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Wakeup Call to Google, Regarding Software Patents

Posted in Google, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Patents at 8:31 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Addressing the problem of Google’s love affair with software patents; news about Yahoo! and Microsoft, as well as its effects on Hadoop

SOFTWARE patents proponents like IBM and Novell (IBM has a lot of influence on Novell) are almost as much trouble as Apple. But one company which we rarely criticise for supporting software patents would be Google, which pretends to be a friend of Free software (which is hard to dispute) while at the same time doing things that are obviously harmful to Free software. It’s not much different from IBM in that regard. Google also plays along with Microsoft's ActiveSync, which makes it spread patents and stifle standards. GNU/Linux doesn’t need any of this trouble, as it was put right here yesterday:

With most jurisdictions still lax about violations of software patents by Linux users, who remain a quantatively negligible group, the popularity of products like Fluendo’s may be limited. But as Ubuntu’s user base grows, especially in the workplace, legal solutions for multimedia playback will become more and more important.

Well, actually, in most jurisdictions software patents are simply illegal, not just immoral. Google must be paying for those patents no matter where the buyer of Google products like Android or Chrome OS actually lives. That’s a dangerous slope to take.

Google’s idea that it can "invent" software algorithms was mentioned here earlier today and now comes this revelation that Google’s most important patent is just a reinvention of something which goes back to World War II (if not earlier, just like Hewlett-Packard). [via]

Google’s PageRank algorithm was developed in 1998. But a project to trace the history of such algorithms reveals an example from the 1940s.

This is a typical story.

Google was sued by Red Bend for software patent violations that affect Chrome. It’s very doubtful that Google will be able to respond with its patent arsenal to a company as small as Red Bend, so the whole excuse about the patents being “defensive” often seems like unadulterated garbage. It does not ‘compute’ in real-world scenarios.

A month ago we showed that Google had earned a patent (monopoly) that it did not deserve. It’s a monopoly on MapReduce. A startup called Cloudera builds a GNU/Linux distribution that offers some very powerful functionality based on Free software (Hadoop). Based on this new interview, Cloudera is aware of the supposed violation in MapReduce, but its response is that “Google has no track record of using patents offensively.” Well, Microsoft could also say this until a few years ago; it’s only when companies are dying that they become patent aggressors, so no-one can rely on mere promises that are not a legal contract.

I also asked Olson about Google’s recent move to patent the MapReduce algorithm for working with large data sets that underlies Google searches. Hadoop is based on a variant of MapReduce, and there have been suggestions made that everyone using Hadoop or MapReduce is in danger following Google’s patents. As we noted here, Hadoop really isn’t threatened, though. “Google has no track record of using patents offensively,” Olson noted.

The software patent from Google is troubling enough… Microsoft’s hijack of Yahoo! withstanding, as it may have an effect on the Hadoop project. It is now finalised that Zimbra is in the hands of former Microsoft executives (Yahoo! gave it to them) and given that the Microsoft-Yahoo search deal is now approved, it might make one wonder if Yahoo! will still require Hadoop for search. Will it be actively maintained and developed? What will be the impact on many Free software projects that depend on Hadoop? That is another example of the poisoning of Yahoo's Free Software endeavours, courtesy of Microsoft’s bullying and unwanted intervention.

“What would be the impact on many Free software projects that depend on Hadoop?”One of our readers wrote to tell us that there is a connection between “News International -> Yahoo -> BBC -> Microsoft,” as he puts it.

“The BBC Trust has been urged to block the corporation’s plans to launch phone apps for its news and sport content. The Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA) said that the corporation would “damage the nascent market” for apps,” says this article. “The Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA) is the trade association for British national newspapers and its role is to represent, protect and promote the national newspaper industry. It was founded in 1906 and its current members comprise Associated Newspapers, Express Newspapers, Financial Times, Guardian Newspapers, Independent Newspapers (UK), MGN (Trinity Mirror national titles), News International and Telegraph Group,” says this reference page. Microsoft’s strong ties with the BBC (and overlapping staff [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]) were last covered in [1, 2]. But that’s another story altogether. It will be treated separately some day.

“The day that the software sector forms a clear front against software patents, as pharma does for a unitary patent system… will be the day our cause comes close to winning.” —Pieter Hintjens, Fosdem07 Interview

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A Single Comment

  1. Robotron 2084 said,

    February 19, 2010 at 10:38 am


    You have to remember that no single company is a friend or enemy to Free Software. A company is a large group of people with the goal of making a profit. The only reason Google uses free software is to reduce operating costs. If they alter that software to suit their needs better they obviously must adhere to the license agreements that Free Software uses, or risk getting sued.

    Some FOSS extremists like to personify companies like Google, as if they are saying, “Oh, we love FOSS so much. Let’s spread goodwill, love and freedom through source code.” Sorry,time to stop dreaming. It’s a businesses geared to make a profit. They use what tools get the job done for a reasonable cost and usually follow the rules associated with such software. That’s it. No love, no hate, no feelings.

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