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InfoQ Homepage News Red Hat Sued Over Hibernate 3 ORM Patent Infringement Claim

Red Hat Sued Over Hibernate 3 ORM Patent Infringement Claim

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link for full PDFs) was filed under a different company name to the European patent office back in 1998, but was withdrawn.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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