Feeds

Red Hat scores empty patent pledge

Caught with legal briefs down

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

America, it's said, is a litigious land with a patent system ripe for exploitation and in desperate need of reform. Red Hat's run-in with Firestar Software seems to prove that.

The Linux vendor has been receiving plaudits and its legal team patting themselves on the back for defusing a ticking time bomb of claims against its JBoss middleware partners and customers.

If Sun Microsystems has got its way, though, Red Hat could have become just another victim of patent poker in the US and left customers, partners and itself open to future claims.

Sun has succeeded in overturning the Firestar patent in question - "Object model mapping and runtime engine for employing relational database with object oriented software" - after it approached the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), claiming the existence of prior art. Firestar had brought the claim against JBoss but this passed to Red Hat once it acquired the open source middleware provider in 2006.

Sun said it acted because Firestar's claim was too broad and would likely have been asserted against others in the community. Firestar has two months to appeal the rejection of its patent.

Alas, the USPTO snails moved too slowly for Red Hat's street-smart legal eagles, who took the standard approach in such matters and settled - in this case two weeks before the USPTO's decision. Did Sun not talk to Red Hat?

In another standard practice, financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Former Red Hat counsel Mark Webbink complimented Red Hat, though, saying it had "disposed of the claims in a fiscally responsible manner given the cost of patent litigation."

Red Hat vice president and assistant general counsel Rob Tiller has now published the details of the companies' settlement "in the spirit of freedom and openness", attempting to burnish Red Hat's reputation as a good guy acting to protect one and all in free and open source software.

What's in the deal? Red Hat has secured a covenant from DataTern and its parent company Amphion Innovations - the companies who took over the claimed patents on transfer from Firestar - not to sue Red Hat and community members over possible claims for past infringement. Also, Red Hat and community members are indemnified from losses resulting from claims brought within ten years of June 6, 2008.

"We hope it will be a useful tool both in addressing existing legal threats and also in suggesting methods for addressing threats as yet unknown," Tiller said here.

With the price of the average patent case estimated at more than $6m, most companies prefer to pay up early for a few million dollars to reduce their damages and legal fees had the case gone all the way.

It's no surprise that, from a fiscal point of view, Red Hat's legal team settled and chose, too, to cover themselves in glory.

The fact that Firestar's patent has been successfully challenged, though, proves that hard-playing legal teams will continue to game the US patent system regardless of the merits. Red Hat, its partners, customers and others in open source remain just no less vulnerable to similar actions. In that, they are in the same boat with thousands of other tech companies.®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Microsoft to bake Skype into IE, without plugins
Redmond thinks the Object Real-Time Communications API for WebRTC is ready to roll
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
Mozilla: Spidermonkey ATE Apple's JavaScriptCore, THRASHED Google V8
Moz man claims the win on rivals' own benchmarks
FTDI yanks chip-bricking driver from Windows Update, vows to fight on
Next driver to battle fake chips with 'non-invasive' methods
PEAK APPLE: iOS 8 is least popular Cupertino mobile OS in all of HUMAN HISTORY
'Nerd release' finally staggers past 50 per cent adoption
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
Ubuntu 14.10 tries pulling a Steve Ballmer on cloudy offerings
Oi, Windows, centOS and openSUSE – behave, we're all friends here
Was ist das? Eine neue Suse Linux Enterprise? Ausgezeichnet!
Version 12 first major-number Suse release since 2009
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.