There are two things I really hate: Software patents and software patent lawsuits. For those of you who don't know, Oracle, owner of Java, brought suit against Google for stealing some of its code for Android. If you want to know more about some of the suit's details, read Karen Friar's take on it over at ZDNet.UK. It seems to me that some people <Oracle> just want to spend time and money in court. Though, I'm not calling anyone <Oracle> out on this concept, I think that such lawsuits <Oracle> are frivolous and unnecessary. It kind of reminds me of another pointless and expensive lawsuit concerning software patents: SCO vs The World. That one turned out really well, didn't it?
I wonder what Richard Stallman would have to say about this? If you want to know, Google, "Richard Stallman software patents." You'll find out very quickly that he's against such nonsense.
First of all, isn't Java open source*, you ask? Well, yes, kinda, sorta, not 100-percent.
Sun did release Java as open source but made a special exception for closed source applications built with it.
Isn't that special?
Well, of course, Larry Ellison jumped on that like stank on rice. He loves to spend money on lawyers and make other companies sweat blood and money. I'm not sure what the point is but, hey, it's a free country. And, by free, you can sue anyone over anything and waste the court's time and make a spectacle of yourself in the process. I digress...but only slightly.
I really wish that Google had found an alternative to Java for Android. Java is a pain. It's sluggish, it's resource intensive and it irritates me in a lot of different ways. To say that I hate it, is an understatement. But, since I seem to be in the minority in that opinion, I'll not dwell on it. Google did apparently look for alternatives but decided that they "all suck." I would actually have debated that point but that's history now.
Now, here's where it gets sticky for me in this lawsuit. Mind you that I haven't read the 91 page document (nor will I) but I have some obvious problems with it from a practical standpoint.
- Android is open source.
- Java is open source.
- Code snippets are everywhere.
- There are programming standards.
- Programmers tend to use similar variable names.
I think that if you compare any two large applications you'll find areas that match up exactly. For example, if I have a particular problem in PHP that I'm trying to solve, I go to php.net, to phpclasses.org or to devshed.com. My point is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to look at a page, block or snippet of code and say, "Yep, they copied and pasted that. Look, you can see they both used this loop with variable $Address that goes to a page named, thankyou.php."
Nonsense. Utter and complete nonsense.
This is why software patents are 'patently' stupid and without merit. And, the lawsuits stemming from them are too.
There are a lot of patents, besides software ones, that are equally stupid and pointless. Many patents are not stupid and they have merit.
For example, if I design a walking stick for visually impaired people that gives them feedback using a mixture of sounds, vibrations and audible instructions, then I have a right to patent that walking stick and my proprietary design and its function. I should reap the financial rewards from it--especially if it helps people with their mobility. And, I have the justified right to sue, if someone copies that design without paying me a fee.
But, software patents, for the reasons I've given, plus the reasons that Richard Stallman so eloquently states in his many discussions, shouldn't be allowed. No one should be allowed to patent software.
I believe that the courts should throw out such cases. If someone feels that their software patents, assuming we're going to allow them, have been infringed upon, then they should seek third-party arbitration instead of a lengthy, expensive and public lawsuit.
My best advice to Google would have been, "Don't use Java at all. Really." You shouldn't have used Java. You should have used something that "sucked less" in its place. But, hindsight is always 20-20.
Everyone's watching this one to see what happens. Maybe this lawsuit will have the positive effect of ridding the world of software patents. At the worst, we could have a new reality TV show called, "Patent Slapdown" or "The Infringement Chronicles."
I wouldn't watch it but I'm just saying it would be better.
What do you think of software patent litigation? Is it stupid and pointless or totally justifiable? Talk back and let me know.
*Speaking of Stallman and his views. If you ever meet him, say the words, "open source" and GPL in the same sentence as I did during an interview. Depending on his mood, you could get an earful or a faceful. Enjoy.