April 21, 2011, 10:54 PM — Google has been ordered by a jury to pay a small Texas-based company $5 million in damages for allegedly infringing on a Linux patent, a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for other companies using the Linux kernel.
The jury determined that Google violated Bedrock's patent by using Linux on its back-end servers (the search giant also uses Linux on employee desktops).
Bedrock filed its lawsuit in 2009, arguing that Google violated its patent filed 12 years earlier. In addition to its action against Google, Bedrock also sued Amazon.com, Yahoo and several other companies that use Linux.
The patent language itself is quite broad, describing "a method and apparatus for performing storage and retrieval...that uses the hashing technique with the external chaining method for collision resolution."
But the jury clearly was persuaded that the patent was specific enough that Google was in violation.
It's reasonable to wonder if this is a hometown decision, since the case was heard in the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Texas (EDTX), and Bedrock is based in (drum roll, please)...east Texas.
Beyond that, though, EDTX has quite the reputation as a soft touch for patent plaintiffs, many of whom are little more than patent trolls.
IP activist Florian Mueller, who write a highly respected blog about free and open source software patents, wrote about last week's decision:
Google can easily afford $5 million if it has to, but this patent infringement case has major implications for the IT industry in general and for Linux in particular. The plaintiff identified a portion of the Linux kernel as part of the "Accused Instrumentalities". Many companies using Linux have already been required by the patent holder to pay royalties, and many more will now, based on this jury verdict, elect to pay.
At least indirectly, if not directly, this also has ramifications for Google's Linux-based Android mobile operating system.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, another open-source blogger (who wrote for another website I worked for and who always struck me as very knowledgeable) was even more direct, calling the jury's decision "idiotic":
Now, I hate all software patents, but even if I didn’t, this patent is garbage. As I read it, I think I violated it myself back in the '80s. I mean, just read it, it’s a description of how to use hashing with a linked list. Come on!