A Texas jury has ruled against Google in a suit that alleged some of its use of open-source Linux code amounted to patent infringement, something that could have big implications for other companies using Linux technology and other open-source systems. In the verdict, delivered last week, the jury decided that Google should pay $5 million for the infringement.
The suit was filed in June 2009 by a firm called Bedrock Computer Technologies, which also named the likes of Yahoo, MySpace, Amazon, PayPal, Match.com, and AOL as defendants in the suit. Bedrock, as was reported when the suit was filed, was founded by a prominent patent reform advocate (the corporation has been accused of being a patent troll) and filed suit against the defendants in question for violation of Patent 5,893,120, detailing "methods and apparatus for information storage and retrieval using a hashing technique with external chaining and on-the-fly removal of expired data."
Since it's the Linux kernel itself, the core of the open-source operating system, this could have implications well beyond Google--and even beyond the other defendants in the case, for whom court decisions have not yet been determined.
"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," patent and IP activist Florian Mueller wrote on his blog Thursday. "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."
A potentially contested turf: the Android mobile operating system, which is Linux-based and continues to grow fast, evolving into many different mutations of a mobile (and now tablet) software architecture.
Mueller points out that not only did Google attempt to declare the patent invalid, but so did Linux software maker Red Hat, which counts several of its clients among the defendants.
"Google will continue to defend against attacks like this one on the open-source community," a spokesperson for the company said. "The recent explosion in patent litigation is turning the world's information highway into a toll road, forcing companies to spend millions and millions of dollars defending old, questionable patent claims, and wasting resources that would be much better spent investing in new technologies for users and creating jobs."
Update at 2:52 p.m. PT: This story was updated with comment from Google.