Texas judge and Red Hat protect Linux from patent troll

Early dismissal of claim occurs in generally troll-friendly district

Just toss 'em out of court. That's essentially been the remedy sought by many of those looking to limit the damage done by patent trolls, and now a federal judge has apparently taken that advice to heart in a case involving Linux that was brought against Rackspace by patent troll Uniloc.

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Even better, the judge doing the tossing presides over the Eastern District of Texas, long known for being friendly toward patent trolls.

From a press release:

Plaintiff Uniloc USA, Inc. is a frequent litigator, having brought patent lawsuits against many high-tech companies including Adobe, Microsoft, Sony and Symantec. Rackspace provides its customers with managed servers running the Linux operating system. Red Hat, which supplies Linux to Rackspace, provided Rackspace's defense as part of Red Hat's commitment to standing behind customers through Red Hat's Open Source Assurance program.

Uniloc USA, Inc. filed the complaint against Rackspace in June 2012 in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas. The complaint alleged that the processing of floating point numbers by the Linux operating system violated U.S. Patent 5,892,697. Rackspace and Red Hat immediately moved to dismiss the case prior to filing an answer. In dismissing the case, Chief Judge Leonard Davis found that Uniloc's claim was unpatentable under Supreme Court case law that prohibits the patenting of mathematical algorithms. This is the first reported instance in which the Eastern District of Texas has granted an early motion to dismiss finding a patent invalid because it claimed unpatentable subject matter. In the ruling released today, Judge Davis wrote that the asserted claim "is a mathematical formula that is unpatentable under Section 101."

The case could have broad implications, according to Rob Tiller, Red Hat's assistant general counsel for IP.

"(Non-practicing entity) patent lawsuits are a chronic and serious problem for the technology industry. Such lawsuits, which are frequently based on patents that should never have been granted, typically cost millions of dollars to defend," Tiller said in a statement. "These suits are a plague on innovation, economic growth, and job creation. Courts can help address this problem by determining the validity of patents early and with appropriate care. In this case, Judge Davis did just that, and set a great example for future cases."

One can only hope.

If you want to hear the judge talk about some of these patent issues, specifically as they apply to his district, the Texas Lawyer website has a four-minute interview conducted last fall.

(Update: From Groklaw: The importance of this case cannot be underscored. It demonstrates that a court that has been favored by patent plaintiffs for years recognizes that there are some really bad patents out there, and the court is not going to hesitate to throw them out at the first opportunity.)

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