A Google patent application filed two years ago but published this fall is getting some new attention because it's just too interesting to ignore. The patent (link) is for putting data centers on ships at sea and harvesting the energy in waves for power.

The biggest benefit for the company, though, could come from changed legal and tax status by placing the ships outside of national jurisdiction. It's a thought both fascinating and frightening, although it also may end up as just another crazy patent filed for the sake of filing it.

Called a Water-Based Data Center, the idea was written up by the UK's Times Online today with slightly misleading verbiage like the following:

Google refused to say how soon its barges could set sail. The company said: "We file patent applications on a variety of ideas. Some of those ideas later mature into real products, services or infrastructure, some don't."

There's lengthy and sometimes well informed discussion of the data-ship patent over at Slashdot today as well. Jeff Nolan does his best to debunk the the idea too. The whole thing also brings to mind the plans by the website Pirate Bay to buy retired British naval platform turned "micro-nation" Sealand. Those plans were not well received by authorities.

Image from the patent application.


This Might Just Be a Pipe Dream

Two years ago I wrote about another Google patent, for software that would capture the ambient audio in a room and serve up contextual ads and content. That product hasn't come to market yet, as far as we know. (We kid, sort of.)

It's hard not to want to sound the alarm, though, on such strange plans. Google's huge, centralized store of data about so much of our lives is inherently cause for concern - but put that data out to sea and outside of ostensible government oversight and it's downright frightening. In some places that could be a positive development but generally speaking we're not sure it's a gamble we'd like to take.

We don't know about the ecological impacts or the technical feasibility, but we imagine this idea would be a pretty hard one to resist if it could be implemented.