Patent Pledge by Google to Shield Software from Lawsuits

In an effort to shield cloud software and big data developers from certain types of litigation currently affecting the mobile phone industry, Google introduced a “patent pledge” last week. The pledge, which is similar to a non-aggression pact, involves 10 patents related to Google’s MapReduce technology. The company says developers are free to use or sell the technology without concern regarding future lawsuits.

To be clear, the shield only applies to projects based on open source software available to all, reports GigaOM, adding: “Google’s patent pledge appears intended to complement the open-source software licenses that allow programmers to build on each other’s work. Such licenses, like the GNU General Public License, grant anyone the right under copyright law to use designated blocks of software code.”

But is the pledge legally enforceable? “Typically, promises to the world at large don’t carry any legal force because they lack what lawyers call ‘consideration.’ The Google source, however, said those who rely on the pledge could likely prevent Google from going back on the pledge through a doctrine called ‘promissory estoppel,’” according to the article.

Regardless of how it is implemented and received, the mere appearance of such a patent pledge represents a growing effort and concern in Silicon Valley about the overall patent system and its impact on business and innovation.