Red Hat warns world of patent trolls

Red Hat’s Fedora engineering manager Tom Callaway told LinuxCon that it would only take one patent troll to get past its defences and the company would be shut down.

Callaway said the threat could not be understated. While Red Hat is not a small company in the industry, one big loss at trial on a serious set of patents could make Red Hat go away.

He emphasised the seriousness of software patents and warned how chilling they can be to the IT industry.

Callaway might have been over egging the pudding a bit. The company has a good track record in telling patent trolls to go forth and multiply and it indemnifies customers against lawsuits as part of its software subscription program. The company has a portfolio of defensive patents too.

Linux Defenders director Andrea Casillas told Ars Technica  how her group is using the America Invents Act to keep trolls out of Linux.

Her group is a project of the Open Invention Network, Software Freedom Law Centre, and Linux Foundation. Linux Defenders looks at 6,000 new patent applications published each week.

The idea is to see if any are potentially threatening to Linux and open source. Then, the group looks for prior art that would invalidate at least some of the claims in the patents.

It also works with Linux technologists to file defensive publications. These are not patents but describe an invention and place it in the public record, preventing new patents from being granted that cover the same technology.

These are descriptions of the technology, which the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) examiners can read when conducting their review of prior art that might invalidate or limit the scope of a new patent application.

Casillas said that Linux Defenders has filed about 200 of these defensive publications.

Defensive publications are an old strategy, but have become more accessible to the public because of the America Invents Act, Casillas said.

So far Linux Defenders has filed defensive publications related to patent applications from Microsoft, Apple, and several others.

While defensive publications aren’t going to force a company to abandon a patent application, they sometimes force the company to limit the scope of the patent application’s claims.