Google fined $5m over Linux patent row

A person holding an HTC Desire mobile phone The past 14 months have seen 41 patent infringement allegations levelled at Google's Android software

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A judgement by a Texas jury against Google could have major implications for the search giant and the open source world said experts.

The internet titan was found guilty of infringing a patent related to the Linux kernel and fined $5m (£3.2m).

The software is used by Google for its server platforms and could also extend to its Android mobile platform.

The kernel is at the core of the open-source operating system meaning this verdict could be far-reaching.

The case resulted in a victory for a firm called Bedrock Computer Technologies which has also sued Yahoo, MySpace, Amazon, PayPal, Match.com and AOL.

"The amount of the fine is not what makes this an important issue," intellectual property activist Florian Mueller told BBC News.

"This is a modest amount considering Google is probably the largest scale Linux user in the world.

"The implication here is really that there is a huge number of Linux users who will be required to pay royalties if this patent holder knocks on their doors in the US. This is definitely a major impediment to the growth of Linux and makes companies, including Google, that rely on open source code particularly vulnerable to patent threats."

That is also the view of other industry watchers who expect a flood of lawsuits against companies who rely on open source code.

"Those looking to cash in on buried patents need only spend time poring over code and looking for infringements," said Christopher Dawson of technology blog ZDNet.

Start Quote

Apple is going for the jugular by going after several Android device makers”

End Quote Florian Mueller Intellectual property activist

"It costs a lot less than $5m to hire a team of programmers in India to do code review. This, I'm afraid, is just the beginning and stands to do a fair amount of harm to industry momentum and to the private companies that provide vast incentive for the advancement of open source software."

But Google has said it will continue to defend against such attacks like this one on the open source community.

"The recent explosion in patent litigation is turning the world's information highway into a toll road, forcing companies to spend millions and millions of dollars defending old, questionable patent claims and wasting resources that would be much better spent investing in new technologies for users and creating jobs," said Google.

"Going for the jugular"

The Bedrock case underscores the increasingly bitter battle going on in the mobile space which is expected to grow globally by 58% in the next year.

The research firm Gartner also forecast that Android will account for about 39% of that growth.

Mr Mueller said competitors worried about Android are using any means necessary to thwart their rival.

He has estimated that in the last 14 months there have been 41 patent infringement suits levied at Google's Android platform and its rapidly growing developer ecosystem.

Just this week Apple said it was suing Samsung Electronics for allegedly copying the design of its iPad and iPhone.

Samsung's Galaxy products use Google's Android operating system. Samsung has in turn countersued Apple for violating its patent rights.

Last month Microsoft lodged a suit focusing on the Nook e-reader and Nook Colour tablet which run the Android OS.

Meanwhile a high profile patent trial between tech giants Oracle and Google is expected be held before November said a judge.

Oracle claimed Google's Android technology infringes on its Java patents.

Oracle bought the Java programming language through its acquisition of Sun Microsystems last year.

"Android is clearly being targeted by some of the largest tech companies as its market share grows and it becomes more of a threat to others," said Mr Mueller.

"Apple is going for the jugular by going after several Android device makers. In a way it has to do this to survive. No matter how good its financials are now, in a year or two they could see their iPhone business erode because of the Android threat.

"A Microsoft suit is just about seeking royalty bearing licence deals. And with Oracle that is about making Google pay and about who calls the shots when it comes to the Java programming language," added Mr Mueller.

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