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Red Hat Sued Over Hibernate 3 ORM Patent Infringement Claim

by Floyd Marinescu on Jun 30, 2006 |
Firestar Software  has filed a patent claim against Red Hat for infringing on a patent Firestar filed in 2000 covering O/R mapping. The amount of the lawsuit was not disclosed. The complaint centers around Hibernate 3, and the patent claims that JBoss was given prior notice that marketing, distribution, and support services violates Firestars patent, and that Firestar "has suffered and will continue to suffer substantial damages." Firestar produces the ObjectSpark, an transactional object mapping engine which appears to not have had a new release since May 2003, according to the Firestars press release page.

The patent covers (from US Patent office patent # 6,101,502):
A method for interfacing an object oriented software application with a relational database, comprising the steps of:
  • selecting an object model;
  • generating a map of at least some relationships between schema in the database and the selected object model;
  • employing the map to create at least one interface object associated with an object corresponding to a class associated with the object oriented software application; and
  • utilizing a runtime engine which invokes said at least one interface object with the object oriented application to access data from the relational database. ide interface objects that are utilized by an object oriented software application to access the relational database.
Interestingly, the same patent (follow link for full PDFs) was filed under a different company name to the European patent office back in 1998, but was withdrawn.  The patent is not related to yet another patent Mapping architecture for arbitrary data models filed in 2005. 

Patent experts told InfoQ that the lawsuit appears to be skillful manoeuvring on Firestar's part; they waited until after the JBoss Red Hat acquisition intentions were announced and notified JBoss about the potential infringement on May 26th, which was within the JBoss Red Hat due dilligence period.  This would have required JBoss to either instantly settle with Firestar or be forced to notify Red Hat which could have cancelled the acquisition deal, which was announced as finalized on June 5th (with Red Hat aware of the risks).  Firestar then notified Red Hat on June 7th that they were in violation of Firestar's patent.  As a further example of manoeuvring, the word among patent experts is that the specific district Firestar selected to perform the lawsuit in (eastern district of Texas) is famous among patent circles because a patent claimant has never lost a lawsuit there.

It seems clear that the timing of the lawsuit was designed to take advantage of the Red Hat acquisition.  Firestar certainly had other potential targets, including Oracle (TopLink), BEA (Kodo), and even the JCP (EJB JPA).

Note: Originally Posted June 29th, 3pm ET. Last update: June 30, 5pm ET

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LOTS of prior art on this by Brian Repko

TopLink was Smalltalk persistence back in 1994. I can't imagine that this patent would fly...

Re: LOTS of prior art on this by Alex Popescu

A Brief History of TopLink. IANAL, but if they don't have a patent, than everything can happen :-).

./alex
--
.w( the_mindstorm )p.

Firestar by Corby Page

I'm reading through, and I can't see anything that I don't remember being in TopLink in 1998.

It is incredibly infuriating to see joke operations like Firestar Software, whose only function in a free market economy is to impede others from doing business.

I can't think of a single situation where software or business method patents have helped the economy by protecting investment into genuine innovations. These types of patents have to go.

Re: LOTS of prior art on this by Floyd Marinescu

It depends on jurisdiction. In the US, prior art is considered. In Canada, it is a 'race to the patent office' and patent holders have precedent. I think the EU considered prior art too.

Where is Ward Mullins by Binil Thomas

From past TSS flame wars, I remember Ward Mullins of Cocobase (Thought Inc.) claim that they held patents to ORM idea. This was around the time when JDO & Hibernate started getting popular.

Haven't they got anything better to do? by John Davies

These sort of patents (software design) should be null and void after 5 years, shame on them.

This is another good reason to give up with relational mapping and just get rid of relational databases all together. I know it's just not practical in the short term but like EJB (2) their time has come, time to divest in relational technology and move onto object databases, no more O/R mapping.

-John-
CTO, C24

object databases? by Floyd Marinescu

This is another good reason to give up with relational mapping and just get rid of relational databases all together. I know it's just not practical in the short term but like EJB (2) their time has come, time to divest in relational technology and move onto object databases, no more O/R mapping.


And object databases won't also be subject to the same kind of patent issues? :)

But seriously, do you think we are finally ready to embrace object databases? It would certainly make life a lot easier. :)

Floyd

Re: object databases? by Shay Banon

Object databases sure as hell sounds better, but if they were so much better they would be around already (EJB 2 was crap, but we had an alternative technology in about 2-3 years!).

I think that the combination of a Data Grid solution, but one that can also persist the data into a relational database (in an async or sync nature) is the way to solve the problem. But then again, how do you persist the data into a relational database without breaking the patent :). I really think that companies like that should be taken outside and shot, old western style execution.

Re: object databases? by Jason Carreira

This is another good reason to give up with relational mapping and just get rid of relational databases all together. I know it's just not practical in the short term but like EJB (2) their time has come, time to divest in relational technology and move onto object databases, no more O/R mapping.


And object databases won't also be subject to the same kind of patent issues? :)

But seriously, do you think we are finally ready to embrace object databases? It would certainly make life a lot easier. :)

Floyd


Make life easier for whom? For the next application you need to build on the same database? That should be interesting. Oh, I forgot, we should access everything through a language-independent service binding like SCA or web services. That is, until you need to join across data sources. And you thought the N+1 problem with EJB2 was inefficient...

Seriously, though. Do you know anyone with successful implementations using OODB? Are they using them for little embedded things, or real enterprise data stores? Don't forget, in a real enterprise application, the data outlives the application.

Re: LOTS of prior art on this by emmanuel lecharny

Talling about patent related to software, I'm pretty sure that in EU, things are really different, because the EU parliement rejected a law which would have favored software patents.

In France, patenting a sowtware is simply not possible. You can copyright it, which forbid copy, but algorithm can't be patented, like mathematic formulas, and I do think that it's a perfectly sane idea.

Seing all those stupid patents about "single click", a "way to change a pixel from balck to white" (xor !!!), or ORM mapping is simply a way for big companies to create legal barriers against real inovators. This will kill software developpement in USA, or at least slow it a lot. All this money wasted in a case like IBM/sco could have been put in software development...

What a pity...

Re: object databases? by Floyd Marinescu

Seriously, though. Do you know anyone with successful implementations using OODB? Are they using them for little embedded things, or real enterprise data stores? Don't forget, in a real enterprise application, the data outlives the application.


The OODB success stories I know of are from back in the days before J2EE, particularly on the Gemstone platform. I know people who've done some massive large scale object systems with Gemstone in Java and Smalltalk.

Indeed in the OODB scenario you can't just layer new applications over your data without preserving your application data access layer, which is an issue. But not an overcomeable one. OQL is pretty effective for reporting and data processing like SQL is. The rise of scripting langauges in Java is also helping to make data manipulation through the application layer a lot easier.

Re: object databases? by Rickard Öberg


Make life easier for whom? For the next application you need to build on the same database? That should be interesting. Oh, I forgot, we should access everything through a language-independent service binding like SCA or web services. That is, until you need to join across data sources. And you thought the N+1 problem with EJB2 was inefficient...

What about when you want to join data across really separate sources? As in doing mashups and the like? Relational databases don't help much there, they could even make it worse. Also, loading objects from relational databases is not particularly efficient, if you compare with e.g. something like BerkeleyDB.


Seriously, though. Do you know anyone with successful implementations using OODB? Are they using them for little embedded things, or real enterprise data stores? Don't forget, in a real enterprise application, the data outlives the application.

It depends on what you mean. We opted to use a BerkeleyDB inspired approach in our CMS from the start, as there was just too much overhead and pain involved with using relational databases and ORM. I have NEVER regretted that decision thus far I can tell you. And I would NOT have even attempted to do the kinds of schema migrations we have been able to do with a relational database... *shiver*..

No, I am actually very happy with the model that we have chosen, but I think an even more interesting one is to use a BerkelyDB-ish database as the backbone which stores id->XML data, where the XML is the XStreamed (or JAXB or whatever XML2Java-binding you like) data of the Java objects. This would allow for complex objects, easy schema migration, and fast read/write. This combined with an indexing scheme where properties are indexed and queried using RDF/SPARQL is looking very very cool, I think, as a kind of object database where the data layer is much more transparent than the usual object database approach, as you can always access the data as XML, for "future compliance" reasons or similar.

Re: object databases? by Billy Newport

A lot of projects went down the OODB path in the 90s and I think a large proportion failed and moved back to relational DBs. The main successful one thats widely quoted was Steve Talbots Hoodini application at Nomura but I haven't heard of any others although they may be there. Relational databases aren't going away and I haven't seen a single project use OODBs since I joined IBM at customers.

Re: Firestar by Robin Joinson

I can't see from the web site what this company actually do, or anywhere to download trial software or documentation. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they had hundreds of thousands of well-meaning sales enquiries. However will they cope with the workload?

Re: object databases? by John Davies

I haven't seen a single project use OODBs since I joined IBM at customers


Come on Billy, you're hardly likely to see many 21st century customers working at IBM are you. :-)

I include projects using technologies like Tangosol's Coherence, GigaSpaces and Gemfire. Many of them do not have a "classic" database behind them and many of those simply use complex Java Objects rather than relational-based objects. I've seen up to 1 TB databases in memory and they're not relational.

Good to see you on InfoQ, we missed your wisdom at TSS-Barcelona.

-John-

Re: Firestar by John Davies

However will they cope with the workload?


Who cares?

-John-

Re: object databases? by Rickard Öberg

I would like to echo John: you may perhaps not see the light of day at IBM, good to have you at this forum, and we missed you in Barcelona ;-)

But rejoice, now you know of TWO successful projects using "OODB"'s (or at least not that relational crap): mine and John's. And in neither of our cases would a relational approach have worked. At all.

Re: Firestar by Rod Johnson

This is patently ridiculous :-)

If they want to sue a public company, why don't they sue Oracle? Oh, Oracle are even richer than Red Hat. And it might be unfortunate if Oracle's lawyers pointed out the history of TopLink goes back to the early 1990s.

Software Patents by Mike Farewell

This is an appalling situation, it is typical of failing companies that they endeavour to prop themselves up through litigation when their business strategy is poor. The way they are approaching their law suit underlines their underhand nature.

It is ridiculous to say you can patent ideas, it is like saying you can patent flowers or trees! I know, they have tried to do that too :(

The best thing we can do as IT professionals is to boycott the products of companies that use this strategy, and ensure that the publicity surrounding them is negative. Without customers they will not be able to afford to pursue claims in an 'Eastern District of Texas' or anywhere else!!

Re: object databases? by Romain PELISSE

About Object Databases...

Given the fact that i graduated last year, I'm still pretty new in the IT business. However, back in school, our Database Teacher describs O-DB has something ... well basicly dead and gone ! I'm very surprised (positively) that O-DB is still used and developed !

Back to the original subject of this thread, as a French person, i'm very happy of the French approach to patent, which, as previous stated, is saner than the "i-can-patent-everything-even-air" ...

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