Monday, May 3, 2010

Jury Decides for Red Hat, Novell in Software Patent Lawsuit


One by one, intellectual property lawsuits against companies who use open source software in their products are falling by the wayside.

A jury in East Texas May 3 declared that user-interface patent infringement claims filed against Red Hat and Novell by IP Innovation LLC, a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corp. and Technology Licensing Corp., were "invalid and worthless."

IP Innovation originally filed the litigation against Novell and Red Hat in 2007. Northbrook, Ill.-based IP Innovation claimed that the two companies had infringed on three patents that described technologies for sharing workloads among remotely located computers.

Only a month ago, a Salt Lake City jury threw out virtually all claims by Unix server maker SCO Group against Novell, confirming that the licensing rights to the Unix operating system belong to Novell.

SCO Group also had claimed that pieces of the Unix operating system had been incorporated into Linux, several flavors of which -- including Red Hat and Novell SUSE -- are now among the most pervasive server operating systems in the world.

That 7-year-old IP lawsuit in now in its final days as final legal details are put to rest.

IP Innovation is known in the open source community for being one of several shell companies representing Newport Beach, Calif.-based Acacia, which describes itself in this way on its Web site:

Acacia Research's subsidiaries partner with inventors and patent owners, license the patents to corporate users, and share the revenue. Our partners are primarily individual inventors and small companies with limited resources to deal with unauthorized users but include some large companies wanting to generate revenues from their patented technologies.

A so-called 'patent-hoarder'?

The open source community has long considered Acacia Research a patent-hoarder whose main business is suing companies who use open source software to create new products for enterprise data centers, a patent attorney who asked not to be identified for this story told eWEEK.

In the 2007 complaint, IP Innovations claimed that Red Hat Linux and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop and Enterprise Server all use versions of the software it said  it owns.

But the jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall, Texas -- where a large number if IT licensing and IP cases are heard -- came to the decision that IP Innovation did not provide sufficient evidence to support its ownership claim.

"This is the result we expected, and we are gratified that the jury recognized the tremendous innovative value of open source software," Michael Cunningham, Executive Vice President at Red Hat, said in a statement.

"The jury knocked out three invalid patents that were masquerading as new and important inventions, when they were not."

An Acacia spokeswoman did not immediately return a phone call for comment from eWEEK.