Patent trolls invade the cloud

The success of cloud computing has caught the attendion of patent trolls

With the expansion of the cloud space, the move by leaders to focus on cloud for future company growth, and the shortfall of reform activity to restrict patent abuse, these trolls are making their next move: to cloud computing.

As patent trolls chase profits by pressuring companies to settle rather than fight the suits --a practice President Barack Obama has publicly likened to extortion -- many are turning their attention to the cloud. As an emerging market full of complexity and potentially foggy technological definitions, cloud computing offers a huge opportunity for the hungry trolls.

So, why is the attack of the trolls on the cloud inevitable? According to Infoworld, first of all, cloud computing has deep roots in clustering, scientific computing, and data analysis -- and those have been favored topics for universities.  Universities often sell patent rights to trolls in order to make themselves feel better about their mistaken belief they can make their institutions rich by patenting research. Secondly, the cloud space has been slow to become profitable, and many startups have come and gone. The trolls lie in wait for these cheap spoils.

These days, a great deal of cloud computing relies on open source software, so the news from the Open Invention Network (OIN) that broke back in December -- that Google would join and OIN would cover OpenStack – is no surprise. Consequently, it's likely that key cloud computing patents are in the hands of small patent trolls from both sources. Meanwhile, the big trolls have cloud computing business units and likely already have a patent arsenal. Problems like these inspired the creation of OIN nearly nine years ago.

Today, OIN regularly updates its Linux definitions -- the list of packages that the licensee network agrees not to fight over with patents.  Linux System is a comprehensive list, not just of the files comprising the Linux kernel, but also the files from the GNU Project, plus an expanding tally of applications and infrastructure hosted on top of GNU/Linux. You don't even have to run these applications on Linux to be eligible for protection; the packages themselves are protected. Thus, the patent pool has significant effects, due to the pool of patents owned by OIN and to the increasing community of licensees.

In 2012, there were a set of additions that led to OIN members Phillips and Sony limiting their involvement, and updates last year brought on the growing NoSQL database MongoDB to the definition, as well as much of the Android system and OpenJDK, the open source peer of Java. These recruits were serious enough to provoke Oracle into withdrawing. The actions by Oracle, Sony, and Phillips show that the OIN defenses are not just window dressing -- they have real consequences.

The most recent updates added further growth packages -- the new definition includes MariaDB, the popular variant of MySQL – as well as represented a significant move into protecting cloud computing. OIN has added the packages from OpenStack to the new definition, which comes into effect on March 6th.

Recently, state attorneys general from around the nation have been tackling the patent troll problem head on. To learn more about their efforts, join Vermont AG Bill Sorrell, Nebraska AG Jon Bruning and Missouri AG Chris Koster for a roundtable discussion on the patent troll problem. The roundtable takes place on Feb. 4 in New York City and will also feature general counsel from DuPont, Walmart and Rackspace. For more information or to sign up for the event, click here.

 

For more on patent trolls, check out these articles:

South Carolina’s attorney general latest to join war on patent trolls

Patent trolls take Las Vegas

Lawmakers continue to fight patent trolls with more realistic version of the Innovation Act

Patent trolls continue to target SMBs despite upcoming Innovation Act ruling

 

Contributing Author

Amanda Ciccatelli

Amanda G. Ciccatelli is a Contributing Writer for InsideCounsel, where she covers the patent litigation space. Amanda earned a B.A. in Communications and Journalism from...

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