Troll v RedHat

This is a strange one. A patent troll has a patent so diffuse that it is almost meaningless and is suing RedHat over it:
“Network Distributed Caches (“NDCs”) (50) permit accessing a named dataset stored at an NDC server terminator site (22) in response to a request submitted to an NDC client terminator site (24) by a client workstation (42). In accessing the dataset, the NDCs (50) form a NDC data conduit (62) that provides an active virtual circuit (“AVC”) from the NDC client site (24) through intermediate NDC sites (26B, 26A) to the NDC server site (22). Through the AVC provided by the conduit (62), the NDC sites (22, 26A and 26B) project an image of the requested portion of the named dataset into the NDC client site (24) where it may be either read or written by the workstation 42. The NDCs (50) maintain absolute consistency between the source dataset and its projections at all NDC client terminator sites (24, 204B and 206) at which client workstations access the dataset. Channels (116) in each NDC (50) accumulate profiling data from the requests to access the dataset for which they have been claimed. The NDCs (50) use the accumulated profile data stored in channels (116) to anticipate future requests to access datasets, and, whenever possible, prevent any delay to client workstations in accessing data by asynchronously pre-fetching the data in advance of receiving a request from a client workstation.

It’s almost gibberish. The nearest I can gather is that they have a patent on the network cache like Squid or nscd. No doubt RedHat uses such things in its clustering setups. Squid was developed around 1996 and the damned patent was “filed” around 1997.

In the patent application itself mention is made of NFS file caching and BSD4.3. The claim is made that the “invention” improves cache coherency although it does not shed much light on how that works. The filing date is also shown as February 26, 1997.

BSD 4.3 was released in 1986, so nothing here looks innovative beyond the state of the art. I expect RedHat will be able to show:

  • the invention is not patentable (obviousness and prior art),
  • the invention does not work as described, for example does not work any better than some prior art,
  • the invention is essentially no different than a mail-server such as sendmail which was developed around 1979-1980. Sendmail caches mail and synchronizes a bunch of clients via SMTP. POP is another mail protocol. The RCEV operation of POP downloads the e-mail but leaves it on the server/cache,
  • the invention is essentially no different than NFS which used a cache even in version 1 from 1989,
  • the inventor invented nothing not already in the prior art:“The threshold question in determining inventorship is who conceived the invention. Unless a person contributes to the conception of the invention, he is not an inventor”,
  • the invention has no written description sufficient to implement the invention. In particular, “projecting an image of data” is not defined (“each NDC site including an NDC that has an NDC buffer, a method for projecting an image of a stored dataset”),
  • RedHat does not use it (the preferred implementation requires multiple daemons, long delays which cannot speed anything up), and
  • since RedHat is FLOSS, the inventor obviously ignored the violation until now, evidence that there is no violation.

I trust the judge will laugh this one out of court and send the troll the bill for cluttering up the court system.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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3 Responses to Troll v RedHat

  1. Contrarian says:

    “This patent application does not show how to do anything beyond caching. Why does it exist?”

    You take a too simplistic view of these things, #pogson. The patent at issue is an improvement on the way that a cache generally worked in the late 1990s, and the narrative describes a number of specific functional improvements over precedent methods.

    The logic of the patent is not all that obtuse, I think, and, if someone had demanded the specific functional improvements be made to a cache scheme, a thousand or more developers could each have succeeded in coming up with a satisfactory design, perhaps even more than a thousand. But the point is that someone did it first and got a patent on the specific method used.

    My company did that as a common practice and most other big software companies do the same. What I think is wrong with the process is that these patents are not watershed sorts of discoveries as popular thought implies, but rather just descriptions of routine solutions to incremental problems that arise as products evolve. There is certainly a lot of engineering competence involved in coming up with a solution, but the sort of one-man, point in time brilliance of Edison or Tesla or such is no longer the case.

    The patent offices of the world do not adequately investigate the notion of non-obviouosness. The patent examiners are not network architects or computer scientists, I think, and the very fact that no one else has come up with the improvement and filed a patent application is used as evidence that the invention is non-obvious. The fact that almost anyone would come up with the solution once it was needed for something in an normal evolution is not considered.

    If a company sticks to basic product precepts and becomes an expert in some useful field, they can simply keep their technology to themselves and market their product’s benefits to those who see their value. They will easily stay ahead of anyone else who would need to first solve the same sorts of problems and could keep their market leadership as long as their products stood above the others.

    Patents just muddy the water and I think that they do negatively affect progress today.

  2. The patent is supposed to reveal to someone skilled at the art of the tech how to implement the invention. This patent application does not show how to do anything beyond caching. Why does it exist?

  3. Ivan says:

    “It’s almost gibberish.”

    Maybe you should let the lawyers handle this one if you can’t understand what it is supposed to be about.

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