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Google Linux servers hit with $5m patent infringement verdict

'Information highway now toll road,' howls Google

By Cade Metz, 21 Apr 2011

A jury has found that in using Linux on its back-end servers, Google has infringed a patent held by a small Texas-based company and must pay $5m in damages.

In 2006, Bedrock Computer Technologies sued Google and several other outfits – including Yahoo!, Amazon.com, PayPal, and AOL – claiming they infringed on a patent filed in January 1997. The patent describes "a method and apparatus for performing storage and retrieval...that uses the hashing technique with the external chaining method for collision resolution", and the accusation is that companies infringed by using various versions of the Linux kernel on their servers.

At least some of those sued were using Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) on the back-end. Google apparently uses its own version of Linux across its famously distributed infrastructure.

Bedrock is based in, yes, eastern Texas, a region famously friendly to patent holders. On April 15, an Eastern District jury found that the patent is valid and that Google has intend infringed. Google uses Linux on employee desktops (the so-called Goobuntu flavor) as well as its back-end servers. And since the suit was filed, the company has also used Linux as the basis for its Android and Chrome OS operating systems.

Asked to comment, a Google spokeswoman said: "Google will continue to defend against attacks like this one on the open source community. 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."

According to the jury verdict, Google infringed two claims in the patent. The first claim describes an information storage and retrieval 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
  • a 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

The second claim also includes a "means for dynamically determining maximum number for the record search means to remove in the accessed linked list of records". The jury found that Google did not provide by a "preponderance of evidence" that these clams were invalid.

Bedrock has also asked for an injunction preventing Google from infringing on its patent, but the court has yet to rule on this. Red Hat has also intervened in the case, asking the Bedrock patent be ruled invalid. ®