If you look at Google's 10-K 2009 filing on Page 15, you will see a statement about when Google's original PageRank patent expires. It reads:
The first version of the PageRank technology was created while Larry and Sergey attended Stanford University, which owns a patent to PageRank. The PageRank patent expires in 2017. We hold a perpetual license to this patent. In October 2003, we extended our exclusivity period to this patent through 2011, at which point our license will become non-exclusive.
Some time in 2011 Google's PageRank patent will become non-exclusive. And then in 2017 the patent will expire completely.
As many of you know, the PageRank algorithm Google uses today is completely different from what it was back when it was first designed. But the fundamentals are the same.
Is Google concerned about this? Page 15 goes on to read:
Circumstances outside our control could pose a threat to our intellectual property rights. For example, effective intellectual property protection may not be available in every country in which our products and services are distributed. Also, the efforts we have taken to protect our proprietary rights may not be sufficient or effective. Any significant impairment of our intellectual property rights could harm our business or our ability to compete. Also, protecting our intellectual property rights is costly and time consuming. Any increase in the unauthorized use of our intellectual property could make it more expensive to do business and harm our operating results.
Companies in the internet, technology and media industries own large numbers of patents, copyrights and trademarks and frequently enter into litigation based on allegations of infringement or other violations of intellectual property rights. As we face increasing competition, the possibility of intellectual property claims against us grows. Our technologies may not be able to withstand any third-party claims or rights against their use.
Personally, I think Google will be fine.
Forum discussion at DigitalPoint Forums.