Google fined $5M for Linux patent infringement

Google has been slapped with a $5 million damages bill after a jury found that it had been infringing a patent held by Bedrock Computer Technologies - and it's a ruling which could have a serious impact on the Linux world.

The patent, described as "methods and apparatus for information storage and retrieval using a hashing technique with external chaining and on-the-fly removal of expired data," was filed back in 1997, and itself references patents dating back to 1992 - but Bedrock didn't file suit against Google until 2009.

The suit, which also named Amazon, AOL, CitiWare Technology, Match.com, MySpace, PayPal, Softlayer Technologies, Yahoo!, and the CME Group as defendants, claimed that the use of certain Linux kernel functions in back-end data processing servers infringed on the company's broadly-worded patent. Google is the first company to receive a ruling on the case - and it doesn't spell good news for the others.

In a decision filed with the court last week but only just made public, the jury found Google guilty of infringement of claims one and two from the patent - an information storage and retrieval system using a linked list and hashing system, and the option to dynamically determine maximum numbers for the record search respectively.

Open source advocate Florian Müller has written on the ruling over on FOSS Patents - and he warns that the ruling could prove problematic for companies selling Linux server products. "The problem is that Bedrock is now in a pretty strong position to collect royalties from other Linux users," Müller explained, "especially those utilizing Linux for large server operations.

"This here may be yet another case in which Red Hat [and others] will feel forced to pay patent royalties on GPL [licensed] software, and in this case, on Linux itself."

Müller also warns that the ruling could affect Google's Android mobile platform, which is based on the open source Linux kernel. While Bedrock's patent concentrates mainly on server-side processing, Müller has stated that he "wouldn't rule out" the possibility that some Android implementations could also be targeted by Bedrock for patent infringement - and that the ruling could even influence the court's decision on other Android-related patent cases, of which there are 41 currently ongoing in US courts.

Google has yet to respond to a request for comment on the ruling.