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Red Hat sued over JBoss technology

Company gets hit by a patent lawsuit related to JBoss, just weeks after completing its purchase of the open-source software company.

Red Hat has been hit by a patent lawsuit related to JBoss, just weeks after completing its purchase of the open-source software company.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Texas this week, FireStar Software claims that JBoss' Hibernate 3.0 infringes on its patent for linking relational databases with object-oriented software. Hibernate is an object-relational mapping tool for Java that's an open-license product and part of the JBoss Enterprise Middleware System (JEMS).

In a jury trial, Massachusetts-based FireStar is seeking treble damages and a halt to infringing activity, naming as defendants JBoss, Red Hat and DaVinci-Matterhorn, a wholly owned subsidiary of Red Hat.

"We're aware of the situation, and we're working through the proper legal channels to resolve it," a Red Hat representative said.

Linux distributor Red Hat announced its plan to acquire JBoss for $350 million in April and completed the deal June 5. According to the complaint, FireStar sent a cease-and-desist letter to JBoss on May 26, before the acquisition was completed, then sent another to Red Hat on June 7.

Analysts are questioning why FireStar went after Red Hat in particular. The patent (No. url=",101,502.PN.&OS=PN/6,101,502&RS=PN/6,101,502">6,101,502) relates to a "method for interfacing an object oriented software application with a relational database to facilitate access to the relational database," according to the patent application itself. This technology could apply to any number of other companies just as easily, analysts said.

"Why aren't they going against Oracle? They have much deeper pockets. Why not Sun (Microsystems)? Sun's Java Persistence API is not identical to Hibernate, but it's really close," said Anne Thomas Manes, a research director at the Burton Group.

Neither FireStar nor its attorneys handling the case were available for comment.

Stephen Walli, vice president of open-source development strategy at consultancy Optaros, said that even if other companies don't formally join in Red Hat's defense against FireStar, they may choose to offer legal assistance in the background.

"When you are dealing with open-source issues with Red Hat, IBM, Oracle and Sun, you almost don't get to pick your target," Walli said.

Both Red Hat and JBoss use the business model of charging for support and services of open-source software, rather than levy licensing fees for use of proprietary technology.

Though all the companies involved in the suit are registered Delaware corporations, FireStar launched its suit in Texas. Current patent law standards allow a patent infringement lawsuit to be filed in any state where the patent was believed to be infringed on. FireStar filed its complaint in the Eastern District Court of Texas, a Federal District Court known for its expeditious processing of patent infringement cases.

Because the complaint requests a jury trial, Red Hat faces a drawn-out legal battle and a possible injunction, both of which could cost it a lot of money.