Google today pledged that it will not sue any users, distributors or developers who have implemented open-source versions of its MapReduce programming model for processing large data sets, even though these implementations (including, for example, Apache Hadoop) probably infringe upon 10 patents Google holds for this technology. This move, the company’s senior patent counsel Duane Valz writes in today’s announcement, is meant to “serve as a model for the industry, and we’re encouraging other patent holders to adopt the pledge or a similar initiative.”
Obviously, this pledge only covers a very small slice of Google’s overall patent portfolio, but Google expects to expand the set of patents and technologies covered by this pledge over time. The company also reserves itself the right to retaliate if it is attacked first.
Patent attacks are, sadly, a constant threat in the software business and some groups like the Open Invention Network, which counts Google, Red Hat, Sony and IBM among its backers, are trying to make it a bit easier to ensure that the development of popular open-source products isn’t held back by patent concerns.
Google believes that this “Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge” will serve as a model and believes that similar pledges that its partners and competitors will hopefully take will introduce some much-need transparency, breadth and security to this process:
- Transparency. Patent holders determine exactly which patents and related technologies they wish to pledge, offering developers and the public transparency around patent rights.
- Breadth. Protections under the OPN Pledge are not confined to a specific project or open-source copyright license. (Google contributes a lot of code under such licenses, like the Apache or GNU GPL licenses, but their patent protections are limited.) The OPN Pledge, by contrast, applies to any open-source software—past, present or future—that might rely on the pledged patents.
- Defensive protection. The Pledge may be terminated, but only if a party brings a patent suit against Google products or services, or is directly profiting from such litigation.
- Durability. The Pledge remains in force for the life of the patents, even if we transfer them.