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Google Open Source Patents Your Rights Online

Google Pledges Not To Sue Any Open Source Projects Using Their Patents 153

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the now-and-forever dept.
sfcrazy writes "Google has announced the Open Patent Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge. In the pledge Google says that they will not sue any user, distributor, or developer of Open Source software on specified patents, unless first attacked. Under this pledge, Google is starting off with 10 patents relating to MapReduce, a computing model for processing large data sets first developed at Google. Google says that over time they intend to expand the set of Google's patents covered by the pledge to other technologies." This is in addition to the Open Invention Network, and their general work toward reforming the patent system. The patents covered in the OPN will be free to use in Free/Open Source software for the life of the patent, even if Google should transfer ownership to another party. Read the text of the pledge. It appears that interaction with non-copyleft licenses (MIT/BSD/Apache) is a bit weird: if you create a non-free fork it appears you are no longer covered under the pledge.
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Google Pledges Not To Sue Any Open Source Projects Using Their Patents

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Prepare for explanations as to why this is bad in 3, 2, 1...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The issue isn't why it's bad, people will just moan about the motivations. I bet we'll see a lot of:

      "well of course Google is doing this, they want maximum exposure of their technologies cause it makes $$$, do no evil yeah right!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is a "pledge" legally binding?

    • by beelsebob (529313) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @04:24PM (#43306409)

      It's actually very clever. It means less open source software is GPLed, because the GPLv3 means that patent rights have to be dismissed. Thus more will be BSDed/MITed. Then, because it's BSDed/MITed, more big companies will actually use the software (because most big companies avoid GPLv3 like the plague). Then those big companies will release a closed version, and have to pay google.

      Cunning indeed.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That's GPLv3's problem, not Google's. Create a patent-unfriendly license and companies that need to defend their patents won't support it - surprise!

        In fact everything you described seems to be an all around equitable solution (if you choose open source you get to use Google's patents without worry, if you close source it (obviously because there is a business reason ie. $$) you have pay for the patent licensing.

        • by beelsebob (529313)

          I never claimed it was a problem for google. I claimed it was a boon for them. They get a double benefit:

          1) They encourage people to use BSD/MIT licenses, meaning google get to use more code without publishing their own.
          2) They get other companies using their patents, and hence get to bill more people, even if those people aren't the open sourcers.

          Great strategy.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Hal_Porter (817932)

            Also if you read it it only cover specific Google patents. So they can identify the business areas where this strategy is a net win and put those patents into the pledge. In other areas where it might be a net loss they don't.

            In fact I think this whole pledge is about a specific Google project, but they haven't told us what that is.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yay false dichotomy! :) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma

        Plenty of projects, even new ones, use GPLv2, and even it didn't exist, could write such a license from scratch. There's no reason to believe that the only licensing options are 'open to everyone for all uses' and 'must throw away your patent rights'.

      • by pieterh (196118)

        "most big companies avoid GPLv3 like the plague"... [citation needed]. This simply isn't true. A few very specific large firms do, Apple being one.

        • by exomondo (1725132)

          "most big companies avoid GPLv3 like the plague"... [citation needed]. This simply isn't true. A few very specific large firms do, Apple being one.

          Which big companies have adopted GPLv3?

    • by Lendrick (314723)

      I guess my question is how much legal weight this "pledge" has. Microsoft's "community promise" not to sue over Mono was (if I recall) legally unconvincing. Is this any different?

      Not saying it's bad, mind you. I'm just expressing skepticism until it's been analyzed by some people who understand this crap better than I do.

      • by raymorris (2726007) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @04:49PM (#43306637)
        Promissory estoppel (you promised, so you have to stop) is enforceable at least in the US, AU, and UK. The consultations are a) a clear promise. ("We don't like to sue" is insufficient), b) reliance on the promise (we made this software knowing that Goog promised not to sue) and c) inequity (it would be unfair for Goog to sue when they promised not to).
        In some countries, it can only be used as a defense, to have a lawsuit dismissed. You can't sue someone to make them live up to a unilateral promise. They say it's "a shield, not a sword". In AU, it can be used as a sword - you could sue Gopgle to force them to live up to the promise, or for damages if they don't. That means that an Aussie user could sue Google for damages if Google threatened to enforce the patent against some software on which they rely.

        Aside from tbe legal terms, imagine you're on the jury. Google sues someone. The defendant points out that Google promised not to, essentially giving the defendant permission to use the patents. As a juror, how would YOU decide the case?
        • by Lendrick (314723)

          The defendant points out that Google promised not to, essentially giving the defendant permission to use the patents. As a juror, how would YOU decide the case?

          I suppose that depends on how smart I am and how well each side presented their case. :)

          Me, personally, knowing what I know about this right now, I'd find against Google.

        • Yes, unless GOOGs very high priced, very well connected lawyers manage to convince a judge that the promise shouldn't be admissible in court.

        • by Schmorgluck (1293264) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @05:30PM (#43306975)

          It's really a matter of reputation. Google's business model turned out to be largely relying on their being Open Source friendly. With this pledge they reinforce this image. If they betray this image, the backdraft could be painful. Probably not fatal, but painful.

          I'm really as defiant as the next guy about Google's behaviour, and I don't take at face value their motto of not doing evil, but on the matters of IP they seem to have been consistently opposed to maximalism, and have supported many open stuff. I watch them closely on data privacy matters, but in most other issues I find their position decent - so far.

          • That's a good point. Even if there were no such thing as promissory estoppel, so it didn't hold up in a court of law, Google is knowingly committing t this policy, with significant PR repercussions should they reverse course.

            their motto of not doing evil

            -pedant- It's "Don't Be Evil" (aka Microsoft) -/pedant- We ALL do wrong occasionally, just because we're human and we screw up. For some companies, evil is what they ARE, nastiness is their core.

          • by adolf (21054)

            It's really a matter of reputation. Google's business model turned out to be largely relying on their being Open Source friendly.

            It did? I thought it turned out to be largely relying on advertising revenue.

            What this has to do with either open source or patents is not at all clear.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Excellent post, raymorris. Though one thing I wanted to bring up is that I believe there might be rare circumstances where you can sue to enforce a unilateral promise. An example might be someone publically pledging to donate a large sum of money to a charity. Say, if a corporation pledged to donate five million dollars to a hospital to build a build a new maternity ward. If that hospital reasonably believed the pledge and started engaging contractors to build it but the corporatin then withdrew the promise

          • by cduffy (652)

            Excellent post, raymorris. Though one thing I wanted to bring up is that I believe there might be rare circumstances where you can sue to enforce a unilateral promise. An example might be someone publically pledging to donate a large sum of money to a charity. Say, if a corporation pledged to donate five million dollars to a hospital to build a build a new maternity ward. If that hospital reasonably believed the pledge and started engaging contractors to build it but the corporatin then withdrew the promise

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estoppel#Promissory_estoppel [wikipedia.org] Someone else beat me to it, but it's why I came here in the first place. You can't declare something legal, then sue them for acting illegally. You can't invite someone on your property then charge them for trespass. You can't give them a license (implied or otherwise) then sue them for properly using it. The promise is legally binding.
  • by Midnight_Falcon (2432802) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @03:54PM (#43306139)
    It's clear what's going on here is that Google is once again trying to return to it's "Don't be Evil" roots -- even though its behavior is painting it less and less of the champion of the free internet, and more just-another-profit-centered-corporation. When you sue an open source software producer, you usually don't get much money or anything in return, so it's not a big deal monetarily. The gesture however gives them some PR points they've desperately been seeking lately, especially amongst the tech community they've alienated by cancelling Reader. Likely though, it's too little, too late.
    • Oracle is using Map Reduce - wonder if they infringe?
      Microsoft is using Map Reduce - wonder if they infringe?
      Perhaps Apple is using it as well, somewhere.
      • by tibman (623933)

        If it's an open source project, then it will be safe for those companies to use it. This shouldn't have anything to do with the end-user. It's about the project. Oracle, Microsoft, and Apple cannot fork map reduce and sell their own version. They can fork it and develop their own free version though.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      I think the 'don't be evil' motto was a faulty one, creating irrealistic expectations. Google was never like Twitter, their morals were always somewhat flexible. The wonderful thing about Google isn't that they do no evil, but that they also do more than enough amazing things to offset it.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @11:01PM (#43308973)
      It takes a special kind of entitled asshole, or MS/apple fanboy, to think google is evil for ending a service they were giving away for free.

      There are other free RSS services out there, or you can make your own server. It's trivial to export your feeds from google.
    • by steelfood (895457)

      Nah, the Reader debacle is just mismanagement. Somebody very high up saw that they couldn't monetize the service, didn't know what else to do but kill it, so they killed it.

    • just-another-profit-centered-corporation

      every corporation exists to earn profits, and nothing else. if it is not doing that the leadership will be replaced.

  • A Bit Weird? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 28, 2013 @03:59PM (#43306175)

    " It appears that interaction with non-copyleft licenses (MIT/BSD/Apache) is a bit weird: if you create a non-free fork it appears you are no longer covered under the pledge."

    That's not weird. That's exactly how it should be.

    • by dmbasso (1052166)

      Thanks AC, that's exactly what I came to say. And I bet those who think it is weired are the same who doesn't understand the GPL and thing everything should be MIT/BSD licensed...

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by dgatwood (11270)

      The more interesting bit in my mind is the fact that it does not apply to closed-source software that links against open-source software unless that closed-source software qualifies as "internal use only". As far as I'm concerned, if the licensing terms of the open source software allows you to link against it in a closed-source app, you should be able to do so without worrying about whether there might be any patents embodied in that open-source software.

      Absent that assurance, no piece of open source sof

      • Re:A Bit Weird? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 28, 2013 @05:05PM (#43306757)

        Ethically, that makes this pledge worthless for anything other than GPLed software.

        So, still pretty darn useful then? Who said Google wanted to make its patents available to proprietary software that links against open-source software? They're trying to help open-source software, not proprietary software built on top of open-source software (see: Apple).

  • How about they put their time and money into bribing^lobbying our legislature to eleminate them, problem solved.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "if you create a non-free fork it appears you are no longer covered under the pledge."

    And if i were to give code under a free fork that was from Microsoft divulged under NDA, it wouldn't be covered either.

    If you use something you need a license for in ways not covered by the license and not in ways the license cannot control your use, then you are not allowed to use it that way.

    Wny is this only a problem for some idiots when it's a GPL license, and absolutely unnoticed by them under any other license?

    • Re:Well, duh. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by poetmatt (793785) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @04:17PM (#43306347) Journal

      because people love to make it sound like GPL is terrible when it's not. Specifically people who are: pro apple, pro microsoft, or anti google. The rest of the world understands GPL and why it's great and takes advantage of it every day.

      • because people love to make it sound like GPL is terrible when it's not

        it's terrible to businesses that rely on proprietary software for survival. you can comment that those businesses are out of touch and have a poor business model, but that just shows how out of touch you are with businesses.

        businesses will avoid entering into any "contract" that removes their options. even if they are OSS-friendly, they want to control what happens next, not be legally bound to act one way or the other.

  • by sotweed (118223)

    Note that IBM did the same thing with about 1000 of its patents, more than 10 years ago. And shortly
    thereafter, followed up with another 1000 or so.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 28, 2013 @04:32PM (#43306487)

      Note that IBM did the same thing with about 1000 of its patents, more than 10 years ago. And shortly
      thereafter, followed up with another 1000 or so.

      As stated in Google's blog link above.

    • What's your point? Just because one company was generous a decade ago, no other company is ever allowed to be generous in the same way?

  • I believe Postgres and many other BSD projects refused to use the OIN and other "FREE"-pledged patents.
  • This is something you will never see Microsoft do.

  • Love the understated way Google's rattling the patent saber here: "If you stay open-source you're probably safe, but if we think you're a commercial entity with closed source we may unleash the software patent lawyers."

  • It's great for open source people to be free from the threat of being sued over patents, but the real problem is obvious patents.

    If Google owns any patents that are obvious, (and if they don't, other companies certainly do) then giving a free pass to open source doesn't do much to ameliorate the problem. Many people like to earn money. Even people who contribute to open source are often partly motivated by getting paid jobs as a result of their efforts. Given this, it is still a problem that smaller co

  • A Pledge is Good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by interval1066 (668936)
    Too bad they didn't pledge to keep all their little services running, google code, wave, catalogs, notebook... I wonder if it would have mattered.
    • by linuxguy (98493)

      Pledge to keep all their services running forever?

      Are you insane? Does any company make that pledge? Google or anybody else has every right to cancel a service or experiment they deem unnecessary. Anybody who expects anything else from a business is a fool.

  • I, for one, welcome our new google overlords if this in fact means other following the same example would be spared from patent claims (applies to the US mostly but still).

  • to all those saying this is meaningless, don't trust them, they could revoke this so don't rely on it. why not just request a license for $0 under these exact terms if you wish to use any of these patents in your project? then there will be no question of this being legally binding and u can use the contents of these patents freely.

    • by adri (173121)

      .. except, how will it play out if they decide to infringe on your patents? You can't attack them then; suddenly you fall afoul of their "free" patents and now you're screwed.

      • by psiclops (1011105)

        well considering your project is free/open you have one of two options.
        1. not care - think of it as some sort of cross-licence deal.
        2. get upset that someone is using what is your intellectual property, despite the fact that you are also using theirs. stop using theirs and then sue them.

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