Waze Patents Add to Google’s Broad Navigation Patent Portfolio

Last month, Google announced the acquisition of Waze, a social-mapping-location-data startup, for reportedly $1.1 billion.  Envision IP reviewed the patent assets owned by Waze to understand how the company has protected its technology, and the specific intellectual property that Google would acquire.

Waze owns two granted United States patents:

US 8,271,057 entitled “Condition-based activation, shut-down and management of applications of mobile devices”, relates to power management of mobile devices, and specifically, to GPS receivers of mobile devices.

US 7,936,284 entitled “System and method for parking time estimations”, relates to identifying parking spaces and travel times for trip planning. The patent utilizes a variety of data inputs to identify available parking spaces, such as street parking meters, parking payment systems, street video cameras, manual input from users, satellite cameras, and road sensors.

Waze also has three pending United States patent applications, which relate to providing a live video feed from a mobile device to another device, dynamic route guidance technology, and real-time social information exchange related to traffic and road routes.

Google currently owns 36 US patents and 14 pending US patent applications related to vehicle navigation and mapping/routing technology.  Nine of these patents related to navigation and location-based routing were acquired from Facet Technology in 2011. Google’s existing patent portfolio in this area covers vehicle guidance and collision avoidance, transit routing for public transportation systems, augmented reality driving directions, and traffic data analysis.

With the recent acquisition of Waze, Google adds a social aspect to its broad patent portfolio in navigation space.  Google is not just acquiring the estimated 50 million worldwide Waze users, but also Waze’s patented technologies which clearly complement Google’s existing patents in this space.

If there is any doubt as to the importance of this acquisition, the FTC plans to review the transaction over antitrust concerns. There are several major players in the mapping market, including Tom Tom, Nokia (which acquired NavTeq), TeleNav and OpenStreetMaps. There are also competitors in the mapping apps space as well, including Apple Maps (which licenses data from Tom Tom) and Bing Maps.

Google and Waze are indeed complementary services – but also competing services. Waze could potentially offer clever traffic integration features with Google Plus, but they both clearly compete against each other in the navigation services market. Much of the FTC’s review will hinge on whether Google actually acquired Waze to grab a useful, novel technology – as opposed to simply locking up a new entrant away from its more established competitors.

Overall, the renewed scrutiny over the deal only reinforces how clever an acquisition this was for Google, which is no stranger to antitrust reviews. Though Google and Waze have both noted that Waze will remain (mostly) independent, the coming months will reveal how Google takes advantage of Waze’s innovative platform and patents.

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