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05 April 2013, 11:59

Rackspace takes the patent fight to a troll

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US cloud and hosting service Rackspace has filed a complaint against IP Navigation Group (IP Nav) and Parallel Iron at a US federal court in Texas. Rackspace says that it is suing for damages because IP Nav has broken an agreement that exists between the two companies. The hosting service is also seeking a court declaration that Rackspace isn't infringing any IP Nav patents, writes Rackspace's legal counsel, Alan Schoenbaum, on the company's blog.

Schoenbaum calls IP Nav "the most notorious patent troll in America". In a letter sent to Rackspace in 2010, the patent assertion entity apparently claimed that a client owned patents in the field of data storage. However, according to Schoenbaum, IP Nav said that it would only disclose more information about what the patents were if Rackspace first signed a mutual forbearance agreement. The agreement stipulated that either party would give 30 days’ notice before bringing suit.

Schoenbaum writes that IP Nav broke this agreement when its subsidiary, Parallel Iron, filed claims regarding the alleged infringement of three patents in connection with the open source Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) in Delaware last week. The legal expert said that IP Nav has filed 23 such claims against various companies since June 2012.

Schoenbaum calls the mutual forbearance agreement a "trick". In his opinion, IP Nav was concerned that once Rackspace knew the details of the patents, it would seek to invalidate the patents. The three patents mentioned in IP Nav's complaint are 7,197,662, 7,543,177 and 7,958,388; all are entitled "Methods and systems for a storage system".

Companies such as IP Nav are "looking for a quick cash-grab", said Schoenbaum. The attorney explained that no company is immune and that particularly smaller businesses are unable to defend themselves and can potentially be driven into bankruptcy. He also called on the US Congress to investigate the tactics that are employed by companies such as IP Nav and said Rackspace's goal with this case was to "highlight the tactics that IP Nav uses to divert hard-earned profits and precious capital from American businesses."

Rackspace had recently been the legal target of a US company called Uniloc, which claimed that the Linux operating system that is used by Rackspace violated US patent 5,892,697. Linux distributor Red Hat took on the defence as part of its Open Source Assurance Program. The presiding judge invalidated the patent in question noting it was a patent for a mathematical algorithm, something that is actually unpatentable.


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