Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

Summary: Oracle is suing Google over patent and copyright infringements relating to its Android mobile operating system, including one patent written by the "father of Java", James Gosling.

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Oracle stunned the computer industry last night by suing Google over patent and copyright infringements relating to its Android mobile operating system.

The specific complaint alleges that Google infringed on 7 patents that Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems. The patents include one written by the "father of Java", James Gosling, who quit his VP position at Oracle in April.

The company also claims that its copyrights in "code, documentation, specifications, libraries, and other materials that comprise the Java platform" have been infringed. They want the court to enjoin Google and "persons in active concert or participation with it" (which seems to include all Android developers and companies in the Android ecosystem) from "continued acts of infringement of the patents and copyrights" at issue.

Oracle is asking for treble damages, citing Google's "willful" infringement. "Google has been aware of Sun’s patent portfolio," Oracle says in the complaint, "including the patents at issue, since the middle of this decade, when Google hired certain former Sun Java engineers." The engineers in question likely include Lars Bak, Robert Griesemer, and Frank Yellin, all former Sun employees who now work for Google on Java and Web browser technologies, and all of whom appear as inventors on one or more of the patents in question.

Given that Google's Eric Schmidt recently bragged that the company could bring in upwards of $10 billion per year thanks to Android, the possible damage awards are huge. So the question is, does Oracle have a leg to stand on with this complaint?

We're still going through all the materials (the full complaint can be found here) but at first blush the copyright part of the action seems to be the weakest part. The Android virtual machine is a complete clean-room implementation of something that is almost but not quite Java. Android uses the Harmony class library from Apache, which was not created using any source code from Sun. Google has not used Sun's Java coffee cup image, and in fact they take great pains to say that technically speaking, Android is not Java. So I'm at a loss to see where the copyright claims are coming from.

The patent claims may turn out to be another matter, however. Thankfully Oracle was kind enough to provide us with a list of the patents they say Google and friends are infringing. Here's the list, along with their listed inventors, if you'd like to do your own research:

  • #6,125,447: Protection domains to provide security in a computer system; Li Gong
  • #6,192,476: Controlling access to a resource; Li Gong
  • #5,966,702: Method and apparatus for pre-processing and packaging class files; Nedim Fresko, Richard Tuck
  • #7,426,720: System and method for dynamic preloading of classes through memory space cloning of a master runtime system process; Nedim Fresko
  • #RE38,104: Method and apparatus for resolving data references in generated code; James Gosling
  • #6,910,205: Interpreting functions utilizing a hybrid of virtual and native machine instructions; Lars Bak, Robert Griesemer
  • #6,061,520: Method and system for performing static initialization; Frank Yellin, Richard Tuck

The technology in at least one of these, the '720 patent, seems to clearly be used in Android. When the OS starts up, it creates a process called the "zygote" and initiaizes the Dalvik Virtual Machine inside that process. Then it forks (clones) that process to create every other process that uses Dalvik. By doing this, new Android processes can start up much quicker than they otherwise could have, because it's a lot faster to copy the memory of an already started process than it is to execute all the initialization code.

Fortunately for Google, this trick has been around for ages, long before the '720 patent was filed. I remember first learning about it in emacs on Unix systems. After all your elisp code had been parsed and all your libraries loaded (which could take a dozen seconds or more), you could freeze a copy of memory onto disk. Later you start emacs quickly by loading the memory image from disk, making a few adjustments, and continuing execution from the point of the freeze in a fraction of the time.

The way the US patent system is currently set up, it's difficult if not impossible to write a sizable body of code without unknowingly infringing on somebody's patent. Your best hope seems to be to waste a lot of time filing as many patents as you can of your own, and hoping that anybody who sues you is unknowingly infringing on one of yours. That gives you a bargaining chip so you can do some kind of cross licensing deal. It's a stupid, wasteful, unproductive government-created system that achieves the exact opposite of what was intended when it was first started. But, what can you do.

Topics: Android, Google, Legal, Open Source, Oracle, Security, Software Development

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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31 comments
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  • Oracle should be innovating and not sueing

    This demonstrates one of the biggest problems presented to innovators - namely: money men, shareholders and sharks.<br>Why can't businesses just rely on actual PRODUCT to make their money rather than acquiring obscure 'sleeping patents' with which they plan to sting other REAL innovators at a later date.<br>I honestly hope that Oracle attract lots of damage from this - at least lose lots of customers. They obviously cannot be trusted. It scares me that they now own Java.
    quintinwillison
    • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

      @quintinwillison I guess whoever oversees this collection will get the benefit of some intellectual stimulus (maybe ideas they can copy). I wonder what they'll be like if or when they think that an idea within one of the projects may infringe a company patent? Will they accept it and stay silent, or point out the problem right away? Time will tell, but I can't help feeling that Microsoft are on probation, and I'd steer clear. <a href="http://www.arabaoyunlarimiz.gen.tr/araba/fesbook-okey/"><b>fesbook</b></a>
      Arabalar
  • Junk level stuff

    e.g. 1997 patent for flagging priviledges??? How is that different from Windows NT two years earlier? or VMS a decade before?

    It's like the patent office gives anyone a patent on anything and leaves the court to decide if the patent should have been issued.
    guihombre
  • JavaOne 2010, doh!

    Hah.. Well this certainly explains why both my technical session _and_ my BOF submissions for JavaOne 2010 were turned down as I was going to present on how to write one Java 3D Open GL app and run it transparently on desktop/J2SE and across the ecosystem of all Android devices with TyphonRT my middleware platform (you know the write once run anywhere thing). Considering I had 3 other BOFs selected in previous years it was extremely odd to not get at least the BOF selected considering the lack of really cool stuff in general at JavaOne. Also this being the year I actually release the tech it's a little anticlimactic so to speak. I inquired why with the review committee and I asked if there were any other presentations that included Android accepted and they were very tight lipped in the response. :: sigh :: My presentation was about J2SE too! I will be imminently releasing the initial semi-public beta 0 of TyphonRT and hopefully the full public launch will happen in October.

    For context TyphonRT is a Java based real time app and game dev platform I created over many years on the desktop/J2SE and spent considerable time in the last 18 months to get it stably running across the Android ecosystem.
    MichaelEGR
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      Peter38
      • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

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  • Oracle's Stupidity ...

    I recall that Lary on the first Oracle summit was all about "supporting" Java ... he Actually mentioned that Google Android was a great development! He actually Encouraged the Java team to push work with Google Android ... amazing how he could became a turncoat after this short time ...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Dtqe1e0tXg

    check about minute 7:14 ...

    And the scenario is now obvious ... not more then a few years past ... James Gosling get's out (check his blog) and this stuff happens ..
    Very bad for Oracle and Worst even for the Java community.

    Instead of going after MS they attack the one company that could help them and bolster they business revenue ... amazing stupidity !

    Regards,
    Pedro
    p_msac@...
    • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

      @p_msac@...
      Friday, 13th 2010...a day that will live in infamy!
      I think M$ is uncorking the champagne over this GPL v3 debacle over java.
      Linux Geek
      • Um what does GPL3 have to do with this?

        @Linux Geek What does GPL v3 have to do with this?
        DevGuy_z
      • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

        @Linux Geek
        Sun was always carefull to say that Java was licensed over GPL V2 ... I actually noticed when GLP V3 came out that the first thing they made clear on that years Java One presentation was that Java was GPL V2 ...
        I quite frankly do not like at all GPL V3 ... it is a horrible license.
        GPL V2 is not perfect but far more acceptable then GPL V3.

        Regards,
        Pedro
        p_msac@...
    • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

      @p_msac@... I tell my kids its great to play with the kids next door and allow them to play with your video game and you play with theirs. That does not give either of them the right to TAKE, without permission, the other kids game or vice versa.

      Merely saying you support an interactive relationship does not nullify that the legal departments of each have T's and C's that need to be completed. Don't confuse the desire to be interactive with the requirement to be legally compliant.
      andrej770
      • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

        @andrej770
        I do not think the comparison fit this particular case. Actually it looks like Oracle called the Cops after a long time when they recognised that the kid playing with their playstation became a world PS3 champion wining championships and making millions out of their Own ability to play games better then their own kid ...
        Also of course you must recognize the Same Right from Google to go against Oracle on any patent they think could be infringed ... and by God there are so many out there ....
        Stupid move from Oracle and idiot Lary !
        Now suffer the consequences.
        And their reputation in the Java community is quite frankly damaged from now on ...


        Regards,
        Pedro
        p_msac@...
  • Oracle is horrible, patent system even worse

    This situation underscores two things we all know: Oracle likes to behave like an evil child and the patent system in the US has been hijacked by greedy, anti-innovation scumbags. *SIGH*

    So what are Google's choices here? I suppose they could countersue and say that Oracle is infringing on Goog's patents and end up in some sort of x-licensing deal to make the litigation go away? Or they could spend millions of dollars and several years fighting the validity of these patents - a dangerous game for everyone because of the stakes of losing.

    I'm open to other ideas... what can Google do fight Oracle and help the FLOSS community?
    Mercutio_Viz
    • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

      @Mercutio_Viz They could sign a licensing deal with Oracle and pay them a % of their Android revenues. (not going to happen without a fight, but they could).
      philgr99
    • what to do

      @Mercutio_Viz

      fight to overturn IP patents entirely would be my vote
      erik.soderquist
      • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

        @erik.soderquist Darn tootin! Software patents should be declared unconstitutional, as they violate the clearly stated purpose of the patent system: to foster innovation. Most software patents, including the ones in this suit, are obvious to any competent programmer (but not lawyers or judges). It's time to throw this crap out.

        Life was better when you couldn't get software patents in the US.
        mesocyclone2
    • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

      @Mercutio_Viz

      SCO tried that (suing everybody using Linux) and ultimately failed.

      As for Oracle, I think FLOSS would just move on onto new languages and systems. Java HAD promise, but now, just as MySQL it got lost in a senseless company.
      cosuna
  • At last, a conflict that could crush the patent system

    This lawsuit may finally reveal the unworkable impossibility of patent compliance in the software world. The complexity and abstractness make
    ean-zdnet@...
  • Say goodbye to innovation from the bottom-up

    "Your best hope seems to be to waste a lot of time filing as many patents as you can of your own, and hoping that anybody who sues you is unknowingly infringing on one of yours."<br><br>Yep that seems to be the game. Why should I create something cool if I know that the moment it becomes valuable someone will pull a patent out of their stockpile and sue me? Unfortunately, it's one that small innovators can't afford to play. And isn't it the little guys that have all of the good ideas? Where is the next HP, Apple or Google going to come from? <br><br>It's a very sad day for tech innovation. I hope that anyone who works with Oracle software right now will be doing everything they can to find a new partner. But all of the companies that continue propping up this insane and damaging system share the blame as well. Ultimately though, it's in their interest to let it continue because it protects the status quo and they are are now the status quo. Maybe they'll wake up and remember what it was like to have nothing but a good idea.

    http://milesparker.blogspot.com/2010/05/whoops-im-not-wearing-any-patents.html
    Miles_Parker
    • RE: Oracle uses James Gosling patent to attack Google and Android developers

      @Miles_Parker I hope that more people wake up to the monster that Oracle seems to have become. Heck, they had that reputation back in 1989, when we first considered using their software. So we didn't (but I bought their stock, since Ellison can sure sell).
      mesocyclone2