Lawsuits in the Cloud

**Disclaimer – This post represents my own opinion, and does not necessarily reflect that of my employer, Dell, Inc.  nor should it be considered as such.  I am also not a lawyer, nor do I have any legal training, though I have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express before**

So I wake up this morning and go to Gigaom.com (one of my favorite sources for tech news) and what do I discover?  Another lawsuit against a Cloud-based technology.  Specifically, Google Drive and Google Docs.  While this certainly isn’t something new…a lawsuit on a successful company with a hot product (remembering the lawsuits against Facebook by those claiming that Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea, or the never-ending SCO lawsuit against IBM over Linux…and the claim that they actually owned Linux) for a technology that people seem to be pretty happy with.  It there any merit to this lawsuit?  I have no clue, but let me explain what the lawsuit is about, then I’ll give my opinion…which I know you are dying to hear.

The lawsuit filed by SuperSpeed, LLC, which is listed in four, relatively easy to read pages asserts that “owns technology that allows multiple computers to quickly access a common disk at the same time”.(1)  Why is this important?  Mainly because when you have too many systems hitting the same file or set of files, you get a bit of a traffic jam.  Superseed says their software fixes that issue as stated in Paragraph 8 of their claim:

“SuperSpeed’s software helps overcome this problem by permitting data “caching” in a shared-disk cluster network. “Caching” accelerates data processing operations by making a copy of frequently accessed data in the random access memory (or “RAM”) of the individual computer that is using the data. A computer can access data in RAM approximately two- hundred-thousand times faster than data on a hard disk. As a result, caching can increase performance dramatically, particularly when the computer must repeatedly access the same block of data.”

What does SuperSpeed want for this alleged patent violation?  “Reasonable royalties” and, of course the fees they will have to pay their attorney (which it failed to specify in the four page document).  Who is going to decide what reasonable royalties are?  A jury, of course.  A jury most likely made up of people that don’t have a clue about the technology behind GoogleDrive or GoogleDocs.  But I think there is a bigger problem.  Can you actually find anyone that doesn’t have an opinion of Google?  Seems to me a fair and impartial jury will be tough to find.

Anyway, here is my question.  This type of technology is not new.  There are a number of Open Source products (and some closed source) that allow us to speed up the access of commonly access files.  Specifically, Flashcache comes to mind.  So, without knowing what SuperSpeed has seen in Google’s code that makes them think that somehow Google has violated their patent it is impossible to pass judgement.  But this whole thing reminds me of when Scott McNealy sat in front of Congress and made the following statement about Microsoft Windows NT:

“The only thing I’d rather own than Windows is English, because then I could charge you $249 for the right to speak it, and I could charge you an upgrade fee when I add new letters.”

Silly…right?  But when you think about it, the premise is the same.  If I have a product, and you have a product, and they function similarly, I need to pay you because you came up with the idea first.  But do you see Ford filing suit against every other car manufacturer, and then charging us every time we use their product after?  Do you see Harley Davidson filing suit against every other manufacturer of motorcycles and then charging us when we customize the bike (other than the cost of the materials)?  Of course not.  SuperSpeed may well have a product that does what they claim…but that does not mean that Google took their idea and stole it.  If anything, SuperSpeed should be filing a suit against Facebook because of Flashcache.

Here is my point.  IF (and I stress IF) Google has violated any patent, then the patent holder (in this case SuperSpeed, LLC) is entitled to damages and should be properly compensated.  That is only fair.  My gut tells me that this is not a legitimate claim though.  Google, which is known for being open with most, if not all, of its code and their support for Open Source, is not (in my opinion) dumb enough to go out and steal the code from another company and assume that nobody will notice.  My guess is that this will end up costing SuperSpeed in the end, and if their claims are false, it should cost them big.

Now here is why I think this whole thing is bad for Cloud-based technologies in general.  We have a number of Cloud-based services that essentially do the same thing, and they come from different providers.  For example, I use Amazon’s Cloud Drive, Google Drive, DropBox and Rackspace’s CloudFiles products.  All do essentially the same thing…they allow me to store files in the Cloud.  I would be willing to bet that for the most part, they use a lot of the same code.  But you don’t see them filing a lawsuit against each other.  I also use multiple email services which probably use similar, if not identical architectures.  Cloud Computing and Cloud Services are taking off like wildfire, and they will only be hurt by this type of lawsuit.  All you need to do is look at how Linux adaptation slowed during the SCO lawsuit because everyone was in a panic about having to start paying for a product they thought was free (unless you purchased a licensed copy from one of the vendors).  People will look at a lawsuit like this and say “I don’t want to take advantage of the Cloud because all they have to do is pull the plug and I lose all my data…my business will stop functioning.

I hope this is cleared up quickly and that in the end Google is found not guilty of patent infringement.  Not because I have anything against SuperSpeed, but because Google, if found guilty, could damage the adaptation of Cloud in any number of ways.

References:

(1) Gigaom article Jeff john Roberts http://gigaom.com/2012/06/06/google-hit-with-patent-claim-over-google-drive/

1 thought on “Lawsuits in the Cloud”

  1. Good information, thanks for the GigaOM link. In a related patent wars topic, the Irish Times just posted this update on the Oracle/Google API patent war. A US judge has decided that Oracle cannot exert copyright against Google over software tools used to develop the Android mobile phone platform. This has important implications for the APIs used in open source projects like OpenStack. http://bit.ly/Lvbsg4

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