FireStar vs RedHat - more software patent madness

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (539 Words)

Here is yet another example of why why pure software patents must not be allowed to hinder innovation in Europe like it does in the litigation-obsessed USA: FireStar has launched a lawsuit against RedHat now that they own Hibernate, a well respected, open source ORM (Object-Relational Mapping) tool originally for Java, and now .Net too.

FireStar’s patent asserts ownership over the idea of “A mapping between an object model and a relational database is generated to facilitate access to the relational database”. That means that FireStar could claim patent infringement over any number of ORM tools, not least several systems I’ve written myself over the last few years (ironically starting around 1998, the year this patent was issued), if I lived in the US. No doubt you could name tens or even hundreds of tools which could similarly be targetted by these leeches.

Do FireStar produce a fantastic ORM product of their own which leads the way in this field? No, they’re just another financial services IT firm. Yes, they have a product called ObjectSpark but no-one I know has ever heard of it. Plus, I believe it was predated by TopLink by several years, the first packaged OO persistence framework I ever heard of. Basically the only thing novel about FireStar is that they had the thought to write it down and get a patent lawyer to route it through the appropriate paper channels. Nothing about their patent or their product appears to be anything special, in fact the patent itself is so trivial anyone even remotely familiar with OO and databases could have come up with something more detailed and ground-breaking than that in their lunch hour. But, because they jumped through the correct hoops, they get to upset the apple cart of someone else who is doing something genuinely useful in that subject field. It’s pathetic, utterly risible, and obviously designed to fish for an out-of-court settlement - otherwise why didn’t they go after bigger players years ago?

It’s all mind games and legal trickery, and has absolutely no place in this world - any right-thinking technologist should be disgusted and apalled that such things are allowed to happen. But, until developed countries wake up and realise that giving companies the opportunity to earn money through neatly filed paperwork and savvy lawyers rather than production of useful tools is a mistake, true innovation is doomed, buried under a sea of paperwork. It seems that companies like this, and the corporate lawyers and intellectual property attorneys they employ, haven’t learned that to survive as a parasite, you have to avoid killing the host. How long until the people who genuinely take the world forward with innovation, those people for whom actually creating things of worth is more important than restating trivial solutions in flowery language and ticking the appropriate boxes, are outnumbered by companies / people who favour process over product?

[edit]Yes, indeed it seems that TopLink was around in 1994, even earlier than I thought - I first talked to the guys that wrote it at what was then The Object People in 1998 I think, waay before they were bought by Oracle) so this patent is nonsense. Here’s hoping FireStar get what’s coming to them.[/edit]