Google should have found a Java alternative. But software should not be patented

Google should have found a Java alternative. But software should not be patented

Summary: You know what sucks worse than Java alternatives? Java patent infringement lawsuits.

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[caption id="attachment_332" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Larry? Is that you in that tank?"] Larry? Is that you in that tank?[/caption]

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.

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.

Topics: Software, Apps, CXO, Google, Software Development, IT Employment

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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56 comments
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  • Pretty Typical for Oracle

    This is pretty typical for Oracle. When they can't compete in the market, they use the power of the courts and the federal and state government to attempt to drain the resources of their competitors and give them an advantage. This is no different from when they used Orin Hatch and the DOJ in concert with Sun and Netscape to go after Microsoft. As a result it brought Microsoft into the Lobby game and made a pattern for others to follow with frivolous lawsuits. Sad Sad Sad Shame on you Oracle!
    vmax66
  • The Evolution of the Trial; In Defense of Java

    The trial has veered away from patent issues. (Oracle's patents did not withstand the scrutiny.) Whether an api is protected under copyright is now the key issue.

    Java is certainly verbose, but your criticisms seem more aimed at the jvm. And while it suffers somewhat in comparison against the metal running machine code compiled from C or C++, it is actually good tech, as endorsed by the Scala, Clojure, and JRuby folks. Hadoop is doing well, and it's written in java.

    As for the language, if the application or service's latency is based on networking speeds, then the speed issues raised by sections of the code that cannot be JIT compiled are irrelevant.

    It is not always the best choice as a language, but it does all right in many problem domains.
    DannyO_0x98
  • Courts get to resolve patent disputes, you don't.

    You seem to be saying "patents that I don't like are frivolous" and "I don't like frivolous patents". This is circular reasoning. Patents aren't granted on only useful inventions, they are granted on new ideas and on improvements to old ideas. Establishing prior art, or whether patents are frivolous or not, that is the task of the court, which has less on the line than software engineers who would like to swipe code to their hearts content, but then want to make others pay for anything they build with that code.
    ssaha
    • Sort of like saying

      patents that help little me compete are noble and good, while patents that keep from competing are selfish and evil.
      William Farrel
      • Allow me to generalize even more

        I think, in a way, all patents are selfish and evil. They serve no real purpose beyond the intrinsic pat on the back and bragging rights to say, "Hey, look at me, I have a patent." Patents, in general, inhibit innovation. It pretty much says that I can patent an idea, never act on it with a real product and then, when you, independently come up with the same idea, I get to say, "Hey that unused idea that I had 20 years ago isn't free buddy, pay me."
        And, I'm referring to software and other patents here. Thomas Edison had a lot of patents. He patented everything--even concrete furniture. No one said that they have to be good ideas.
        Some guy named Hess patented a vacuum cleaner system over 100 years ago. He probably never got a payoff for the infringement. But, like that patent, all patents suck.
        khess
      • @khess you are overgeneralizing!

        Without getting into software patents in particular, I don't think you understand the philosophy of the patent system:

        * You can't patent an idea, only an invention
        * The holder of a patent gets exclusive rights to the invention, for a limited period
        * After that period expires, the details of the invention are on the public record, free for anyone to learn from and use

        The purpose was to both reward inventors and also to spread detailed information about inventions for everyone's benefit, instead of everything being kept as a "trade secret". There may be issues with the way the system is operated, but patents are not inherently evil.
        CageySee
    • Hmmmm....

      Sense much you do not make.

      You believe that patents would prevent SE's from the evil swiping of 'code to their hearts content'? What universe do you live in? Do you understand the laws and what is involved in such matters- what can be copyrighted, patented, etc?

      If you really don't want people swiping your code- you go proprietary and spit out blobs (which even then are not immune to "de-compilation" and stripping) or choose licenses that are more closed.

      And for that matter, it's becoming more-so apparent that the open-source route benefits many including the originators of the code. Businesses can actually run successfully without major hindrance or 'patents' (outside of defense, needless to be said).

      It's like Ken stated and implied: Patents do very little outside of stifling innovation. Google "patent trolling" and see what the benefits are of these little nuggets of ammunition in ones 'business arsenal'.
      CommonOddity
    • Perhaps...

      ...but if the public complaints get loud enough (or if some incumbents lose re-election over it), Congress might do something. Or even better, a deep-pocketed litigant might actually work up the courage to fight the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

      In a democracy (or other representative-type government), public opinion matters.

      Reply to ultimitloozer:

      Public opinion counts for more than you might think. Lobbyists are most effective when either the public isn't looking, doesn't understand the issue, or doesn't care about the issue.

      As we saw with SOPA and PIPA, when the public is paying attention, understands the issue, and cares, lobbyists lose.
      John L. Ries
      • But...

        ...when our representatives only care about corporate opinion (or the opinion of those who buy their congressional seats), public opinion matters very little.
        ultimitloozer
  • What is the point of your article??

    "Nonsense. Utter and complete nonsense." ...

    Its your article that is complete non-sense.

    Go and read the 91 page oracle document first. Its just a presentation, take only 5 minutes.

    Taking some other companies IP without licencing is utterly stupid, there is no free lunch.

    If Google didn't choose to pirate Java, then Android V 1.0 would have been released only in 2015. They took a shortcut, and must pay the price.
    owllnet
    • Accusation?

      So, you're saying that Google did steal code? I thought people were innocent until proven guilty. And, the burden of proof is on the accuser. I don't want to read 91 pages of anything. I don't have the time nor the inclination. Software shouldn't be patented--that was my point.
      khess
      • So I can decompine Microsoft Windows and resell it?

        Without software patents, there is no software innovation. Who is going to spend the millions of man hours developing and improving an office suite when anyone else is entitiled to steal it, rebrand it, and resell it for next to nothing?
        Your Non Advocate
      • So everyone should Open Source (like google to open source search engine)

        If companies are allowed to copy someone else code and make their own software from it then no body will invest for innovation. If Google want to copy Java code why don't they open source their search engine code.
        abhi035@...
      • The Fastest Software Development Happened Before Software Patents

        @facebook@...
        You do realize that the fastest software development took place when there were no software patents. Remember that there is still copyright. However, Oracle has yet to show that any code was copied from Java to Android. Dalvik appears to be reverse engineered from the Java spec (which of course is perfectly legal, and half the point of having a spec).
        CFWhitman
    • C++

      Java was a pirated version of C++ then.
      paul2011
  • Hadn't thought of that...

    You know, I hadn't thought of that, but yeah... there's a good possibility that a relatively short snippet of code that is identical in two products could well have been imported into both products from the same third party source. Programmers hate to reinvent the wheel, when there's "already code floating out there to do just that."
    dsf3g
  • Patents?

    Thousands of developers work on projects without patents. Did you ever hear of free software as defined by the GPL?
    khess
    • Did you ever hear of patents on java

      Your example refutes your assumption. portions of java are both gpl'ed and patented. likewise portions that are patented may not also be gpl'ed.
      Your Non Advocate
    • GPL is not free

      It comes with bunch of rules and regulations. If something is free means there shouldn't be any kind of attachments such as limitations that are defined clearly in any version of GPL should be there. It seems that simple thing went past your head.
      Ram U
    • On GPL

      Of course, GPL software is not "free to steal". That is, "borrow" in Google speak.

      Java is available in both LGPL (the desktop/server version) and GPL (the embedded version).

      The difference is that with the LGPL license you can use the licensed code without having to make your own code licensed under GPL.

      With the GPL code, you MUST make your ENTIRE code that you link with the GPL code licensed under GPL. That is, publicly available, open source etc. GPL is viral. For the record, Android is NOT open source.
      danbi