Around the same time it modified its basic user agreement to drop a patent-related clause that troubled customers, Amazon Web Services quietly added language to its agreement that protects customers against patent suits targeting AWS technology.
It’s quite the about-face for the public cloud market leader, which until March forced customers to agree that they could never assert their own patents against AWS — even in defense — before removing the language with the last update to the user agreement, as GeekWire reported Thursday. New language added to the current agreement spells out terms of a mutual-defense pact between AWS and its customers should either of them be sued by a third party for patent infringement.
Here’s the relevant language describing what AWS will now do in these situations, found in Section 9.2 of the agreement:
Subject to the limitations in this Section 9, AWS will defend you and your employees, officers, and directors against any third-party claim alleging that the Services infringe or misappropriate that third party’s intellectual property rights, and will pay the amount of any adverse final judgment or settlement.
An AWS representative declined to comment.
Microsoft, which has been quite active in patent skirmishes over the years, rolled out similar intellectual property defenses for Azure customers in February, before AWS changed its user agreement. Azure IP Advantage goes a little further, allowing Azure customers to pick from among 10,000 Microsoft patents if they need help defending themselves against a patent lawsuit. Google Cloud Platform offers something similar to the new language in the AWS user agreement, vowing to defend customers sued for running their services on Google’s technology.
It’s a little unclear why AWS has been so quiet about these changes, which are sure to be welcomed by customers using its services. It’s likely that major customers — who are also the most likely to have successfully lobbied AWS on this issue — were informed of the change. But smaller companies without huge legal operations might have just accepted the terms of the new agreement in March without reading it closely, like most of us do, and moved on.
Perhaps it’s because patent battles haven’t yet rocked the cloud computing world the way they did the mobile industry over the last decade. Mobile app developers were targeted by patent trolls simply for running their apps on technology developed by Apple and Google, and Apple had to file a motion in one case to be allowed to defend developers using its technology against extremely broad claims. With AWS finally adding this language, cloud customers can at least have the peace of mind that it has their back.
As the mobile patent skirmishes die down, a lot of legal experts think cloud software companies might be the next target of non-practicing entities, companies that amass tons of very broad patents but don’t actually develop products based around the technology described in those patents. Instead, they sue anyone and everyone they can, hoping to get a couple of quick settlements or court wins before those patents can be closely examined.
Steps like this will make life a little harder for cloud patent trolls, who will now have to go directly after the all big public cloud companies and their well-funded legal departments if they want to sue a software company using public cloud infrastructure. At some point, the trolls will show up, but on the bright side, that’s one of the signs of an important, huge, and still-growing technology market.