Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

Summary: Think $5 million is no big deal for Google? It isn't...it's what this judgement means that will cause some problems.

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The verdict documents in the case of Bedrock Computer Technologies, LLC, vs. Google, Inc., became public yesterday, but have received remarkably little attention. While the settlement in Bedrock's favor is a mere $5 million, the case should have Google, Linux developers, and Android developers worried.

Bedrock (a company that is no longer active) sued Google over a relatively obscure patent it held on the use of linked lists with automatically expiring records. $5 million and some programmer mumbo jumbo. Big deal, right? However, as patent watcher, Florian Mueller explains, the implications of this settlement are considerable, considering that Google's counter-argument of patent invalidity were thrown out by the presiding judge:

Google failed to invalidate the patent even though a more defendant-friendly standard -- the one also advocated by Microsoft [in recent suits]-- was used than the one preferred by the US government and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC)...

More generally, this doesn't bode well for the 41 Android-related patent infringement suits that are going on at this stage. For example, if Google can't defend itself successfully against one patent held by a little non-practicing entity from Texas, what does this mean for Oracle's lawsuit over seven virtual machine patents? This shows that having deep pockets to afford the best lawyers isn't enough.

Google is obviously making money hand over foot because of Android. Not on sales or licensing of the OS, but on the ad revenue and captive audiences generated by essentially owning the OS that powers an increasingly large share of the mobile and tablet markets. This has made it a target for those looking to cash in, especially because the company has leveraged so much software (e.g., Java) with questionable patents interspersed with open sourced code.

Red Hat, Amazon, and many others were also sued by Bedrock and Red Hat also sought to have the suits dismissed due to patent invalidity; Google's case simply came to trial first, while other parties have already settled with Bedrock. It remains to be seen what ripples this judgment will have exactly, but Google, Android, and companies that are actually profiting from open source software are obviously not immune behind the protection of open source licenses.

Particularly for the companies who make substantial modifications to open source code for their purposes (not that this is a bad thing; it's the whole point of open source), those looking to cash in on buried patents need only spend time pouring over code and looking for infringements. It costs a lot less than $5 million to hire a team of programmers in India to do code review. This, I'm afraid, is just the beginning and stands to do a fair amount of harm to industry momentum and to the private companies that provide vast incentive for the advancement of open source software.

Topics: Software, Google, Legal, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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54 comments
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  • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

    Another article that should be titled "be afraid" from Muller
    tatiGmail
    • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

      @tatiGmail
      Really.
      Hasn't Florian Mueller been discredited enough times yet? There are lots of bloggers out there, why don't we give our time and attention to those that still have credibility?
      Trufagus
    • Bedrock Computer Technologies and muller

      @tatiGmail
      are M$ lapdogs.
      Linux Geek
      • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

        @Linux Geek <br>And you are g***le d* s*r.
        Ram U
  • Message has been deleted.

    owlnet
    • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

      @owlnet You sound illiterate.
      timspublic1@...
      • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

        @timspublic1@...
        Oh come now, I thought he/she wrote proper.
        elderlybloke
    • Java is GPL'd

      "These google scu*bags and other companies profiting from these theft must be stopped and punished."

      Sun GPL'd it, they can't give it away then call it theft later. GPL was what saved Java from failure.

      http://java.sun.com/developer/technicalArticles/Interviews/gosling_os2_qa.html

      BTW Gosling works for Google.
      guihombre
      • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

        @guihombre You said the key words, the Java virtual machine was GPL-ed. Google released it under the apache license. This is not permissible under the GPL. <br><br>Additionally, Java the brand is not open. It is free, if you successfully complete a series of compliance tests. Those tests, however, are made only under commercial license. Google knowingly used the brand, without fulfilling the tests (TCK). That is likely an IP violation as well. <br><br>While I would prefer it to be truly open and I love that fact that Android is Java based, Google knew all of this and bet that Sun wouldn't sue them. They didn't count on Oracle. Google would have been much smarter to buy Sun - take their patents, java, and sell off the rest. I think it showed a real strategic weakness.
        lestroud
      • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

        @guihombre

        Dalvik is Java like Ubuntu is Debian. Furthermore Google didn't use the Java brand. Google doesn't say it's all just Java. A bunch of savvy people figured out it was similar to Java and said it was Java. Similarly, just because a Dodge Stealth is essentially a Mitsubishi 3000GT, Mitsu didn't steal the Dodge brand. Everyone simply figured it out.
        tkejlboom
    • Google *did* stole contextual ads ranking/auctioning system -- both idea ..

      @owlnet: ... and code; they settled for $2.5 billion in 2004. Yes, not many people know that "Do not be evil" company's core business model technology was a theft. Considering that Andoid OS is a basically a theft of iOS's UI (before 2007 Andoid looked more like a lame copy of BlackBerry), <b>Google definitely has a thing</b> for large scale theft. Mind you, Google's head Eric Schmidt sat on Apple's board for years, and Jobs had another "William Gates announcing Windows 1.0" surprise.<br><br>But, of course, it does not make Google all-around Evil, since they really did the most effective search, as well as really innovative maps and cloud-document systems, among many things. Nothing of this makes money, though, so the income still comes from the stolen technology.<br><br>Another thing with Google is that even if they are not all-around Evil, they came close to it. Five year ago they waved flags of fairness and freedom, once "net neutrality" matters were initially raised, but now they are lobbying with Verizon model where wireless Internet providers could make Internet preferable for companies/sites which pay for it (like Google). Since most of Internet consumption shifts to wireless area, such approach is outright <b>evil</b>.
      DDERSSS
    • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

      @owlnet

      And Sun open sourced Java years ago. Read a tech article every once in a while.
      jakenhauser23
    • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

      @owlnet "The internet and computers existed before google even bacame a company and we don't need them in the future either"

      Speak for yourself; I would like the internet and computers to continue existing in the future, thank you very much!

      And about "Profiting on others intellectual property":
      it is not normal that someone can patent a hash function and then nobody else can think the exact same thing up and write programs with it for the next 20 years. It's only a phenomenon in the USA since 1990, and it will pass, one way or the other (either the laws will change or companies that are not primarily law firms will leave).

      "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." -- Sir Isaac Newton
      "that's no different than robbing all the money from a big bank" -- owlnet
      dontfear
    • Have you read what patent is about or just crying loud? :-O

      @owlnet
      Let me tell you, it is about algorithms used since 1970s.
      Solid Water
    • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

      @owlnet Lol so you're saying it took them at least 250 years to create Java
      kisplit
    • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

      @owlnet You're surprised that a company that tries to take credit for using large clusters of commodity machines running FOSS wouldn't steal other IP? The Beowulf cluster was NASA's baby.
      ITSamurai
    • RE: Google infringes on Linux patent: $5 million judgment

      @owlnet

      Yeah, a whole bunch of people worked hard on Java and now ORACLE is trying to steal it. Oracle isn't trying to recover anything for the programmers or investors in Java. They are Wall Street scum with executive MBAs looking out for other Wall Street scum with executive MBAs.
      tkejlboom
    • Intellectual property? Please...

      @owlnet

      And intellectual property is merely an avenue to establish a fascist monopoly over a market. Especially if it involves patenting things like software or genetics. Copyright? Not so much, but patents in software definitely count as anticompetitive as there is no way to work around them.

      http://kenny-strawn.blogspot.com/2011/05/final-solution-to-proprietary-software.html
      Kenny Strawn
  • They needed a lawyer and courts to figure that out?

    That Goolge infringes on other's patents?
    I could have saved them money.
    Will Farrell
    • Yes, but that's just you.

      @Will Farrell
      Well, you and Florian, perhaps...
      Zogg