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Northeastern University Sues Google Over Patent 159

kihbord writes to mention that Boston's Northeastern University and Waltham, Mass. based company Jarg have brought suit against Google for apparently infringing on a distributed database system developed by Kenneth Baclawski. "The patent describes a distributed database system that breaks search queries into fragments and distributes them to multiple computers in a network to get faster results. The patent was assigned to Northeastern University, which licensed it exclusively to Jarg, according to the lawsuit, filed last Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas."
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Northeastern University Sues Google Over Patent

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  • by GrEp ( 89884 ) <> on Monday November 12, 2007 @05:59PM (#21328737) Homepage Journal
    It looks like Bayh-Dole strikes again: [] .
  • Interesting Dates (Score:3, Informative)

    by nursegirl ( 914509 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:01PM (#21328789) Journal

    FTA, the patent was filed on Dec 2, 1997. From Google's Corporate History [] page, they describe setting up their first data centre in 1998.

    Still absolutely ridiculous that this idea was patentable, and that the patent infringement case could happen this late.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:06PM (#21328853) Journal
    A a link to the patent, according to the article [] with the description:

    A distributed computer database system including a front end computer and a plurality of computer nodes interconnected by a network into a search engine. A query from a user is transmitted to the front end computer which forwards the query to one of the computer nodes, termed the home node, of the search engine. The home node fragments the query and hashes the fragments of query to create an index by which the hashed query fragments are transmitted to one or more nodes on the network. Each node on the network which receives a hashed fragment uses the fragment of the query to perform a search on its respective database. The results of the searches of the local databases are then gathered by the home node.
    However, I submitted this story yesterday and found a list of patents by that professor with that company [] and suspected a more interesting patent []. From that description:

    A distributed computer database system connected to a network, e.g., the Internet or on an intranet, indexes interests of agents that have registered with the system, examines information objects, for example, that reside on the network, and, responsive to a match with the registered agents' interests, specifies to the agents the relevant information objects.
    It's your decision whether or not he's a patent troll but that professor seems to have many patents. I fear that the future only holds more and more patents being acquired by professors. I do not think this was the norm 10 years ago but my professor at George Mason University gave me a very frank lecture one day that essentially spelled out that the university rewards them for these things and the university is building a portfolio. What the states pay a professor is not much compared to what they could be earning in the field so he really has no choice.

    I congratulated him on the several patents he just acquired. Although I can't say I was very happy about his recent moves.
  • Prior art (?) (Score:5, Informative)

    by geophile ( 16995 ) <jao&geophile,com> on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:07PM (#21328859) Homepage
    Breaking a query into pieces and evaluating them at nodes containing a subset of the database has been written about since the 1970s. I read about it in grad school back then. Whether that's actually the thing actually patented by jarg is an entirely separate question. If it is, the PTO has screwed up once again. If it isn't, then perhaps there is a deeper similarity that TFA isn't describing.
  • by drhamad ( 868567 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:07PM (#21328865)
    Most major universities control massive patent/IP portfolios... see the CalTech or BU for major examples. Universities are corporations, nothing more or less. The research done there is assigned to the corporation/school.
  • by quo_vadis ( 889902 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:08PM (#21328875) Journal
    I know the initial urge of a small company suing a larger one (especially a darling of slashdot such as Google) will have a lot of people yelling patent troll, but this may not be the case. The fact that this is a company from a university professor means that the company very likely has a working product that has been derived from several years worth of research. To those who are not used to the American system of research at the university level (for Professors and PhDs), any researcher can apply for a patent on the research they have been doing in the lab. The patent is usually issued in the name of the university or jointly in the name of the researcher and the university. There is usually an exclusive licencee for the patent. This forces the university to allow the researcher to have first dibs on licensing the technology he worked on exclusively to some company he decides. This is done as university's usually take anywhere from 50-75% of all royalties generated by the patent as research was done on university property. Thus many profs usually spin off companies and sit on the board of directors for the company and earn a supplementary income this way.

    So , heres how it works :
    1. Do research on some area.
    2. Get funding from $Federal Agency of choice
    3. Make a few students get PhD's doing research on this topic
    4. Go to the office of tech licensing on campus and draw up patent
    4.a Make sure the exclusive license clause is in the patent
    5. ??? -> Form company and sit on board of directors
    6. Profit.
  • by EvilRyry ( 1025309 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:09PM (#21328895) Journal
    Not quite. The patent was for splitting a single query into multiple chunks. In the case of a DNS server, a single DNS server gives you a reply. For round robin; same thing, one request from one client, one reply from one server.

    The patent was for taking a single request, breaking it up into subrequests, then distributing the subrequests amongst multiple servers and then gluing the results back together.

    So to make the required car analogy, its like taking a shopping list, breaking it up by area of town that the store is in, then deploying a separate car to each area and meeting back at home.
  • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (gnauhc.mailliw)> on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:19PM (#21329003) Homepage
    WARF (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) is a huge patent-holder in the biotechnical arts. You can't do anything interesting in the field nowadays without hitting a WARF patent. Not saying that they're a patent troll, just saying they try to patent everything they might have innvented.
  • Research Grants (Score:3, Informative)

    by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:25PM (#21329061)

    Isn't it the students that are paying for the research, and often times DOING the research which allows for these discoveries to begin with?

    Generally speaking no, students do not pay for much/most research, at least not directly. There are of course lots of exceptions but research is typically paid for by grants (government and/or corporate) or various wealthy benefactors. A surprisingly large part of being a successful university researcher is being able to bring in the money to conduct your research. Certainly some tuition money ends up going towards research but it is a surprisingly small percentage, often nothing at all. My alma matter gets literally billions a year from the NIH and other sources other than students tuition. Some of the professors barely see the inside of a classroom. That said, without the students the universities would not exist and universities have a tendency to forget this fact when it comes time get out of the lab and to teach said students. It's not right but unlikely to change either.

    As for whether research at public universities should be public domain, ethically you can make a strong case for putting it out there for everyone but legally it does not work that way right now. (see Bayh-Dole [] act) Universities now have very large patent portfolios and regularly spin off companies, technologies and licensing. Often creates some significant conflict of interest issues.
  • Re:East Texas??? (Score:3, Informative)

    by MontyApollo ( 849862 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:35PM (#21329215)
    Most patent suits are filed in East Texas. It's the in thing to do.
  • Prior art? (Score:3, Informative)

    by kbahey ( 102895 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @07:17PM (#21329759) Homepage
    Well, there were products on the market in the 1980s that did break down the queries to several CPUs.

    One such example is Teradata [], which had the database tables partitioned among many CPUs (done automatically on insert), each with its storage.

    A query would be split automatically to all the CPUs, and each would fetch and return the rows matching the criteria in its part of the table.

    The results are then combined from all CPUs and returned back to the application.

    Later the CPUs were just emulated in software, as hardware became more powerful.

    Prior art then ...

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