In a move that could have wide repercussions in the technology industry, A Texas jury has fined technology giant Google $5 million for infringing on a patent held by Bedrock Computer. However, in this case it’s not the amount of money involved—Google easily has $5 million to spare—but the nature of the patent: Bedrock’s U.S. patent 5,893,120 covers a technology that’s related to the Linux kernel. In theory, if the patent and infringement ruling holds up, Bedrock Computing require license fees and royalties from any company using Linux or operating systems derived from Linux—and that includes Google’s Android. Some companies have apparently already decided to pay for licenses rather than contest the issue, and the jury verdict strengthens Bedrock’s hand.
In addition to Google, Bedrock Computing’s initial suit also named companies like Yahoo, Amazon.com, PayPal, AOL, Match.com, and others as defendants. The portion of the case against Google went to court first, presumably because Google operates one of the world’s largest set of Linux-based services on the planet—if not the largest. The potential significance of the case was underlined by the involvement of Red Hat, which filed a declaratory judgment suit with the same court in an effort to defend its Red Hat Enterprise customers by having the patent ruled invalid.
The ruling could also have important implications for Android, which is also being targeted in a series of high-profile suits, including one from Oracle over its Java virtual machine technology. Google may be forced to alter the kernel used in Android to ensure the operating system can’t be required to pay licenses or damages for contributory infringement.
Bedrock’s case against Google and other names parties in the suit is not over, and industry watchers not only expect Google to appeal any ruling against it but also work to have Bedrock’s patent declared invalid—and patent cases often take many years to went through the courts (just ask TiVo and EchoStar). The U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Texas is notoriously patent holder-friendly.
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