Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

Summary: In what was a surprising turn of events for many in the tech community, Oracle filed a formal complaint of patent infringement against Google, demanding a jury trial and unspecified damages over the use of Java in their Android platform. So why now?

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TOPICS: Oracle, Google, Mobility
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In what was a surprising turn of events for many in the tech community, Oracle filed a formal complaint of patent infringement against Google, demanding a jury trial and unspecified damages over the use of Java in their Android platform. So why now? Can they win? And what does it mean for Google and Java developers at large if they do?

It's one thing to sue small fish into oblivion. Anyone remember Psystar? They went up against Apple selling dubiously-licensed Mac clones. They don't sell Mac clones anymore. Big surprise.

Also see:

It's another thing when a small fish sues a big fish. Big fish tend to have deep pockets that can, to the massive financial benefit of said small fish, make a lawsuit go away very quickly. Settlements, acquisitions, and licensing deals can all prove quite lucrative for the small fish with relatively small investments by the big fish, especially if the small fish actually has the intellectual property rights it brings to a court.

In both of these scenarios, there are serious financial incentives to file IP-related lawsuits. When a big fish sues a bigger fish over intellectual property rights that aren't clearcut, there has to be a bigger picture, a corporate strategy that makes the financial and PR risks worth the potential gain. In this case, it's mobile computing which, in case you haven't noticed, is the future of both consumer and, in many ways, enterprise computing. Yeah, I'd say there's an incentive here.

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Next: So just how big is that incentive? »

Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in January of this year, acquiring all of their intellectual property (much of it related to Java) for a mere $7.4 billion dollars. There were more than a few analysts who thought that number was mighty high for a company on the verge of collapse and whose strongest IP (including much of Java) had been open sourced. Suddenly, though, the purchase price makes sense if Oracle plans to leverage its more obscure patents against the likes of Google and, in the process, be entitled to a share of its Android-related profits.

Interestingly, as the Wall Street Journal reported,

Google was widely assumed to have rights to use Java under a licensing agreement for Java...The suit is "very perplexing," said Kim Polese, a former Sun manager..."Everyone is using Java."

Sun was often criticized by investors for making little money on Java. Oracle, on the other hand, seems determined to wring more profit from Sun's intellectual property..."Java is one of the crown jewels of the Sun acquisition," said Ray Wang, an analyst with Altimeter Group. An Oracle injunction could block developers from building applications using the Android platform and shipments of Android phones, he said.

In fact, if Google can be a target, then any number of Java developers can potentially find themselves in Oracle's crosshairs. However, I'm inclined to think that it's no coincidence that research released this week shows drastic gains in Android popularity and manifold increases in Google mobile search (the real source of revenue behind Android, which is open source). If Oracle can force a deal with Google, it suddenly has at least a business class ticket on the mobile train and can even start looking at vertical markets that include mobile technologies.

Next: Can Oracle win? »

So will Oracle win? A fair number of analysts believe that there will be some sort of licensing deal that comes out of this, although the size and scope may very well not be the windfall for which Oracle is looking. If Oracle wins, though, how much does Google lose? Google executives have repeatedly hung their hats upon the future of mobile, which means Android. Mobile search, mobile platforms, and mobile content will all be cash cows for Google long term. It remains to be seen how big a chunk, if any, Oracle will take out of that cow.

We're looking at months of litigation for this to play out and neither company really stands to benefit from a quick settlement. Google, for its part, needs to demonstrate that there was no infringement to protect Android, future revenues, and, perhaps more importantly, the Java developers who make Android compelling. Oracle, on the other hand, wants more money than Google is likely to give without being ordered to do so by a jury. Oracle essentially asks for the destruction of code that leverages Java in Android, but it would be foolish to not take a major stake in future Android-related revenues instead if it can get them.

A complete copy of the complaint is here. Read it and talk back below - Do you think that Google really infringed on copyrights or is Oracle just coming late to the realization that mobile is a platform that can't be ignored, even if you're, well, Oracle?

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Topics: Oracle, Google, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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72 comments
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  • Oracle is just being Oracle

    Oracle has purchased a number of companies (Hyperion, Peoplesoft, Seibel, BEA Systems......) they dont rest until they have picked all the meat from the bones. This wont be the last issue related to legacy Sun. OpenOffice ring a bell?
    ron.nolte
    • openoffice? there's no money there...

      @ron.nolte@...

      so, no, it doesn't ring a bell. The bell was sold to sponsor a patch. No more bell to ring. :P

      if there is $0 available, don't try to go to court over it.
      shryko
  • What about all other Linux Distros?

    Basically, Android is a Linux distribution for mobile devices. If Oracle can win this or at least extort a licensing deal from Google, doesn't that set a precedent to go after Linux in general?
    cornpie
    • Not really.

      @cornpie

      Look at the patents involved. They seam to be more about specific applications used within the Android/Java framework than Java itself.
      Bruizer
      • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

        @Bruizer Android uses Dalvik VM. A VM now designed well over 3 yrs ago and Sun never gave notice or came after them for the tech. Mainly because they couldn't. Google isn't using any of Sun (Oracle's) tech. So how in the World does Oracle think without Sun having given notice, that they can retroactively cut back in time to some supposed violation is way beyond me.

        First of all the Dalvik VM is Registry based an it can multi-task contrary to Java runtime environment. They aren't even calling it Java and it does not use any Sun Java bitecode. They program in Java language which is not illegal. Any decent court and jury will see right through this scam with Oracle shooting themselves in the foot multiple times and apparently the idiots running don't feel the pain yet. You can't suddenly claim something as violating a patent, when Android has been in the works since 2003 and uses it's own bytecode in it's own VM!

        Oracle is run by a bunch of morons it appears! haha.... especially if they think juries are that stupid! Stupid yes..... but moronic enough to not figure out this bunch of poppycock from a bunch of greedy losers? NO!!! lol

        http://developer.android.com/guide/basics/what-is-android.html

        Plus the morons killed OpenSolaris, all in 1 day. How long before the end of OpenOffice.org, VirtualBox, and MySQL. Why don't they just cut their own throats while they're at it? Seriouly the morons running Oracle need to get their big fat bald heads examined. It's one helluva company that severely lacks any intelligent beings whatsoever! haha.... I'll love seeing them go down the pipe!!!

        This why in a nutshell it'll be a cold day in hell when we won't see these Oracle Bozos getting kicked off the bus before it even gets rolling! :D

        http://www.betaversion.org/~stefano/linotype/news/110/

        Google is very well prepared for this one and have been from the start over 5yrs ago when they bought Android in 2005!
        i2fun
    • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

      @cornpie
      We can only hope so.
      Loverock Davidson
    • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

      @cornpie That's exactly what I thought. How does one sue for intellectual infringement on open source software which allows commercial use based on keeping the code base open?
      marcusantoniouslee1
      • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

        @marcusantoniouslee1@... based on recent history it appears that Sun and Oracle have a thriving cottage industry suing companies that are more innovative and successful...
        stevek3
    • The arguement ...

      @cornpie ... would be that Google had no right to incorporate Java code into the GPL because Java is protected by a non-GPL license. It is a requirement of GPL that no proprietary code may be incorporated into GPL code which would not make it completely free and open source.

      The question for the courst to determine is whether or not Java is open source or proprietary. Could be interesting.
      M Wagner
      • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

        @mwagner@... Aha! That makes sense. Google took 'open source' too far.<br><br>That's really bad if Oracle wants to try and force Java back into the license. They might change it in such a way it is wrecked. What they should do is make Google pay for the GPL licensing and then release it with a GPL license option, like Nokia is doing with Qt
        prof.ebral
      • ...is moot.

        @mwagner@... If, as reported, Google's language implementation and included code were done in a "cleanroom" method, then Google has made no use of Oracle property.

        This is similar to the "cleanroom" BIOS implementations that were done for personal computers.
        pwatson
      • And, if Oracle *doesn't* sue...

        @mwagner@...

        ... and allows Java to be folded into GPL distros, the they might actually lose their patents.
        fairportfan
      • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

        @mwagner@... I'm afraid this is really nonsense. Oracle has no standing to sue over GPL violations. They don't own any GPL code in question. Also, you're talking copyright. This suit is about patents.
        Badge3832
    • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

      @cornpie Err, No. Google have created an incompatible version of Java. Essentially Java is two things, firstly it is a programming language, secondly it is a runtime environment for Java bytecodes (what Java Language programs compile to). What Google did was create Dalvik, a system that is like Java, but incompatible with it. Trouble is, Google have used "Java Language" for Dalvik. That is you write in "Java Language" and it compiles to a bytestream that runs in the Dalvik VM.

      I actually think it's pretty open and shut, Google are "guilty" - while I don't see the need for the lawsuit and I think it would have been better for everyone if Oracle hadn't done this, I think legally they have a point. I can see there is merit in Oracle's position - if Google jumped Dalvik out of Android and onto the desktop (and why couldn't they?) then it would be a serious threat to Java...

      But this has nothing to do with Linux per se.
      Jeremy-UK
      • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

        @Jeremy-UK I'm pretty sure you can't patent speech, which is just another word for "language". Maybe the interpreter, but certainly not the communication.
        PacoBell
      • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

        @Jeremy-UK

        ummm....No. That doesn't work. It's the post-compilation that is the program. The developer's language, pre-compilation means nothing. There are simply too many developers languages that are far too similar in their usage to make your argument viable. It's what happens to the language after it runs through the compiler that counts. If the compiler is different, if the end result code is incompatible, it's a moot point and not actionable.

        There's got to be something else in play here. Either that, or Larry's been sniffing the glue fumes from his yacht building again.
        Dr. John
      • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

        @Jeremy-UK Thing is, this can only be about patents -- Google did a new implementation of Java/Dalvik, so there is no question about any copyright infringement. So it's whatever software patents Sun originally filed on Java that still apply. Which, particularly given the age of Java, might be pretty shakey.

        But it's also quite likely that, with success here, Oracle would go after other non-Sun implementations of Java. Unless of course they've been tolerating this sort of thing for so long, the patents are judged abandoned. You can't just forget to enforce a patent for 10 years, wait for violators to stack up, then suddenly enforce it. Submarining a patent is illegal, and usually gets it invalidated.

        And of course, Google isn't really selling Android, they're giving it away. Sure, they do sell some of their main apps to OEMs. So there's an intereesting Open Source element here, too... where are the damaged?
        Hazydave
      • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

        @Jeremy-UK
        You are just right - the people here make a lot of mistakes. Sun Tried for years to build a line of dialog with Google about this, with no answer. Oracle is just right about this, they have no options.

        This sue has nothing related to Java development, Linux, or OpenOffice.
        green alien
    • RE: Oracle sues Google: Looking for a piece of the mobile pie

      @cornpie No. Linux itself is the Linux kernel. Android, Ubuntu, openSUSE, Red Hat, etc... are all projects based on the kernel. And in the case of Android, it has a customized kernel (makes no sense to use the full kernel with all its functionality for servers and desktops, and all the drivers for said hardware, and backwards compatibility for legacy hardware when it is meant to run on new age mobile devices) and that kernel is not part of the official Linux kernel. Not only that but the Dalvik environment is a completely separate package. And the kernel itself is written in C, not Java, so no hope there for all the Linux haters hoping for some odd reason that something will come along to destroy this devil OS that has hurt them and their families so bad...
      hito_kiri
  • Oracle is NOT suing Java developers

    The article says "In fact, if Google can be a target, then any number of Java developers can potentially find themselves in Oracles crosshairs." That's nonsense. Google is not a "Java Developer". Google created its own flavor of Java, ignoring Sun's intellectual property rights. Sun was too weak to sue Google at that time. Ordinary Java developers are not creating their own flavor of Java -- they are merely developing applications using Java. There is a difference. It is amazing that a ZDNet reporter doesn't understand the difference.
    interlocutor