Google Inc. recently pledged that it would not pursue legal action against open source developers that use its patented technology. It also expressed hope that other high-tech companies would follow suit.
Under the Open Patent Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge, Google agrees not to sue any user, distributor, or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked. According to post on its blog, the OPN pledge will initially cover 10 patents relating to MapReduce, a computing model for processing large data sets first developed at Google. Over time, it plans to expand the set of Google’s patents covered by the pledge to other technologies.
As outlined by Google, the pledge may be terminated, but only if a party brings a patent suit against Google products or services, or is directly profiting from such litigation. The agreement also remains in force for the life of the patents, even if Google transfers its rights.
Google’s pledge follows a similar initiative announced by Twitter last year. Twitter Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA) promises that it will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission.
Like Twitter’s IPA, it will be interesting to see how Google’s patent pledge plays out in the real world. While it may help curb the negative criticism surrounding the so-called “patent wars” among competitors in the tech industry, there are still circumstances where it is necessary for companies to use patents offensively to protect themselves from litigation.