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Google Claims MapReduce Patent

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Google Claims MapReduce Patent

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You may not have noticed that Google applied for a patent on its MapReduce software framework in 2004.  Recently, the "Don't Be Evil" company received that patent for Map/Reduce.  This technique has been widely used by data mining companies that need to support distributed computing on large data sets.  Apache Hadoop is a notable, open source user of MapReduce.  This news comes in the wake of Chinese cyber attacks on Google, which have motivated company to consider hanging on to user search logs indefinitely.

A patent on MapReduce is could be problematic for companies like Amazon with its Elastic MapReduce service, IBM with the M2 platform, and Yahoo with its Hadoop-based search infrastructure.  Apache Hadoop is open source, but it could also have some issues with the new Google patent.  Any database that uses Map/Reduce (Aster Data Systems, Greenplum, Teradata, Cloudera, Hadoop) is potentially open to litigation.  

However, since the "map" and "reduce" functions have been a part of parallel programming for decades, Google would have a tough time winning any major lawsuits.  The companies utilizing MapReduce could also make valid arguments that Google only partially invented MapReduce, and some have the money to sustain such litigation.  Companies that use Hadoop, like Yahoo, would aid Apache if a legal battle ever occurred.  Google might not risk a lengthy lawsuit since it probably doesn't need the money.  In fact, Google supports Hadoop because they use it to help university students learn webscale programming.  The MapReduce patent may just be part of a defensive patent portfolio or an attempt to sell their own version of MapReduce.

MapReduce diagram

Although Google may not 'do evil' in regards to MapReduce, they could be toying with the idea of retaining users' search history indefinitely.  A top privacy lawyer for Google, Peter Fleischer, told Computerworld that the recent attacks on Google emphasize the importance of internal analysis logs.  "We find it reprehensible that a company would throw away useful data when holding it poses no privacy threat," said Fleischer.  Currently, Google retains search logs for nine months, which is down from 18 because of pressure from the EU.  Google plans to submit a proposal to the EU by the end of the week that suggests the creation of a cybersecurity and privacy panel to discuss issues like log retention. 

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