Big data has become the latest front for the patent troll epidemic as a shell company is suing firms for using a common open-source storage framework known as the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS).
In complaints filed this week, a Delaware-based shell called Parallel Iron claims Facebook (s FB) and LinkedIn (s LNKD) violated its patents by using HDFS. Parallel Iron has already filed suits against Amazon (s amzn), Oracle (s orcl) and other firms for using the HDFS technology that lets users store huge quantities of data on clusters of commodity servers.
Hadoop has been built by a large network of contributors, including individual developers and large companies like Yahoo (s yhoo) and is an Apache Software Foundation project. HDFS, its storage component, was based on Google’s (s goog) Google File System. Parallel Iron’s patent complaints, however, say the whole system was made possible by four men:
In this technological age, we take for granted the ability to access tremendous amounts of data through our computers and the Internet, a process that seems effortless and unremarkable. But this apparent effortlessness is an illusion, made possible only by technological wizardry. … It was made possible by the innovations of technological pioneers like Melvin James Bullen, Steven Louis Dodd, William Thomas Lynch, and David James Herbison.
The four men obtained three patents for “methods and systems for a storage system” in 2007, 2009 and 2011 (click the dates to see them). They assigned the patents to an LLC called Ring Technology Enterprises which appears to have been a predecessor shell company to Parallel Iron that filed lawsuits in the Eastern District of Texas.
Such companies, known as patent trolls, have come under fire as critics accuse of them gaming the patent system in order to extort money from companies that create real products and services. Recently, trolls have begun stalking promising start-ups (like travel site Hipmunk and handcraft marketplace Etsy) and suing them as soon they receive funding.
The toll of patent trolls on innovation has received special attention this month as two academics released a study concluding that trolls cost the economy $29 billion in direct costs every year. Meanwhile, a famous judge called the patent system “dysfunctional” and threw out a long-awaited smartphone trial between Google and Apple. This week, the same judge wrote an editorial in the Atlantic saying many industries don’t need patents in the first place and suggesting that trolls should have to actually use the patents that are the basis of their lawsuits.
As Congress has been slow in fixing the patent troll problem, some companies like Twitter are exploring their own solutions like pledging not to use their patents in an offensive manner.
Parallel Iron’s attorney, Richard Kirk, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Here’s a copy of the complaint against Facebook: