I received an e-mail this morning asking me what the job posting for a patent counsel on the Dropbox website means.  Dropbox currently has no patents or published patent applications at the USPTO or at WIPO.  The single patent that appears assigned to a Dropbox Inc at the USPTO assignment database is clearly a different Dropbox.

The company was founded in September 2008, over three years ago.  So why look for a patent counsel now?  The job posting explains that the chosen candidate will have a “primary role in building and implementing our strategy to protect Dropbox’s technology and develop our patent portfolio.”   One reason that Dropbox is going this route may be because of increased competition from cloud storage providers, including Apple’s iCloud.

In the past few months, it has come out that Steve Jobs twice attempted to purchase Dropbox, offering as much as 9 figures.  Jobs believed that Dropbox is a feature and not a product and when the offer was refused, integrated the functionality into iCloud.  We also know that Apple has been active in patenting the cloud-based storage space, including a patent application on a cloud based deposit box.  The application, which remains unexamined is U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 20110040980.

In addition to Apple, similar services are offered by a variety of big and small competitors, including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Skydrive, Box.net and Syncplicity.  Of course, the bigger competitors like Apple and Google are no stranger to patent disputes and have looked to beef up their patent portfolios in the recent past.  As one example, when Google found itself lacking in patent protection, it went out and acquired Motorola, while Microsoft and Apple purchased large portions of the Nortel patent portfolio.

Thus, it is likely that Dropbox sees the competition heating up and finds itself looking to catch up with the other players to protect itself against potential IP claims from competitors before it is too late.