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USPTO Grants Google a Patent On MapReduce 191

Posted by kdawson
from the reductio-ad-absurdum dept.
theodp writes "Two years ago, David DeWitt and Michael Stonebraker deemed MapReduce a major step backwards (here are the original paper and a defense of it) that 'represents a specific implementation of well known techniques developed nearly 25 years ago.' A year later, the pair teamed up with other academics and eBay to slam MapReduce again. But the very public complaints didn't stop Google from demanding a patent for MapReduce; nor did it stop the USPTO from granting Google's request (after four rejections). On Tuesday, the USPTO issued U.S. Patent No. 7,650,331 to Google for inventing Efficient Large-Scale Data Processing."
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USPTO Grants Google a Patent On MapReduce

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  • Re:!do no evil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @02:59PM (#30822774) Homepage

    They already burned their karma adding the "fade-in" menu bar.

  • Re:!do no evil (Score:4, Insightful)

    by astrashe (7452) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:02PM (#30822812) Journal

    This sounds more stupid than evil, which is interesting, because Google doesn't do obviously stupid things very often.

    The patent won't do them any good, because it won't stand up in court. They could use it to attack someone small -- an open source developer who would have to back down because they couldn't handle teh legal fees -- but they don't have much of a history of that sort of thing, and there's no reason to think they would in this case, either.

    It won't do them any good at all against someone big -- MS and Bing, for example -- because MS would have good lawyers who could demonstrate prior art to a court.

    So what's the point?

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@hacki s h . o rg> on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:03PM (#30822844)

    A somewhat optimistic guess is that they'll be restricted to using this defensively. Are they really going to sue Hadoop, the open-source implementation of MapReduce? Hadoop not only implements a version of MapReduce, it even uses its name [apache.org], so is not at all coy about being a direct infringement of this patent. And yet, I would be surprised if Google sued them, or the many people using it [apache.org]. They certainly haven't said anything yet, as far as I can find--- when things like Amazon Elastic MapReduce [amazon.com] were launched, I can't find record of Google saying, "hey, you're stealing our tech!"

  • Re:!do no evil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by astrashe (7452) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:08PM (#30822940) Journal

    Isn't that awful? I can't understand why they did it.

    Moving stuff on web pages sucks. Especially on that web page.

    The bad thing isn't the fade in itself. It's that Google used to be run by people who knew what sucked and what didn't. Now it seems like there are people who don't know in positions to call some shots. It's a bad omen.

    They're probably about 10 years away from their own version of Microsoft's "Bob".

  • Defensive patent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by istartedi (132515) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:12PM (#30823002) Journal

    Before you go acusing Google of doing Evil (TM), think. If they don't do this, some troll will. The troll will lose, but Google will waste a lot more money defending against it.

    This is why IBM takes out so many patents too. Most of them are "defensive" patents.

    We (that being everybody except the USPTO) could agree not to take out any more software patents, and the industry would breathe a collective sigh of relief. Trouble is, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil that approach. It's the same reason Communism didn't work.

  • Re:!do no evil (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:16PM (#30823050) Journal

    What karma? Google bowed to pressure from the Chinese government to censor their results from the beginning. Some may argue that that was the price they had to pay to open up China but it was still a massive karma burn. Google didn't just grow a conscience about dealing with China, they are acting in their own selfish interest as they always have been.

  • by blee37 (1181835) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:28PM (#30823216) Homepage
    It is not true that if Google doesn't patent it, a troll will. A technique that is well known, such as MapReduce, is the property of the general public and is unpatentable. Any technology that has been sold or in use for over a year is unpatentable.
  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:29PM (#30823226) Journal

    Behold: the one true undeniable positive trait of the current broken patent system. Keeping horrible ideas expensive.

  • Re:!do no evil (Score:4, Insightful)

    by m.ducharme (1082683) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:31PM (#30823262)

    The point is probably to create and keep a nice big portfolio of patents to be used the next time Google gets sued for patent infringement. It's common practice for big tech firms (and others, of course) to hold a reserve of patents at the ready in the event that they need to defend against a patent suit. The aggressor company sues for infringement, the defender digs up a few patents that the aggressor is violating, and they settle out of court for a mutual licensing agreement.

    Of course it's ridiculous, and sounds stupid, but it's a symptom of the broken patent system, not a peculiarity of Google.

  • by Target Practice (79470) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:48PM (#30823492)

    "A technique that is well known, such as MapReduce, is the property of the general public and is unpatentable."

    Someone should really let the patent clerks in on that secret...

  • Re:!do no evil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animaether (411575) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:48PM (#30823502) Journal

    The fade-in is nice. Not so much because it's a fade-in (which is just visually more pleasant than an instant-display), but because you can visit www.google.com and get a very clean page (google logo, search field, and currently a Haiti relief notice), and just type away (as focus is set to the search field) and be done with it. This is very much like how google.com -was- in the very early days.

    If you want to access any of the other services that google have started to offer since then, you can move your mouse anywhere within the screen and hey presto those options become available to you. If you don't need them - why clutter up the screen with them?

    You can always customize your own google page and set that as your bookmark/start page/whatever and display exact what you want to have displayed from the get-go.

    If anything, the change from direct URLs to google redirects at some point is what I find most annoying. I guess it's what enables them to track clicks better / present "We believe this page is dangerous for your health"-warnings, etc. and I can see how that can be good for them as a business, and for users who go clickhappy on fluffy little bunnies promising them cash. But it annoys me that I can't just 1. google for something, 2. recognize the right place, 3. right-click the result and get the basic URL out of it anymore. Now, I just get this (for slashdot):
    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=1&ved=0CBgQFkAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fslashdot.org%2F&rct=j&q=slashdot&ei=KAtXS8CCLeLMQAeSx8CbDg&usg=AFQjClHLEL_tF-6ZxylM44KJH54-gaJRnQ&s1g2=U223qDAEXHFbHyOw_p2PzQ [google.com]

    wtf.

    I'd much prefer they put the actual URL in the link, and let their redirect flow through an onClick.. yeah, they'd lose the javascript-disabled lot.. tough.

  • by schon (31600) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:50PM (#30823542)

    It is not true that if Google doesn't patent it, a troll will.

    Really? Why?

    MapReduce, is the property of the general public and is unpatentable

    .. and yet it just got patented somehow!

    I find it hard to believe that the PTO decided "Well, this isn't patentable, but we'll allow Google to patent it just because they're Google."

    If Google was granted a patent on it, then a patent troll could have done the same.

  • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @03:57PM (#30823614) Homepage Journal
    They've always done that, haven't they? You sign up, then they text you a validation code.

    I'm all for it as long as it keeps people from abusing Gmail accounts. Google's heuristics are so sharp that they could probably figure out your number even if you don't directly hand it to them.
  • by samkass (174571) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @04:54PM (#30824344) Homepage Journal

    Software patents are inherently wrong. It doesn't matter if you invent an algorithm or not, because algorithms are just mathematical expressions, and you can't (or shouldn't be able to) patent math. And algorithms are usually implemented, not in physical (patentable) devices, but in software programs, for which the appropriate protection is copyright, not patent.

    So you're asserting that you should be able to copyright math?

    The whole "software is math" argument is old and debunked. Anything which requires creativity and careful analysis, and the investment therein, is a potentially valuable addition to human knowledge. In exchange for investing in such a thing, there should be the potential to protect your investment from copycats without resorting to keeping it a secret.

    I don't see any difference between patenting a physical machine and a computer model of a machine if they follow identical rules and required the same amount of thought and work to produce.

  • by shentino (1139071) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:18PM (#30824630)

    I'll reserve judgement until this patent is involved, offensively, defensively or otherwise, in litigation.

    Google has got a good reputation so I'm not as quick to condemn them as I am to condemn Microsoft which has a PROVEN track record of evil.

    It's entirely plausible that this patent is part of a defensive patent portfolio whose sole purpose is to protect Google.

    And considering the zany IP landscape, if anyone's going to have a patent on this, I'd rather it be Google than anyone else. If Microsoft had this club in their arsenal you can bet your bottom dollar they'd make their assault on Tom-Tom look like a puny peashooter.

  • by laughingskeptic (1004414) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:22PM (#30824682)
    If they don't enforce their patents, they effectively become public domain. They will probably not sue Hadop, but will try to arrange for some official acknowledgment from Hadop of Google's patent rights and grant them some sort of license explicitly for open source projects. This will strengthen Google's claim. They did not fight their way through 4 rejections and hundreds of thousands of dollars of attorney fees to not enforce this patent.
  • Yes, but you are assuming software isn't considered a method. It SHOULD be a method, because it doesn't inherintly change anything within a computer, and if I'm not mistaken there are fights going on right now to define it as such...it is a method by which a computer is told to operate, but doesn't actually modify the computer in any way.

    First, software absolutely changes things within a computer. Different switches get flipped, electrons grow in places where they never grew before, etc. Computers are deterministic machines - if software didn't "actually modify the computer in any way" then the software wouldn't be executing and the output would not change in any matter from before the software was applied.

    Second, the current test for patentable subject matter in method patents is that it's either transformative (turning iron into steel, for example), or tied to a specific machine. The reason for the latter test is that the CAFC was trying to exempt from patentability algorithms and mathematics that a person could do in their head, or with a pen and paper... This would apply to diagnostic patents (with steps like "noticing, by the physician, that the patient is coughing; diagnosing, by the physician, that the patient has a bacterial infection, responsive to a lab culture") and to mathematical algorithms, including Bilski's derivatives management through market risk balancing ("identifying a first derivative; identifying a second derivative with an opposite risk profile; purchasing enough of the second to counter the first").
    By saying "no, you need a machine", what the CAFC was trying to do was say that software that executes on a computer is patentable, but software you do in your head is not patentable. This is a policy argument - we don't want to make people liable for infringement for thinking, but since people's heads don't include silicon processors and network cards, then methods that involve encrypting network packets by a NIC, for example, can't be infringed by a person thinking. Even if they were to sit with a slide rule and manually calculate each RSA-128 bit of a network packet, they wouldn't infringe, because they don't have a NIC.

    Now, let's take a look at your analogy in the above framework:

    Analogy: making a choose your own adventure book doesn't change the fact that it is a book...it merely changes the way you obtain and utilize the data (words) on its pages. You wouldn't expect to get a patent on reading every other page in a book, would you?

    And you couldn't - it's done by a person, and not tied to a specific machine. But, you could patent a decision tree performed by a specific computing device having specific hardware or software functionality for performing the method... if decision trees weren't already known, mind you, but novelty and obviousness is a different argument altogether.

    I don't have any links handy on me with this subject but Bilski vs. Kappos could have a major ripple effect on software patents depending on what happens with their definition.

    Yes, but the Supreme Court absolutely will not invalidate all software patents. They probably won't even invalidate diagnostic patents. Two reasons: first, it would require completely reversing not just the CAFC Bilski decision, but also State Street, AT&T, Mayo v. Prometheus, and even Diamond v. Chakrabarty. Basically, 30 years of Supreme Court decisions on the topic. Second, software and diagnostic patents are worth a lot of money in our economy, and the Supreme Court, first and foremost, is a political body. They won't crash the economy when there are alternate interpretations of the law available that won't have that side effect.

    My guess: Bilski's application is denied, for any one of several reasons. The CAFC's machine-or-transformation test is discarded as being too vague, particularly on the "machine" side, because no one really knows what is meant by "tied to

  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@nOs ... t-retrograde.com> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @12:00AM (#30828180)

    Just because something can be patented doesn't mean it should be patented. The patent system is supposed to keep things that shouldn't be patented from being patented, but it doesn't -- It's broken. Saying: "Let's see you do better!" isn't the answer.

    It's not that I think patent examiners are ignorant, it's just that I find the entire patent system ridiculously flawed...

    The patent system is obviously designed to have the least efficient method for discovering prior art. The entire world of prior art simply won't fit through a patent examiner's sieve in the time they are given to decide over a patent. This flaw in the system worsens with time as more patents are granted -- the whole system should be scrapped.

    The initial secrecy granted to patent applications is the problem. If the goal is to deem a technology as patentable or not patentable then secrecy should not be required. The solution is to provide a public forum where "persons having ordinary skill in the art" can come to you (the examiners) and show you our previous art.

    To put it plainly: Help us Help You! Instead of employing a small group of patent examiners to filter through the entire world's catalog of information, let the entire world direct you to the prior art information you are trying to find.

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