Google, nearly six years since it first applied for it, has finally received a patent for its MapReduce parallel programming model. The question now is how this will affect the various products and projects that utilize MapReduce, such as Apache’s MapReduce-inspired Hadoop project.

Updated: Google, nearly six years since it first applied for it, has finally received a patent for its MapReduce parallel programming model. The question now is how this will affect the various products and projects that utilize MapReduce. If Google is feeling litigious, every database vendor leveraging MapReduce capabilities – a list that includes Aster Data Systems, Greenplum and Teradata — could be in trouble, as could Apache’s MapReduce-inspired Hadoop project. Hadoop is a critical piece of Yahoo’s web infrastructure, is the basis of Cloudera’s business model, and is the foundation of products like Amazon’s Elastic MapReduce and IBM’s M2 data-processing platform.

Fortunately, for them, it seems unlikely that Google will take to the courts to enforce its new intellectual property. A big reason is that “map” and “reduce” functions have been part of parallel programming for decades, and vendors with deep pockets certainly could make arguments that Google didn’t invent MapReduce at all.

Should Hadoop come under fire, any defendants (or interveners like Yahoo and/or IBM) could have strong technical arguments over whether the open-source Hadoop even is an infringement. Then there is the question of money: Google has been making plenty of it without the patent, so why risk the legal and monetary consequences of losing any hypothetical lawsuit? Plus, Google supports Hadoop, which lets university students learn webscale programming (so they can become future Googlers) without getting access to Google’s proprietary MapReduce language.

So why get the patent at all? Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt Google to have it, and it lets the company avoid the possibility of a patent troll stealing it and taking the fight to Google. Or maybe it wants the ability to assign patent rights for its MapReduce version. Say what you will about the ethics of software patents, but as long it doesn’t do evil by offensively enforcing this patent, you can’t blame Google for protecting itself.

Update: A Google spokeswoman emailed this in response to our questions about why Google sought the patent, and whether or not Google would seek to enforce its patent rights, attributing it to Michelle Lee, Deputy General Counsel:

“Like other responsible, innovative companies, Google files patent applications on a variety of technologies it develops. While we do not comment about the use of this or any part of our portfolio, we feel that our behavior to date has been inline with our corporate values and priorities.”

  1. If the point is to avoid a lawsuit, it would be infinitely better if the patent office declared map reduce un-patentable by anyone, thereby eliminating the risk of litigation altogether. The same could be said for all such software patents.

    1. Micro$oft has a money to un-declare and re-patent to themselves things, you know…

  2. “Leveraging,” Derrick? Seriously? How about “using”?

    1. Perhaps not the best word choice, but I think it works regardless. They are using MapReduce’s capabilities to enhance their offerings, which fits the definition of leveraging.

  3. Google patents Map reduce “System and method for efficient large-scale data processing” « Scalable web architectures Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    [...] Gigaom pointed out that if Google really wants to enforce it, it would have to go after many different vendors who are implementing “mapreduce” in some form in their applications and databases. [...]

  4. If they might lose the litigation because it is not their invention, why did the USPTO assign the invention to them? Just like Nokia is getting litigious because they are losing in the market against Apple, if ever Google is in similar situation, it would most certainly use the patent to thwart competitors.

    1. Courts can invalidate patents for “obviousness” under 35 U.S.C. 103.


    2. I fail to understand the intent of Software Patents. When a drug company files a patents, the idea is to protect an expensive research effort. Similarly, many companies spend millions of bucks on physical equipments etc. But look at software. How can you prevent a similar idea from coming into another mind ? I don’t believe if the original Patents philosophy of boosting research is actually applicable to Software? REPEAT: I THINK PATENTS ARE MEANT TO BOLSTER RESEARCH AND NOT HINDER IT. IF THEY FAIL THAT DUE TO ANY REASON, THEY SHOULD BE DONE AWAY WITH. PATENTS ARE NOT MEANT TO INCREASE COMPANY’S PROFIT (THAT IS A COMMON MISUSE).

  5. Marc’s Voice » Getting into the Cleveland groove now – blogging Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    [...] Why Hadoop user’s shouldn’t fear Google MapReduce patents [...]

  6. Google is wise to attempt to protect its assets from patent trolls. Trolls are proving to be a plague on intellectual property and upon innovation; they are private entities that effectively work to bring the federal patent law system to its knees. If enough people keep making noise about the problem, I suspect that certain government entities will eventually have to step up and take action against the practice of patent trolling. Until then, however, companies will have to keep protecting themselves by occasional over-filing of patents.

  7. Google’s MapReduce patent and its impact on Hadoop and Cloud MapReduce « Huan Liu’s Blog Friday, January 22, 2010

    [...] that Google finally received its patent on MapReduce, after several rejections. Derrick argued that Google would not enforce its patent because Google would not “risk the legal and monetary consequences of losing any hypothetical [...]

  8. Are Google’s Open Credentials Slipping…Again? Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    [...] answer, according to some, boils down to Google’s historic treatment of their intellectual property and the relevance this [...]

  9. Needed: Infrastructure to Make the Web Personal – GigaOM Friday, February 5, 2010

    [...] to develop new data processing architectures — ones that go beyond technologies like memcached, MapReduce, NoSQL, [...]

  10. What You Didn’t Know About Cloudera – GigaOM Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    [...] made that everyone using Hadoop or MapReduce is in danger following Google’s patents. As we noted here, Hadoop really isn’t threatened, though. “Google has no track record of using patents [...]

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