updated 03:40 pm EDT, Thu March 28, 2013
'OPN pledge' promises no lawsuits, assuming Google not sued
Perhaps trying to appease the US Federal Trade Commission and other governmental agencies concerned about patent abuse, Google is "taking a stand on open source and patents" and pledging to not sue "any user, distributor or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked." Ten patents initially identified are related to MapReduce, a computing algorithm designed to efficiently deal with large-scale data processing.
Google calls the initiative the "OPN Pledge" and hopes that it will serve as a model for the industry. Advantages of the program are named as: transparency ,allowing holders to determine which patents they wish to pledge; breadth, not confining pledges to a specific project; defensive protection, allowing holders to terminate the pledge but only if a party brings any patent suit against holders of the pledged patent; and durability, leaving the pledge in force for the life of the patents even if transferred.
The blog post says that Google believes "open-source software has been at the root of many innovations in cloud computing, the mobile web, and the Internet generally. And while open platforms have faced growing patent attacks, requiring companies to defensively acquire ever more patents, we remain committed to an open Internet -- one that protects real innovation and continues to deliver great products and services."
Critics have generally scoffed at the effort, deriding it as a PR stunt and noting that Google owns at least 17,000 patents. It has also been observed that Google continues to defy government authorities and consent decrees it signed by pursuing sales injunctions on products accused of infringing on "standards-essential" patents (SEPs), despite wide condemnation and a string of judicial losses.
The new program codifies rules for a process already underway at any patent holder's legal department -- the decision whether or not to sue somebody using an owned patent. The pledge allows developers to use the patents without wondering what the search engine's next move might be as long as it doesn't "attack" Google for any reason. As the blog post points out, the pledge still allows the creators of the patents committed to the pledge, the flexibility to counter-sue if sued on any other legal front.