A Texas jury has fined Google $5 million over Linux patents, the BBC reports.
It’s clearly a patent troll lawsuit. The plaintiff is a no-name company that has previously sued Yahoo, MySpace, Amazon, PayPal, Match and AOL, and Texas is known for being the most friendly state for patent litigation.
The point isn’t the fine, which is pretty small. The point is that this verdict gives every patent troll new ammunition to go sue all the tech companies big and small that use Linux, which means all of them (with the possible exception of Microsoft).
Linux is the open source operating system which is widely used in the server software that runs the internet, as well as Google’s Android among many other uses. Because Linux is open source, it’s supposed to be “free”, but there have been lingering questions about whether it is covered by patents. If so, everyone who uses Linux would have to pay a licence to the patent holder.
The fact that a powerful and versatile OS like Linux exists as a free, open source alternative has been a great boon to innovation and technology. If Linux was covered by legitimate patents, we almost certainly would know by now. All that’s left is patent trolls.
As the BBC story notes, it’s become easier to become a patent troll by paying outsourcing companies in India to scroll through reams of code in popular software and find small bits of it that are somewhat covered by some patent somewhere.
To take an analogy, it’s as if you could own rights not just to songs but to chords, and the nth-removed descendant from some unknown 19th century singer was suing Paul McCartney for using an F chord in “Yesterday.”
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