Even though Google
is a bastion of open source
technologies (a statement some may disagree with), the company holds a king’s ransom in patents, and therefore, the power to sue the bejesus out of other people and companies should it see fit. (The search giant also has the deep pockets necessary to outlast most anyone in a patent dispute.) Hoarding patents has become something of an arms race, with many companies acquiring patents defensively in the event that another entity decides to try and sue them.
Today, Google announced the Open Patent
Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge, which is designed to decrease the threat of patent litigation when it comes to open source software. Specifically, part of the Pledge is that Google promises “not to sue any user, distributor or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked”.
Google's 10 (so far) Pledged Patents
Google has set aside 10 patents, all of which relate to MapReduce, with more patents on the way. The Pledge reads in part:
Google is committed to promoting innovation to further the overall growth and advancement of information technology and believes that Free or Open Source Software is a very important tool for fostering innovation. Google is therefore pledging the free use of certain of its patents in connection with Free or Open Source Software.
Nothing chokes innovation more than litigation, and Google has had a front row seat in that theater. To that end, what the company is essentially doing here is saying that anyone can use the technologies “pledged” without fear; however, Google also retains the right to act if an entity tries to sue.
Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA
It’s an interesting position for Google to take. On the one hand, the company is being magnanimous by making certain technologies available and effectively giving up its right to sue developers for using it; on the other hand, Google is maintaining a measure of control over those patents, which we suppose could be a power used for good or for evil.
Is this an answer to the patent wars? Or is Google make a veiled power play?