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Red Hat Settles Patent Claims Against It

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Red Hat said Wednesday that it had settled patent litigation brought against it two years ago by Firestar Software Inc in what was possibly the very first patent infringement suit ever brought against an open source company. 

It also turns out that Red Hat was sued by an outfit called DataTern Inc just this past April on another patent. Bank of America, Visa, Wachovia and Delta Air Lines were also named. 

Red Hat didn’t say how much it paid to license the patents and make both suits go away, but it was probably a few mil. 

See, sometime in the last two years, Firestar quietly sold the lawsuit to one of its investors, which is how Red Hat comes to be settling with a VC outfit called Amphion Innovations PLC too. 

DataTern and Firestar are related through Amphion, which set up DataTern last year to “commercialize selected intellectual property opportunities, in partnership with its partner companies.” Firestar is one of those partner companies. 

In a statement Amphion put out about DataTern’s deal with Red Hat, it said “revenues directly attributable to Amphion from the license fee after costs are approximately $800,000.” Whether that includes Firestar’s claims is unclear but DataTern is probably the repository for Firestar’s rights. 

Anyway, right after Red Hat closed on its JBoss acquisition, Firestar charged that JBoss’s Hibernate 3.0 trespassed on a broad US patent that Firestar owned related to a method for interfacing an object-oriented software application with a relational database to facilitate access to the RDBMS. 

Since Hibernate was a critical component in JBoss’s Enterprise Middleware widgetry as well as Enterprise JavaBeans – not to mention the Hibernate open source project itself – the suit had what you might call “wide-ranging implications.”

And DataTern, which owns software called ObjectSpark that lets you develop a customized data services layer, was also going after Hibernate. 

In announcing the settlement Red Hat was quick to assure everybody that it had negotiated “broad protections not only for Red Hat customers, but for the larger open source community.” 

It said “the covered products include all software distributed under Red Hat’s brands as well as upstream predecessor versions. The settlement also protects derivative works of, or combination products using the covered products from any patent claim based in any respect on the covered products.” 

A FAQ Red Hat put on its web site explains that under the settlement its customers get a license that grants “a perpetual, fully paid-up, royalty-free, irrevocable worldwide license to the patents in the suit” and “a perpetual covenant not to sue with regard to all of DataTern’s and Amphion’s other patents on claims related to Red Hat products.” Ditto for upstream developers as far as predecessor products go. 

In a statement Red Hat patent and open source licensing lawyer Richard Fontana also claimed that the settlement “satisfies the most stringent patent provisions in open source licenses, is consistent with the letter and the spirit of all versions of the GPL and provides patent safety for developers, distributors and users of open source software.”

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