linux kernel found to infringe patent

Well, this is rather disconcerting. By way of Engadget, I came across this blog entry on FOSS Patents about how a small outfit in Texas, Bedrock Computer Technologies LLC (apparently a non-practicing entity, otherwise typically described as a “patent troll”), has won a $5 million claim for patent infringement against Google.

But the part that is perhaps a bit more worrisome than either the amount or the defendant is the fact that the infringing technology in question is a portion of the Linux kernel. From the entry:

Like I said further above, the question of Google possibly having to pay $5 million (unless the judge decides otherwise or an appeal succeeds) is not really the issue. In addition to money, Bedrock also asked for an injunction, and now that Google has been found to infringe a patent deemed valid by the jury, it remains to be seen whether an injunction will be granted either by this court or on a possible appeal.

The problem is that Bedrock is now in a pretty strong position to collect royalties from other Linux users, especially those utilizing Linux for large server operations.

It’s a bit difficult to tell, based on the claims asserted in the patent, whether or not Google would be able to excise the offending part of the kernel or find some other way to avoid infringing use. I’m sure they can, but if they can’t,  an injunction might have some implications for Google’s server farms and therefore its operations.

In addition, there’s also the possibility that this will impact Android:

Concerning Android, I wouldn’t rule out that maybe some of the hundreds of thousands of Android applications out there use the teachings of the infringed patent claims in one way or another. Even if that is not the case, Google might have to modify the Linux kernel it distributes with Android in order to remove the infringing code because otherwise there’s always the risk of contributory infringement should any app make use of that portion of the Linux kernel.

Needless to say, there could be quite a few companies impacted by this, though I imagine folks in the open source community are starting to look at workarounds, hopefully. It’s difficult to tell from the claim in the patent how fundamental it is or how difficulty or easy it would be to work around.

Perhaps its just me, but sometimes get rather irritated when reading software patent claims. Often, they seem to describe things that already well known or rather mundane. Take for example the claims in this case:

1. An information storage and retrieval system, the system comprising:

  • a linked list to store and provide access to records stored in a memory of the system, at least some of the records automatically expiring,
  • a record search means utilizing a search key to access the linked list,
  • the record search means including a means for identifying and removing at least some of the expired ones of the records from the linked list when the linked list is accessed, and
  • means, utilizing the record search means, for accessing the linked list and, at the same time, removing at least some of the expired ones of the records in the linked list.

2. The information storage and retrieval system according to claim 1 further including means for dynamically determining maximum number for the record search means to remove in the accessed linked list of records.

I’m not trained as a patent agent, so cannot speak with much authority on this, but these claims, to me, seem rather mundane.

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