vehicle instruction.

        This claim format is known as a Beauregard claim []. Such claims have long been used as one of several ways of claiming software-implemented inventions, though their long-term viability is somewhat suspect (hence all the "tangible non-transitory" hedging language). The other claims are to a method (also basically software) and to a vehicle running the software on a control module (since Google didn't invent the car, that's basically another software claim).

        • This sucks, destroys any idea I had of developing an algorithm that drives a car.
        • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @09:56PM (#38379200) Homepage
          See this is why I hate software patents. It's not because they are software, but because I haven't seen a single software patent that comes close to alluding how to actually implement the invention in the patent. If you take a patent for a mechanical device, it's usually described in such a way (using diagrams and such) how one who is skilled in the field would actually construct the mechanical device. When it's a software patent, they don't give any source code, pseudo code, or even allude to how one would actually program such a thing. So, even when the patent does expire, anybody wanting to take advantage of the invention in the patent has to come up with their own implementation from scratch. Sure you know the end goal of the program, but if there are no instructions on which algorithms one would use to create a driverless car, then the patent is useless. So Google gets a monopoly on driverless cars for the next 17 years, And after that, we all get nothing because we have no more information on how to implement said driverless car, because all the source code is locked up in copyright and trade secrets.
    • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:52PM (#38378624) Homepage Journal

      I think the consensus* will be that the DARPA Challenge constitutes Prior Art as many of those vehicles were converted from human to fully autonomous.

      I also think the consensus* will be that the patent will make it impossible for DARPA to continue running its challenge, as having Google demand royalties from every entrant would make it impossible for highly innovative/inventive colleges or individuals from taking part as these are not the kinds of groups that will have money to spare for paying off Google.

      *consensus here is defined as "the view of the actual geeks and nerds on this site".

    • My take on this would depend on how broad the patent in question actually is.

      If it's broad enough to cover any reasonable implementation of driverless car, then it's clearly way too broad, so Google bad.

      If, however, they are just patenting their specific algorithms for it - I don't see why not. This is a problem that took decades to solve, so clearly it's anything but trivial, and it's reasonable that Google should be given a way to recoup their development costs.

    • And on the third hand, it's Google, who according to Slashdot groupthink can do no wrong.
  • by PortHaven ( 242123 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:40PM (#38377748) Homepage



  • []

    This contest dates back to 2004.

    Google practice your motto here. Do no evil.

    • Google []: To develop this technology, we gathered some of the very best engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Government. Chris Urmson was the technical team leader of the CMU team that won the 2007 Urban Challenge.

      • by jd ( 1658 )

        Yes, but one challenger or even a group of engineers from challenging teams has no right to violate the restriction on prior art -or- to block DARPA from running such contests by means of patent ownership.

        The patent is overly broad, in other words. A team patenting a very specific solution is one thing, but this isn't patenting something very specific. It's patenting a swathe of solutions.

        It's also in violation of the essence of a patent. Patents are there to encourage inventors by allowing them monopoly of

        • Well, are they actually patenting an idea? Or is it a patent for a very specific solution?

          Anyway, if this is indeed so broad that it would cover all vehicles used in the DARPA challenges, then that would constitute prior art, and patent will be shot down on those grounds. My bet is that Google isn't that stupud.

          • by jd ( 1658 )

            The courts often defer to the patent office, the patent office always defers to the courts. The average inventor hasn't the funding to file for relief via either. Microsoft isn't currently building a car, nor are RIM or Oracle. That limits who is going to do the shooting.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:43PM (#38377784) Homepage Journal

    Google awarded first patent test vehicle

    Dunno where I got that from. Wouldn't surprise me if that's what their driver-less car turns out to be.

    Steve Ballmer is probably throwing Recaro seats around his office over this.

  • Get a Google driverless vehicle and you can talk on your cell phone all you want. (Ref: [])

  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:52PM (#38377912) Homepage Journal
    Take a look at this patent ..... It could as well be the instructions someone gives to their son/daughter to go to the grocery store and back. it is only THAT complicated and specific/technical. And yet, it is granted as an 'intellectual property' in usa now. It has gone down to basic logical algorithms.
    • And you didn't invent it because....?
      • Who says he didn't? Someone doesn't have to file a patent every time they invent something. I've never patented any of my inventions, and don't disseminate the vast majority of them. OP is welcome to comment on a patent, and whether he inveted it or not is irrelevant. Bad troll. Bad!

    • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:48PM (#38378580)

      Take a look at this patent ..... It could as well be the instructions someone gives to their son/daughter to go to the grocery store and back. it is only THAT complicated and specific/technical.

      Um, no.

      I think you are confusing the example task described in TFS with "the patent". That task described in the patent as an example of a single instance of an "autonomous vehicle instruction", but what is patented isn't the ability to execute either that instruction or autonomous vehicle instructions in general, but instead a mechanism for transitioning between autonomous and manual operations, and the example autonomous vehicle instruction is simply an illustration what "autonomous operation" is in that context.

      • If it's nothing more than a method for switching between automatic and manual driving, then why isn't KITT from Knight Rider [] prior art? Or maybe nobody had a chance to show that to the patent examiners because the patents are secret.
        • If it's nothing more than a method for
          switching between automatic and manual driving, then why isn't KITT from Knight Rider prior art?

          Because (1) KITT isn't a real vehicle that had a mechanism to do that, but a fictional one which presumed the existence of such a mechanism in the fiction, and (2) there is no evidence that the mechanism KITT used is the mechanism claimed in the patent. The idea of switching from manual to automatic driving isn't patented, a specific mechanism for enabling that is.

  • I was next to a Google self-driving Prius on I-280S in San Francisco yesterday.
    It was carrying three extremely stereotypical Google employees: 20-something white guy with pony tail and pocket protector, 20-something clean cut east asian engineer in REI jacket and plastic glasses and 20-something south asian engineer in polo shirt (all male).
    The one behind the wheel was just barely holding it, presumably to second-guess the car if necessary. It was driving pretty well though I noticed it shares some an
    • briefly flashing the brakes.

      Briefly flashing the brakes before actually braking is a courtesy to other drivers on the road - it lets them know in advance that you're going to start braking (and e.g. change lanes).

      Or did you mean something else?

      • I mean, seemingly randomly. E.g. the algorithms could be deciding to tweak the speed slightly when it isn't strictly necessary.
    • placing the driver in the center of the lane (should be to the left!)

      No, the driver should be in the center of the lane. Sometimes there's a shoulder only on the right, sometimes only on the left, but all that's irrelevant because that lane is your lane, this lane is my lane is more than a song, it's a way of life... for some of us. Unfortunately you can find people who are careless about the lane markers just by going for a drive, so realistically you want to be protected from people who might enter your lane from either side. And moreover, in cases where there is no divide

  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:53PM (#38377928)

    ... you don't even have to tell it where to take you - Google already knows.

  • by v(*_*)vvvv ( 233078 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:56PM (#38377966)

    No one should have the right to prevent someone from using a solution or an idea. The problem isn't with patents existing, it is with their restrictions on re-use and elaboration by other people.

    When someone claims to have invented something, they're just hiding their sources of inspiration. If we all made our sources open, then we would have so much more to "invent".

    Anyone should be able to use anything and profit. Instead of it being about ownership and theft, it should be about free redistribution, transparency, and paying it backwards to those you owe credit.

    • The whole original point of patents was to document inventions so that they'd get out into the public, in exchange for a temporary legal limitation on who can use it. Without them, all sorts of inventions were used internally as trade secret, and as people passed on or changed careers, innovation was lost.

      The PTO is granting way too many junk patents (I haven't RTFA, so I don't know how garbage this one is), but if fewer patents were granted, or terms were shortened based on some metric of innovation or un

      • temporary legal limitation on who can use it

        ... is precisely the bottleneck. The throughput of one person or one entity is minuscule in comparison to the entire intellectually innovative population, and because of sole ownership, no one can build on any of these "publicly disclosed" ideas. They are public as a reference of "what you may not do without our permission" and not "what we now know how to do, feel free to run with it".

        But ownership is what drives capitalism, and no ownership is not necessary. What is necessary is "freedom of use" and "fair

        • (sorry for the rant)

          Sorry? If I hadn't already posted, I'd mod you up.

        • I agree with what you said... My question is: If the purpose of patent and copyright law is to get ideas disclosed and into the public domain, where they can be freely used by the public... The WHY THE ACTUAL FUCK are free software projects still susceptible to patent infringement suits? We skipped the bogus "monopoly" period, said, "Here, have our work for free!"

          Although fully and completely satisfying the alleged goals of the patent system WITHOUT requiring idea monopoly incentives, the FLOSS projects

          • I agree with you in spirit, as do many others, and with much of what you said, although I have slightly more respect left for the status quo I think.

            The problem with changing the system is that it isn't about reasoning or science. Unfortunately it is about politics, and when it is about politics it is about money. We need to make money speak, and to do it, we need to make money.

            The pharma industry is built on patents, and the music and entertainment industry on copyright. They are all insanely rich thanks t

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:56PM (#38377968)

    I see two pieces of prior art:

    1. Automated driverless trains that automatically go from stop to stop with predetermined waiting times at each one.

    2. Surely there's some episode of Knight rider where Michael told KITT to wait until a predetermined time to take some action.

    • by zill ( 1690130 )

      2. Surely there's some episode of Knight rider where Michael told KITT to wait until a predetermined time to take some action.

      I'm pretty sure fiction doesn't count as prior art. Or did I just get wooshed?

      • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

        2. Surely there's some episode of Knight rider where Michael told KITT to wait until a predetermined time to take some action.

        I'm pretty sure fiction doesn't count as prior art. Or did I just get wooshed?

        I don't know if fiction can be used as prior art for a utility patent, but Samsung seems to think fictional depictions can be used as prior art against a design patent: []

        • Yes, I don't see how Vernor Vinge (and countless other authors) can write about the exact thing (in Rainbows End) and it doesn't matter. First to file sucks!
      • Wouldn't it make it something that was obvious though? And isn't something that is obvious un-patentable? How can you patent an idea that was broadcast on TV 30 years ago? (and really all these patents are just trying to restrict you from building a better mousetrap by patenting the idea not the implementation).
        • For example - the idea of a time machine has been around for a long time, at least since H.G. Wells wrote about it. If I could *actually* build one....that would absolutely be patentable. It isn't the idea that's patentable, it's how to do it. If, of course, the "how to do it" is novel, useful, and non-obvious.

          • I can file a vaguely worded patent now (it happen all the time and we see it), and it will be accepted. In reality business method patents are just ideas with no physical implementation (they're algorithms). So why can't this be used in reverse? Use an idea with no implementation (like where something exists in a story) to shoot it down? How can you patent that idea when someone already had it?

            Even in this patent they are saying 'this is an example of a landing strip apparatus'. They aren't saying, *this*

            • So why can't this be used in reverse? Use an idea with no implementation (like where something exists in a story) to shoot it down?

              That's invalidation on the basis of obviousness; it's obvious because it's already been discussed in a story. That's not prior art, unless how to do it is actually discussed in detail.

              • That was what I was originally getting at about two or or three posts up. :) But really, if a lot of people are patenting ideas with no physical implementation (really algorithms which many think is bullshit), why can't another idea be prior art? I know people wouldn't go for it because it is ridiculous, but what I was trying to get at was it is no more ridiculous than what they doing now.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So...that scene in Minority Report, where Tom Cruise switches the car he's in from auto driving mode to manual driving mode, that doesn't DIRECTLY show the obviousness of this patent?

  • by williamhb ( 758070 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:00PM (#38378020) Journal

    Nothing in the patent says "car". Just vehicle. I'm not an expert, but it looks to me like this is a patent for "what aeroplane autopilots have done for decades, but not mentioning the word aeroplane". It even says "landing strip" in claim 1! How the blazes did this get granted??

    • by mellon ( 7048 )

      It's part of a new program at the PTO where if something has never been patented, it's assumed never to have been invented. It's an incredible time-saver.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I've seen warehouses where the forklifts are all driverless.. How the fuck is this patent any different?

      • by DnaK ( 1306859 )
        The forklifts are being operated by someone. The google car is autonomous and supposed to "react".
  • When the vehicle arrives, the autonomous instruction may tell it to wait in the location for a predetermined amount of time, for example 5 minutes. The instruction may then direct the vehicle to drive to the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park and again wait for 5 minutes.

    Finally we've found the answer to the all-important question: "How long does the first sentient AI wait before annihilating humanity?".

  • by Xanny ( 2500844 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:08PM (#38378132)

    Fast forward ten years when we are all driving driverless cars. No matter who makes them, they need to get permission from Google to make such a vehicle even if they never use any google product in its production. The fact that technology will have easily progressed far enough by that point to allow fully automated vehicles, google will still be getting a huge chunk out of any car made or sold without ever having any part its design, construction, or sale, besides being the first ones to do it.

    This is like all software patents. Trying to patent mathematics and language. And we are going to have a whole generation of wasted potential because there is no way to fix it, because the only ones that can change it love the way things are now.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Ten years??? What auto industry and regulatory framework exists on *your* planet?

      The patent will long be expired before such cars are even remotely usable. Not only will the market have to shift (I mean, how many people seriously trust their software that much?) but for federal, state, and local regulations to accommodate such vehicles we're looking at *way* more than ten years. I'd suggest we'd have a person on mars before the bulk of the US auto fleet is autonomous.

      It's a crazy fun project, though. I

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:15PM (#38378202)
    It is sure good that we don't award patents for obvious things and that no one except Google ever had the idea for a driverless vehicle.
    • by PRMan ( 959735 )
      Everyone had the idea, but Google has one that works. This is the traditional difference required for getting a patent.
  • I bet car makers are thrilled by this patent. It'll make sure things stay the same for a few more decades.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Knowing how your search engine will "change" my keywords when doing a search, I have a feeling it would not take me to where I wanted to go.

  • by awtbfb ( 586638 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @09:04PM (#38378738)

    This is not a patent on autonomous driving. That would be very hard to do given the extensive prior art. Instead, the patent is basically focused the vehicle switching modes or executing an autonomous motion based on a QR code or some other infrastructure based marker that points at an URL. Many other teams have used infrastructure markers to indicated a change in vehicle mode. For example, California PATH encodes a binary 0101 signal using N-S-N-S magnet orientation, several Japanese teams use RF-based roadway beacons, and a variety of teams use painted markings (e.g., Civis bus in Las Vegas). However, most of these use internally stored references and maps on the vehicles. Also, some of the DSRC implementations conceived by US DOT include autonomous actions based on information received over RF from nearby vehicles. The difference here is that this patent is about using the reference to look up a command over the internet. It is a small delta on existing work.

    Having said this, the idea raises all sorts of questions about man-in-the-middle attacks.

  • One of the original reasons to have a patent system was to help ensure the spread of knowledge and know-how. By providing limited time legal protection to patent holders, they had an incentive to put their ideas out in the public domain. Once the patent expires the entire world is free to copy the design etc. In contrast if someone keeps their product/idea as a trade secret instead ( WD-40 and coke for example) no one gains the ability to make your product unless they can figure out how you did it.

    That con

  • Unless you're disabled and need a cart, Millenium Park makes no sense as an example. None of the features named are accessible by car... you can walk to one or another in a minute or two.
  • Just make sure it can run away from dinosaurs.

    T-Rex don't just eat goats.
  • Lets say I spend millions on R&D to make an automated tour car happen.

    Then I also have to pay google royalities to use the basic concept of replacing a human tour guide with a computer? Why?

    This seems absurd to me especially since automated tour trains have been around for years.

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington