Google’s Map/Reduce patent and impact on Hadoop: none expected

From the GigaOm analysis:

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.


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.”

From Ars Technica:

Hadoop isn’t the only open source project that uses MapReduce technology. As some readers may know, I’ve recently been experimenting with CouchDB, an open source database system that allows developers to perform queries with map and reduce functions. Another place where I’ve seen MapReduce is Nokia’s QtConcurrent framework, an extremely elegant parallel programming library for Qt desktop applications.

It’s unclear what Google’s patent will mean for all of these MapReduce adopters. Fortunately, Google does not have a history of aggressive patent enforcement. It’s certainly possible that the company obtained the patent for “defensive” purposes. Like virtually all major software companies, Google is frequently the target of patent lawsuits. Many companies in technical fields attempt to collect as many broad patents as they can so that they will have ammunition with which to retaliate when they are faced with patent infringement lawsuits.

Google’s MapReduce patent raises some troubling questions for software like Hadoop, but it looks unlikely that Google will assert the patent in the near future; Google itself uses Hadoop for its Code University program.

Even if Google takes the unlikely course of action and does decide to target Hadoop users with patent litigation, the company would face significant resistance from the open source project’s deep-pocketed backers—including IBM, which holds the industry’s largest patent arsenal.

Another dimension of this issue is the patent’s validity. On one hand, it’s unclear if taking age-old principles of functional software development and applying them to a cluster constitutes a patentable innovation.

Still nothing from the big analysts, Gartner and the gang…