FSF sides with Google over Oracle

Summary:That legal strategy might have worked under GPLv3 but that license has not been accepted by the industry specifically because of that patent clause.

It took a while, and that delay may be telling in terms of the underlying issue, but the Free Software Foundation has finally issued a public statement on the Oracle-Google Java suit.

They side with Google.

(FSF logo from Wikimedia.)

Not that Google is entirely on the side of the angels, writes the FSF's Brett Smith.

He says they could have avoided the problem by forking IcedTea, which is covered under the GPLv2. They're still not on the side of the angels when it comes to software patents. But that Larry Ellison is one bad (shut your mouth). So the FSF statement says:

An aggressive infringement suit over software patents is a clear attack against someone's freedom to use, share, modify, and redistribute software—freedoms that everyone should always have. Oracle now seeks to take these rights away, not just from Google, but from all Android users.

Smith then calls on Google to use this case as a "come to Jesus" moment, and to defend itself by attacking the very idea of software patents as impractical and a very bad thing.

Over on the other side of the pond, long-time software patent foe Florian Mueller doesn't think joining the IcedTea party would have made any difference. Here is what he wrote to me this morning:

The idea of those GPL defenders is that the right holder (in this case Oracle in succession to Sun) of a GPL'd work can't use his patents against GPL-based forks. So in theory if Google had used Oracle/Sun's GPL'd Java code as the basis for its own virtual machine, the FSF argues it could now claim Oracle/Sun made an implicit patent grant. However, where the FSF is wrong is that this would relate to forks.

That legal strategy might have worked under GPLv3, he adds, but that license has not been accepted by the industry specifically because of that patent clause.

Patents have become strategic weapons. They were created by courts, not the Congress, and both the courts and Congress have refused to reject them since. Now that every large company has an arsenal of such patents, they're assets from which they wish to gain corporate advantage.

But the whole intent of patent, as with copyright, is to encourage the production of more and better stuff. It's not to make the heirs of inventors or writers or film actors wealthy, but to make them productive.

This should be the test. Do Oracle's software patents encourage innovation or discourage it? Would there be more innovation with the patents or without?

Patents are not a property right, and neither are copyrights. That last sentence should not be controversial, but you'd be amazed at just how revolutionary it appears to be in 2010.

Topics: Open Source, Google, Oracle, Software Development

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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