Red Hat joins the getting sued

Open source software company is now big enough that it has become a regular target of patent trolls and small software companies with nothing to lose.

In technology, the best indication that you've "arrived" as a company is when you get hit by a patent infringement suit. By this measure, Red Hat, which was just hit by a patent-infringement suit from little-known Software Tree, is ready to join an elite circle of premier software vendors like IBM, Microsoft, and HP, each of which spends a lot of time and money defending against patent lawsuits.

Congratulations, Red Hat. Doesn't it feel great?

This isn't, of course, the first lawsuit that Red Hat has faced. Firestar, IP Innovation, and DataTern have also launched lawsuits against Red Hat, at least two of which have been settled. Red Hat, to its credit, resolved these patent suits in favor of the broader open-source community , though Sun later went one step further and invalidated the patents.

To its detriment, Red Hat is now a big enough and important enough company to have patent infringement lawsuits become part of its daily existence.

This is the second time that Red Hat's JBoss Hibernate technology has been hit with a patent-infringement suit. However, it's telling that neither FireStar (the first plaintiff) nor Software Tree (the second) filed against JBoss, though the same allegedly infringing code would have been extant prior to the Red Hat acquisition.

Why bother with JBoss? There's much more money in the Red Hat till.

Savio Rodrigues points out that Software Tree doesn't appear to be a garden-variety patent troll. It has a real business. It's ironic, however, that this business wasn't too concerned with JBoss until Red Hat's deeper pockets backed it.

Funny, that.

Welcome to the patent defense club, Red Hat. Get used to the new norm of fending off lawsuits from patent trolls and insignificant software companies with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Even so, as Microsoft and others regularly besieged by patent-infringement lawsuits will tell you, it's better to be big and targeted than small and ignored.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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