Monday, October 15, 2007

Red Hat, Novell sued for patent infringement

It looks like Steve Ballmer's call for Red Hat and other linux companies to embrace software patents was an early warning that they were about to be sued for patent infringement. Pamela Jones has the story at Groklaw:

" The first ever patent infringement litigation involving Linux. Here's the patent, for those who can look at it without risk. If in doubt, don't. Here's the complaint [PDF]...

The plaintiff is asking for an injunction, along with damages:
Plaintiffs IP Innovation and Technology Licensing Corp. claim to have the rights to U.S. Patent No. 5,072,412 for a User Interface with Multiple Workspaces for Sharing Display System Objects issued Dec. 10, 1991 along with two other similar patents.

Defendants Red Hat Inc. and Novell have allegedly committed acts of infringement through products including the Red Hat Linux system, the Novell Suse Linex Enterprise Desktop and the Novell Suse Linex Enterprise Server.

"Red Hat's and Novell's infringement, contributory infringement and inducement to infringe has injured plaintiffs and plaintiffs are entitled to recover damages adequate to compensate them for such infringement but in no event less than a reasonable royalty," the original complaint states.

The plaintiffs also allege that defendants received notice of the patents, therefore the infringing activities have been deliberate and willful.

Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction from the court, increased damages and other relief that the court or a jury may deem just and proper.

You might recall the patent was used in litigation against Apple in April 2007, and Beta News reported at the time that it's a 1991 Xerox PARC patent. But ars technica provided the detail that it references earlier patents going back to 1984. Appropriately enough. If you use Google to search for "IP Innovation LLC 5,072,412" you'll find more. Note that it's IP Innovation, not plural. There is another company using IP Innovations. I gather Apple paid them to go away in June.

This patent has been pointed to as an example of the need for patent reform. Now, Patent Troll Tracker claims that IP Innovation LLC is a subsidiary of Acacia. More here. did a story on Acacia in February, "Extreme Makeover: From Patent Troll to the Belle of the Ball.""

Pamela Jones reckons the lawsuit against Red Hat and co could be SCO version 2 but these Acacia guys, unlike SCO, have a history of success in IP litigation and should not be underestimated. Actually, though my educational technology colleagues became concerned for the first time about the IP monster in the form of the Blackboard patent last summer, they should really be more worried about Acacia, which has a history of patent suits against educational institutions, broadcasters, and the ubiquitous porn industry, for streaming video and audio materials via the web. Acacia is effectively a patent holding company which has not baulked at threatening the big guys like Microsoft (though with several ex Microsoft executives now working for them there may be more cordial relations in future), Apple, Intel, Texas Instruments and many others. They are unlikely to lose a lot of sleep either about bothering a[nother] bunch of academics or educational administrators.

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